ROCHESTER - Steve Inza of Rochester grew up around clowns. His uncle was a clown for Barnum and Bailey Circus for many years after coming home from serving in World War II, and Inza would watch his uncle perform growing up.
Now Inza is carrying on the family tradition as a Shriners clown who'll be performing along with the Bektash Clown Unit out of Concord at Rochester's Christmas Parade on Sunday.
"Rochester is by far the parade we most look forward to," Inza said as he practiced putting on clown makeup at his Rochester home on Tuesday. "It just has so much energy, there's so many people."
|Steve Inza begins the half-hour process of putting on his clown make-up at his Rochester home on Tuesday. (Rochester Voice photo)
Inza will be one of the stars of the Clown Unit, driving his homemade train along the parade route, a train he fashioned himself out of a riding lawn tractor he bought for next to nothing, several metal dollies holding plastic containers that he hollowed out and huge stuffed animals inside the containers all along for the ride.
Spoiler alert: Don't be surprised if you see the train Inza is driving appear to lose control on Sunday: It's all part of the act, he says.
Inza, whose clown persona is Bobo the Hobo, has been perfecting his clown craft for 12 years now. He says being a clown and making both children and adults laugh is something he cherishes.
"When I make people laugh, when that happen, my heart grows," he said.
As a hobo clown, you'll see Inza wearing a sooty face - historically accurate due to the soot from a locomotive's steam or wood-fired boiler, along with drab, gray patchwork clothes and a wig.
"Hobo clowns are happy, nonaggressive types, looking to help," Inza said, noting there are also several categories of ranked clowns: boss clowns, who run the show; Auguste clowns, very colorful, who often take the slapstick hits; hobos, like him; tramps, often lazy and scheming (Red Skelton); and animal clowns, the bottom of the clown barrel.
|A whole giggle, er gaggle, of clowns from the Bektash Clown Unit will be performing at Rochester's Christmas Parade on Sunday. (Courtesy photo)
But no matter what variety of clown you are, he says clown humor is all about the element of surprise.
"If they think you're going to fall to the left, you fall to the right," he quipped.
Inza said the clown contingent on Sunday will do some antics individually and some in concert with one another.
"The thing about a parade you can do that same skit over and over because it's a different part of the crowd," he says, "but if the parade stalls you have to have different things ready."
Other high jinks to look for include:
Tying a piece of carpet to their foot, dragging it along and then sweeping "stuff" under it.
Looking up at the sky until everyone is.
Seeing a road that says no outlet and yelling, "Get me an electrician!"
Others might do mime, he said.
"We're always looking for a laugh, we work the crowd. Sometimes we do it individually, and sometimes we'll work together," he said.
But it's not all strictly laughs for Shriners Clowns, however.
There's tough duty, too, Inza said. Like visiting the Shriners Burn Centers where they try to cheer up horrifically burned children from all over the world.
"The first time you go to a hospital you can't wear your clown outfit, because you might break down and cry," he said. "You can't have the kids seeing a clown cry when they see them."
In fact all the money Shriners Clowns make goes to Shriners Hospitals in Montreal, Springfield, Mass., and Boston, and to funds to help bring the kids to Shriners hospitals from all over the world.
Some money the clowns make also goes to a "Sneaker Fund," to pay for shoes for burn victims who are often at the hospital for many years recovering.
"It can be very sad, but it's also very rewarding," Inza said.
Rochester's Christmas Parade begins at 3 p.m. on Wakefield Street by the triangle at the entrance to the Richard Creteau Technology Center. It will proceed south on Wakefield Street, turn right onto Union Street, turn left onto North Main Street, to South Main Street, and disband in front of the Rochester Common.