The photographer was ready. "OK," the instructor told his students, "put your fingers in your noses and give us your best toothless smile."
It was graduation at the University of Utah last week - for the clown class. Ten adults with frizzy wigs and size 16 shoes stood proudly on stage. They recited the Clown Creed (ncluding the phrase "to laugh is to live") and the Clown Code of Ethics (romising never to be obscene or to drink while in costume and to always use a seatbelt).They did some skits, demonstrating that they had indeed learned to make people laugh. Then their instructor, LaMar "Willie the Classic Clown" Williams, passed out the diplomas.
Holly "Chuckles" West, a proud new graduate, describes the class as "a hoot" but also very informative. "You learn about the different faces, where each came from historically. You experiment with faces and costumes and design your own trademarks.
"Then you learn jokes. And mime. You learn to juggle. That was hard for some of us. And all of us learned magic. All of us are able to blow balloons and make figures."
As an aside, West explains that young children make the best audiences for a beginning balloon-blower like herself. "I say, `This is a dog," and they say, `But it looks like a giraffe????' and I say, `Well, it's a dog.' And then they take it proudly and show it to their friends and say, `This is a dog!' "
She says the fledgling clowns also learned how to work parades and make hospital visits. "You learn a lot," West says.
"You really grow."
Her fellow graduates are Marcie "Bow" Williams, Dorene "Dunky Dory" Nielson, Carol "Hiccup" Jackson, Linda "LuLu" Scadden, Bettina "Pixie" Sigglerow, Steve "Powder Keg" Thwell, Iris "Precious" Horton, Michelle "Smiley" Peterson, and Mike "Stretch" Miles.
This is the eighth year Williams has taught a clowning class at the university. For Carol Jackson, it's the culmination of a 20-year dream.
Twenty years ago she was working in a Medivac program with troops returning from Vietnam. She saw that of all volunteers who worked with them, clowns were the only ones who could make the young men smile.
Ever since, she's wanted to be a clown. Last year, Jackson decided she'd waited long enough. She quit her job, enrolled in the class, and discovered within herself a clown named Hiccup.
Hiccup wears blue and pink and has four balloon-shaped beauty marks on her face. She loves to dance ballet, though while she's dancing she sometimes steps on sticky paper and gets it stuck on her feet and pulls it off and then it's stuck on her fingers. And just when she gets it off her hands - she sits on it.
Poor Hiccup. And then there's Smiley who gets water poured on her when she says she wants to see Niagra Falls. And Dunky-Dory who wants to be an artist but all she can draw is flies.
Not sophisticated humor, surely. These clown graduates merely poke gentle fun - the kind that brings a smile to the face of a child, or to someone in a hospital. That's good enough for them. The clowns leave it to other graduates to set the world on fire. They only took an oath to make it a happier place.