Making a profession of clowning around


AS A KID growing up in Glen Burnie, Jay D'Amico would clown around a lot for laughs. Now, at 25, he's still getting laughs -- as well as applause and a paycheck -- for his antics.

D'Amico is a clown with the traveling Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. On Tuesday, when the circus comes to Harundale Mall, it will be the young performer's first "professional" appearance in the old neighborhood since he joined the circus four years ago.

D'Amico is one of eight clowns in the circus, which plays about 120 cities in the East over an eight-month period. "We work every single day, at least two shows a day," he said in a telephone conversation earlier this week from Voorhees, N.J., one of three towns the troupe was to play before Glen Burnie.

At Harundale, the circus will give two shows Tuesday and two Wednesday under the big top on the parking lot of the mall. In the audience will be D'Amico's grandparents, Bill and Dolores Burner of nearby Millersville, and perhaps his aunt and his uncle, he says.

A little reluctant to "give away" his acts, D'Amico did allude to a certain spoof on recycling that he says both kids and adults should enjoy. "Let's just say certain recyclable items go into a machine and what comes out is not exactly what you'd expect."

D'Amico says he's loved the circus for as long as he can remember. After graduating from high school in West Palm Beach, Fla., where his family moved when he was 16, he worked a short stint as a zoo keeper.

"But then the circus came to town," he says, "and I was hired on as a prop guy." It wasn't long before his real talent was discovered.

"The clowns got to know me and told the director of the clown college about me. They said they saw some potential in me."

In 1986, D'Amico enrolled in Clown College in Venice, Fla., and the following year he signed on with Clyde Beatty. He's been in the spotlight ever since.

"Oh sure, you love the applause," he says. "It's real neat when three or four thousand people stand up and applaud for you. And I love to travel. I've seen 30 states since I've been on the road."

D'Amico says his family fully supports his being a clown for a living. "My mother paid for Clown College, and my grandparents go to see the show every year." His grandmother, Dolores Burner, also voted in favor of circus work.

"When he joined the circus, he asked us what we thought of it," she says. "I knew his grandfather had traveled all over with the Navy, and I thought it was a good idea. So I said, 'Go and see your country while you're young and have no commitments.' "

But clowning isn't all glamour; it takes some skills, too.

"You have to have a sense of humor, and you have to like children -- and adults. This is a very intimate show. You're only a few feet from the audience.

"And you need to think quickly. Sometimes things happen and you have to be quick on your feet."

Circus life covers a lot of ground-- about 13,000 miles from mid-March through Thanksgiving. Even during the off-season, clowns are busy updating their costumes and props and rewriting their gags.

It's not a vocation to get rich on, says D'Amico. But he wouldn't have his life any other way right now.

"You don't only do it for the money, but because you enjoy the applause and the laughter. I'll stay until they don't want me any more," he says. "I wouldn't give it up for the world."

The Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus will perform at 4:30 and 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Harundale Mall. Tickets for the two-hour show are $9 for adults and $4 for children and seniors; advance tickets are being sold in the Harundale Mall office. Call 760-5600 for details. On Tuesday from 7 a.m. to noon, the public is invited to watch as the circus' elephants help raise the big top.

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