Growing up a class clown: The burdens of a professional circus performer

By Sara Phelps

By Tim Torkildson

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 24 2014 8:40 a.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, June 25 2014 8:31 a.m. MDT

"I sensed that my wife was falling away from me," he said. "This frightened me so … I gave up the circus (and) I worked for the Utah State Tax Commission as a tax collector. I went from making people laugh to making them cry … but I did it because I wanted to stay at home. It really didn’t help because by that time the marriage was dead. As soon as it was over, I quit that job and I went back to the circus. Obviously I was sad, I was heartbroken … I had lost my family."

Torkildson finished out his career working as a clown, eventually becoming the ringmaster and then running publicity for the circus. However, arthritis kicked in and traveling with the circus became too difficult to continue.

After moving on from the circus and working several different jobs, Torkildson found himself struggling to make ends meet.

"Once my active clowning career ended, I felt a real sense of deflation, and it took me years to redefine myself as someone who has worth outside of his ability to make people laugh," he said. "I wound up living in a homeless shelter. I ran out of options. That happened just a year ago."

A good friend of Torkildson's took notice to his situation and invited him to come stay with his family in Provo. Torkildson lives there today, works part-time and expects to be in his own apartment by the end of the summer.

Now that he lives in Provo, Torkildson is closer to his children and grandchildren, and longs to spend time developing those relationships that may have suffered during his circus days.

"Anytime I can be with my children or grandchildren, that is extremely fulfilling for me," he said. "I haven’t experienced that with my children for many years, so it’s like a holiday."

Torkildson's clowning days may be over, but he'll never stop trying to make others smile.

"Writing is the thing I enjoy the most … I have a lot of fun memories of Thailand and the circus, and I write about those things," he said. "Physical comedy is impossible for me to do, so I’m grateful I have a new outlet to be able to write and through the Internet be able to share that with people."

Through his trials, Torkildson is grateful for the influence of the LDS Church and how it has helped him stay hopeful toward the future.

"I feel that my best work is still ahead of me, and the reason I feel that way is because of my living testimony of the superb reality of the Savior and of his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," he said. "I feel that each day is a gift and that it is my responsibility, and privilege, to find the wonder and awe in it, and to respond to that wonder and glory with all the creative resources at my command. … And one way or another, it’s still going to be about laughter. I’m still going to be entertaining people. That’s my life."

Sara Phelps is graduate of Brigham Young University with a degree in communications. EMAIL: sphelps@byu.net

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