Award-winning Willmar man has passion for clowning
Almost every culture has its own type of clown.
That's according to Randy Christensen of Willmar.
And, Christensen knows something about clowns: he's been teaching and writing about clowning for years, and has performed in 25 states and four foreign countries -- all over the past 30-plus years.
Clowns show themselves in different ways and provide stress relief, he said.
"I really think that is my mission. When you step out and people have been having a tough day and they see you and they start to laugh, it gives them that spark that they can continue on, even though things may be a little tough.
"When we start to laugh at something, you can conquer it. It doesn't conquer you anymore when you laugh at it, and clowns give you the opportunity to laugh about those types of things.''
Christensen, who oversees children's programming at the Assembly of God Church in Willmar, was named All-Around Clown for the second year in a row at the World Clown Association's International Convention in New York City in March.
Christensen said he had an "amazing" time in New York City where he competed against a great host of participants from eight countries. Among the competitors were the incredible WCA Master Clown Luis Casiano from Puerto Rico and nationally recognized Julie Varholdt.
Christensen earned a third-place medal for his rendition of a "balanced diet'' (an apple, orange and pear on a stick) by his hobo character Simon De Clown, and he received a silver medal for Simon's performance of the old circus routine, "The Tightrope Walker.''
Christensen participated in the classic whiteface makeup competition and received first place wearing an elegant black velvet costume he designed. It was sewn by Edith Johnson of Willmar. The costume has cuffs and large lapels, silver chains across the front and silver buttons.
Christensen received the title of All-Around Clown because he had the all-around top score among competitors. And since Christensen won the award for the second consecutive year, he was named the association's Master Clown -- one of four people to receive the award in the last 20 years -- and was told he couldn't compete.
"That's an honor,'' he said.
Christensen, 48, did not intend to be a clown. He went to college to be a pastor but was introduced to clowning by his roommate. His roommate taught Christensen to juggle and eventually persuaded Christensen to clown with him.
"He kept pestering me and finally I went with him one time and he took me to the children's hospital,'' Christensen recalls.
"When I saw the impact that it made on those kids ... that turned it for me. I just haven't stopped. That also took me into my full-time profession of working with children. I had not considered working with kids, but it was through the clowning that my heart was gripped.''
This fall will mark Christensen's 31st year of clowning. During that time, he's acquired enough clown-related stuff to fill nearly three-fourths of the basement at his home across from Eagle Lake. He has videos and books about clowning and famous clowns. He has a rack of costumes he designed and shelves of accessories such as hats, socks, shoes and pants, along with boxes and shelves of sight gags and magic tricks.
Among his many items: a box with the little toilet for the "stool sample'' at hospital performances; the collapsing "soft'' drink soda can; a "holy'' Bible full of holes; and a box of "tea'' with colored golf tees.
Clowns often use undersized or oversized things. Christensen has a "shoe horn'' made from an old tennis shoe with a plunger through it, a kazoo for playing "sole'' music and some tubing for added effect. Sometimes his "tongue'' gets tangled in the shoe.
And don't forget the rubber chickens.
"These things work great on parades because you're just in front of people for 5 to 10 seconds,'' said Christensen.
One item -- a gift from a clown 40 to 50 years ago -- looks like a saxophone. It's constructed of round heating ductwork pipe painted gold with a funnel on the end.
On another shelf sits a giant spark plug, which probably came from an auto parts store and is handy if Christensen has an announcement "just to give a plug.''
Christensen does public school shows, banquets and parties. He decides on the costume he feels will best connect with the audience. With young children, appearance is everything because certain "looks'' work better than others.
"I understand some kids are afraid of clowns at times, but kids are afraid of Santa Claus and the Easter bunny,'' he said. "So I have to present myself in such a way that I can just gain their trust and that usually seems to work pretty well.''
Christensen said clowning fits his view of life and the type of person he is. A lot of times it's not until after a person puts on the makeup that the individual can let people see who they really are.
"It is an interesting life experience to actually try clowning and see how it connects with people because I can walk into a room and people ignore me or wonder why I'm there or not interact with me at all,'' Christensen said.
"But if I walk in as a clown, usually 95 percent of the time people smile and laugh, and they're excited to see me, which is different than my normal life,'' he said.
"It's really a different experience in connecting with people, and the clown nose becomes a bridge to a relationship with other people. All these funny comedy props give me an excuse to talk to people and then they talk with me. Now we have a shared experience and I believe good clowns don't just give away things, but good clowns give people an experience.
"They give them a memory. People walk away and it sticks in their mind.''