The fact that his friends call him a "real Bozo," doesn't bother Mike Martinez. He considers it a compliment.
Martinez, also known as "Bumbles the Clown," has been a professional clown for four years, performing at children's birthday parties and community festivals. But this year he has added something new to his repertoire--he's teaching a clown techniques class.
The eight-week course is offered through the Covina Community Resources Department and includes sessions on clown history, makeup and costume, magic, juggling, puppetry and balloon sculpture. The class meets on Wednesday nights in the Covina High School cafeteria.
When Martinez isn't clowning around, he said, he is a rental counselor with the Bob May Rental Corp. in West Covina. That job is usually safer than being a clown, he said.
Run Off the Road
Martinez was run off the road last year by a group of teen-agers while driving to an assignment in his clown outfit.
"When they saw me in my makeup and with my outfit on, they just came at me," he said.
Martinez also has to protect himself from some of the children he performs for.
"Sometimes when you work with young kids they like to kick you, pinch you or even punch you," he said. "They want to see if you are real or if you're like the cartoon characters they see on TV."
But the worst thing that can happen to a clown, Martinez told his students during one class session, is to get a negative response from the audience.
"Everyone has a different attitude on what a clown is and what a clown should look like," he said. "If the audience doesn't like your act, then it's pretty disappointing."
The hazards of being a clown don't dampen the enthusiasm of Martinez's class members.
After enrolling in the class, Harry Moore, 63, of Covina, visited a dozen thrift shops in search of a clown outfit to wear to class.
"I love clowns," he said. "When I was a young boy back in Port Smith, Ohio, I used to get up at 4 in the morning just to watch the trains, carrying clowns and other circus people, roll into town," Moore said.
To be near the clowns, Moore fed elephants and watched the horses.
Would Sneak In
"Every once in a while I would sneak into the tent before the show and watch them put on their make-up and rehearse," Moore said. "I never thought 50 years later I'd be learning how to do the same thing."
Moore, a retired grocery clerk, said that once he learns the mechanics of clowning, he will visit children's hospitals and nursing homes.
David Pearson of Hacienda Heights said the class enables him to get away from the heartbreak he sees as a deputy district attorney for the city of Los Angeles.
"As a trial attorney, I see people in pain," Pearson said. "As a clown I can bring happiness."
Although Pearson said his co-workers think he's "a little nuts" for wanting to become a part-time clown, he said he'll stick with it.
'I Need the Clowning'
"I need the clowning," Pearson said. "Otherwise, with such a high-pressured job, life could get pretty grim."
Peg Harvie , 48, a former missionary in Papua New Guinea wants to be in a parade, but because she's never twirled a baton and isn't in a marching band, she figures her best chance of being in one is as a clown.
Bonnie Armstrong, a former deputy sheriff, nurse and waitress, wants to develop a funny clown routine but said the only experience she has had as a clown was two years ago at her church.
"A group of church members dressed up in clown outfits and greeted people at the door," Armstrong said. "We wanted to promote peace and joy but some of the people didn't like it so we never did it again."
Armstrong will get her chance to become a clown again. At the last class meeting, everyone will perform for the rest of the class.
Jeannette Crocker, 41, of Monrovia, hopes it will be the start of something permanent for her.
"I do volunteer work at many of the community hospitals and nursing homes and, hopefully, once I finish this class I'll be able to bring smiles to all of the patients' faces," she said.