You act one-on-one with the kids. I saw a little girl, she was sulking and I asked her why and she said 'Everybody's throwing confetti at me.' So I gave her some of my confetti and I said, 'Next time, you get them back.' And her face just lit up. —Carmine Rotondo
NEW YORK — If you're going to be a clown in the Thanksgiving Day Parade, you can't just go out there and fool around. There are rules.
No smoking or drinking while in costume. No sitting on the floats. No accosting the celebrities.
At a one-day training session Saturday — called "Clown U." — about 300 Macy's employees and other clown wannabes were repeatedly warned not to do "anything that might show up on David Letterman's outtakes."
But once they had taken a good-behavior oath — and survived a chaotic mass warm-up — it was fun times for the amateurs as professional clowns from the Big Apple Circus and veteran Macy's promenaders rehearsed them in basic parade routines and forwarded tips like "conserve your confetti," ''wear layers" and "go to the bathroom before you put your costume on."
The schooling took place at the circus' big top at Lincoln Center and several adjacent tents left over from Fashion Week.
The trainees will be among nearly 1,000 volunteer clowns in the parade. They'll be divided into Keystone Kops, billiard balls, wooden soldiers and 25 more teams, each costumed appropriately and assigned to a balloon or float.
For example, clowns dressed as cupcakes will be with the Pillsbury Doughboy balloon. Sailor clowns accompany SpongeBob SquarePants.
The cupcakes' captain, Susan Mazursky of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, who was dressed as a cherry pie, is a vice president of strategic planning for Macy's and is headed for her 23rd parade. She once was costumed as a stick of butter, she said.
"It's unbelievably rewarding," Mazursky said. "Only the clowns, really, get to interact with the people who are watching the parade. Everybody else is just marching straight ahead but we get to go over and say 'Hi' and 'Happy Thanksgiving' to the kids, lead people in a cheer."
Bill Schermerhorn, creative director of the parade, said that when children get a visit from a clown, "they'll remember that day and that moment for the rest of their lives."
Les Kule of Wantagh, dressed up as a clown reporter for the "Funday Times," with oversize press card and camera, will be in the parade for the 19th time. He's not a Macy's employee but his sister, Amy Kuhl, is the parade's executive director.
"It's just pure fun, going up to the kids," he said. "The smile stays on my face for days."
"You do have to be careful how you approach the youngest kids," he cautioned. "You don't want crying, just laughing."
Most of the circus clowns are veterans of its Clown Care program, which sends clowns to children in hospitals. Circus spokesman Philip Thurston said, "Our specialty is engaging with audiences one-on-one."
Angel Chacon, of Manhattan, who works at the Chanel perfume counter at Macy's, learned he would be a "sleepy clown" in his first parade.
"I think it will be a fun experience," he said. "It's nice to make people happy."
Carmine Rotondo of Garden City came in for the clown college even though he's done eight parades already.
"You act one-on-one with the kids," he said. "I saw a little girl, she was sulking and I asked her why and she said 'Everybody's throwing confetti at me.' So I gave her some of my confetti and I said, 'Next time, you get them back.' And her face just lit up."
Mazursky told her team there would be another reward at the end of the parade — a food spread.
"The Danish is OK," she said. "The hot chocolate is awesome."