New York’s Clowns Miss Parties

Carlos Aguirre (left)

Carlos Aguirre (left)

Creepy clown sightings, real or fake, has sparked real fear and anxiety across the country. Last week, McDonald’s decided to limit the activities of its clown mascot Ronald McDonald. Tuesday, Target started removing clown masks from its shelves.

It is an issue of thriving for these two giant companies, but for full-time clowns, the sightings have become a matter of survival. Halloween is just around the corner, but many performing clowns have seen a drop in party invitations. So last Thursday, a dozen of New York-based clowns came to the Spanish-speaking Hermanos Vazquez circus in the Bronx to support each other and commiserate.

“It’s almost impossible to gain new customers,” said Edelis Travieso, the president of New York Clown Alley, who goes by the name, “Lali,” on stage. “ I had triple the amount of customers last year than I do now.”

Travieso has been a show clown for 10 years. Elected as the president for the clown community in New York, she organizes a monthly meeting to gather clowns together to discuss clown issues and offer classes on facepainting, miming, and magic.

“We talk about what’ve been though right now, like the creepy clowns,” said Travieso. “We decide to tone down our makeup.”

Travieso showed up only with her red nose on. She said she would’ve put on some makeup if she hadn’t brought her son to this meeting. “For safety reasons,” she explained.

She still remembered the anxious look on a man’s face when she walked out of a birthday party in her clown costume two weeks ago in Staten Island. She said she was afraid that she would get into trouble. “I smiled to him, and he felt a bit confident, and greeted me hello,” she added.

Most clowns usually get fully dressed up before leaving their house. But Travieso suggested that it’d be better to wear costumes when they got closer to the event. “Some of us are very cautious. Better not to drive in clown costume like we used to,” she said.

“The most important thing for a clown is the red nose,” said Carlos Aguirre, who also came to the meeting with a red nose and white lips, wearing a casual shirt and jeans. Aguirre said, last year he had two parties every day during Halloween week. “Last Halloween, I was fully booked,” he said. “But this year, I only have a few bookings.”

He said he believes that the current situation is very dangerous for clowns. “I don’t know if someone with a knife or gun will shoot us,” he said.

Aguirre was not the only one had such concerns. Damaris Rodriguez, known as “Silly Abby” at parties, has a clown family–her boyfriend, her sister, her two daughters and a son are all clowns. Aguirre was worried about what could have happened to her son who went to a birthday party by himself, said her 15-year-old daughter.

Damaris Rodriguez (right) and her daughter.

Damaris Rodriguez (right) and her daughter.

Rodriguez used to be an HIV counselor. Now she identified herself as a clown health educator.  She said that she brought parents and kids together, and taught them about nutrition and good eating habits.

“But it’s a clown who delivers the health education, so the kids really really pay attention,” said Rodriguez. However, she admitted that her business has suffered from the creepy clown sightings. “There’s a decrease on booking.”

Cyrus Zavieh is one of the few lucky clowns whose business has not been damaged by the creepy clown phenomenon. Like other clowns, Zavieh does birthday parties, stage show events, and also face painting. But he is also a hospital administrator at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, where he has worked for the last 24 years. Zavieh said that the hospital gave him the green light to visit the children as a clown to cheer them up.

“I’ve been a clown for 18 years,” said Zavieh. “People know I’m not a creepy clown.”