Spreading sunshine

Carol Salmon is serious about clowning around.

Carol “Notso” Salmon, photography by Sarah Whiting

A desire to make people happy is what causes Carol Salmon to wear a mismatched shirt, baggy pants, oily makeup, enormous shoes and a red wig. As a member of the Powder Puff Clown Club, she also glues a rubber nose over her own, wears white gloves and can get curious looks stopping at the grocery store on her way home from performing in a parade.

Salmon heard about Christian clowning while attending a church convention. She was hooked, and led the youth group clowns in her congregation for several years until she decided to venture into the wider world of clowning.

In the 1970s, she attempted to join a clown club in the Twin Cities, but women were not allowed. At that time there were few women in the professional working world, so women were also not expected to be clowns.

“They were expected to be home cooking and cleaning and taking care of babies,” Salmon recalled.

Not thinking of themselves as radicals or groundbreakers, a group of like-minded women just decided to form their own group, the Powder Puff Clown Club. Since then, each group has come to include both men and women.

And, as Salmon observed, “When you have a clown suit on, the audience will not really know if it is a man or a woman anyway.”

An individual clown’s persona – displayed in the makeup and clothing – is a personal thing. There may be a quality she wants to bring into the world, a message she wants to send or even an otherwise-hidden alter ego she wants to live out.

Red was critical for Salmon, her trademark color. “I always thought redheads were outgoing and fun,” she said of her opportunity to now wear a bright red wig. “They see your costume before they see your face.”

The gloves matter, too, she said, because “People don’t think of you as a person. It covers up the really human part so you can truly be a clown.”

Donning her elaborate makeup and costume takes Salmon about an hour. “You have to humble yourself to put on clown makeup,” she said. “It’s not what you would usually wear.” One needs a willingness to be vulnerable, to deliberately look silly and be inviting to being laughed at.

“Notso” is Salmon’s clown name. She explained that she is “not so tall, not so short, not so fat, not so skinny.” She may look funny enough to make people laugh, but she is “notso” different from everyone else, either.

Clown etiquette includes no alcoholic beverages, no risqué jokes and not imitating other clowns. It’s important to find your own personality and style, to show up proudly as a one-of-a-kind.

Now, decades after her first clowning appearance and at the age of 84, why does Salmon continue to dress up and do her schtick?

“Because it makes people happy,” she said. “It puts a smile on their faces. It is a great reward.”

When it’s not parade season, the Powder Puff members often entertain at nursing homes. They act out skits, tell jokes and lead songs, one of the standbys being “You Are My Sunshine.”

Some clown club members objected, saying they were not good singers, but Salmon encouraged them.

“It doesn’t matter how you sing,” she said. “When people sing an old favorite with you, they are singing a memory. It brings back days when they were young. It makes them happy.

“Spreading sunshine is what I feel we do,” Salmon said. “You have to have a heart to want to do that. You have a lot of fun making people laugh.”

FFI: Powder Pull Clown Club, 651-494-0712