A Cop Who’s a Clown

Michael Fandal is posing with his magic box in his apartment. (Hezi Jiang/

Michael Fandal is posing with his magic box in his apartment. (Hezi Jiang/

When Ernie woke up he was without makeup on his nose

Just in his pajamas

Never alarmed when he opened his eyes

He hugged the day so hard that the world had to rename it daybreak


Michael Fandal is working on his first book. It’s going to be a kid’s picture book. He named it Bundle of Brilliance. It’s a collection of his jokes and stories. It’s a book of himself—Ernest Desire the Clown.


Ernie would break out into his Sunrise Dance by doing his “Stamp out crime, hate, and terror” steps

Stamp out crime; it’s about time

Stamp out hate; it’s not too late

Stamp out terror; it’s a big error

Hip Hip Hooray

It’s a brand new day!


Michael Fandal is a retired cop, known as “a cop who’s a clown” for more than 30 years. On patrol he fought crime in his police uniform, and retired, he says he’ll continue fighting crime in his clown costume. He has gone to many schools to warn kids about crime—with a painted smile on his face, a roll on his neck, a sign on his back, and keys on his shoes.


He loved when kids asked him questions

Why do you have a roll around your neck? Because I’m a roll model

Why the sign on your back says “out of order”? Because no one is perfect

Why do you have plastic keys on your sneakers? Because I’m a low-key clown


He shared whipped cream with kids in schools, and told them, “Whip Crime!” He printed out his own “Kiss Crime Goodbye” T-shirt, and sent it to Samantha Smith, the schoolgirl from Maine who wrote to Soviet Union to seek peace. He framed the response letter from Samantha, and brought to schools. He said he wanted the kids to know, a ten-year-old could fight crime too.


To chase away the blues and help many feel merry

He topped off with a nose in the color of a cherry


For ten years, he presented magic tricks for the Police Anchor Club, a club for the widows and children of deceased members of the NYPD. He worked hard to make people laugh. “I can be very silly,” he said, and then he bragged, “I can jungle eight balls!” He took out two black number eight balls from two billiard sets and tossed them up and down, like a kid.


Michael Fandal plays with streamers for one of his tricks. (Hezi Jiang/NY City Lens)

Michael Fandal plays with streamers for one of his tricks. (Hezi Jiang/NY City Lens)


Who is he when he is not Michael the Cop or Ernest Desire the Clown?


He lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side between 1st and York Avenue. His living room is packed, even the floor, with books, newspapers, and stuff he picked up around the city. His red clown noses are in every corner of the floor.


He is 65 and not married. The right person hasn’t shown up, he said. He goes out to meet people.


Most of the time, Michael Fandal shows up in his shirt and jeans on the street, not his clown costume.


He looked fairly ordinary, until he saw a baby and he squeaked the squeaker in the pocket of his shirt. He looked old, until he took out a balloon out of his pocket and blew it up in a bagel shop for a birthday girl on the next table. He looked serious, until he shouted at a guy on a bicycle stopping at the red light, “Good Stop, Buddy!” and gave the man a thumbs up. He was happier than the baby; he was louder than the birthday girl; he scared the bicycle guy. In the 19th Precinct community meeting, he said, “Praise the people who stop at the red light, and you can see their smiles!”


Maybe one day you will run into him when you lock up your bicycle, and he will ask you, “Do you know why your bike is leaning on one side?” If you say no, he will tell you, “Because it’s too(two) tired!”


He is working on Bundle of Brilliance now. He wants to use the royalty to get a nice apartment at Coney Island, where he was raised and he now misses. And he wants to travel the world. This is the beginning of the book:


Ernie was the captain of his dreamboat

When he slept, he sailed the deep blue sea

Roaming the ocean, waving to all his friends

Through out the world, afloat

Some in calm waters

Some in choppy waters

Catching the light from the moon

Twinkles from the star


But if the book doesn’t work, he already has a plan B.


“Maybe I will go down to Times Square with these mascots who are harassing people for tips, but I may go because I’m the one and only Ernest Desire the Clown. I’m not violating anybody’s copyright. I am the original.”


He took out some postcards of himself dressed in the clown costume. “What I can do is I can hand out people these cards, and ask them, ‘Would you like me to sign it for you?’ That would be so nice. I’m not going to ask them for a tip. I will say, ‘I’m going to have a tip for you—don’t gamble today. Do you have a tip for me?’ How’s that?”


Michael Fandal with the picture of himself dressing as Ernest Desire the Clown. (Hezi Jiang/

Michael Fandal with a picture of himself as Ernest Desire the Clown. (Hezi Jiang/NY City Lens)