CultureMob Chats Exclusively with Ringling Bros. Star Clown, Dean Kelley

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Dean Kelley - Ringling Bros. Circus Clown

Every child at some point dreams of running away to join the circus. Lion tamer, trapeze artist, horse acrobat, or clown. We’ve all had those wild thoughts and dreams of what it would be like to be out there walking next to the elephant or jumping through a flaming hoop. For Dean Kelley, Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus, he made the dream a reality.

Allie Hanley: So what’s new for everyone this year at the circus?

Dean Kelley: With this year’s All-Star Party <pre-show> is highly interactive. It’s free with everyone’s ticket. Basically it gives the audience an opportunity to come on down to the arena floor to get autographs and pictures with all the performers. You are actually going to see performances that are not in the show, so that’s a lot of fun.

Another thing that we are doing is opening the curtains so you can take a backstage tour before the show starts. You can see the animals, and a lot of the cool circus set pieces as well.

And also during the pre-show you can try on some costumes and learn some circus skills, get some free Ringling Bros. Tattoos. Plus, we even have an elephant that comes out and makes a foot print in which you can enter a drawing to win it. There’s also an Orange Country Chopper that we bring out during the pre-show that they made for us.

Allie: Sounds fantastic and a great way for kids to get involved. So, you’ve been a clown for awhile and with The Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus, probably the most famous circus in the U.S.A. How did you get involved with that?

Dean: I went to my very first circus when I was four years old in my hometown of Kansas City. It was a Ringling Bros. Circus, and I saw my first clowns there; And I was just enamored by them. I mean here are these grown-ups that are acting silly and the audience is laughing at them and having a good time. I thought that I wanted to do that when I grow up.

So, I practiced and practiced and practiced while growing up in school. I got teased a lot for it. Not a lot of people say they want to be a circus clown growing up. I knew though, that was what I wanted to do.

Ten years ago Ringling Bros. had their first open audition for clowns. I flew out to Anaheim, CA. I auditioned for them and they offered me a contract that day.

Allie: What did you do special in your audition that caught their eye?

Dean: Well, I really wanted the job. So I was doing any and everything I could. I was trying to be an individual and show them all the hard work that I had done. So they took us through a series of exercises and routines so they could get an idea of how our bodies work. Then they gave us time to do whatever we wanted to do to basically show off all of our skills. I guess I did something special because they liked what they saw.

Allie: So how long have you been performing professionally for them?

Dean: I’ve almost been with them for 7 years now. I first joined with them in November 2002 and I toured with them for about four years, and then I left the show. I moved down to Orlando, Florida and performed at Sea World and I loved it down there but I missed touring. So, I called Ringling Bros. back one day and said, “Hey, if you need any clowns let me know.” Long story short, I came back and here I am talking to you.

Allie: So what’s it like being a clown and what’s your daily routine?

Dean: Right now as I am speaking to you I am driving to Tacoma, WA and just spent a few days visiting the family in Kansas City. Usually I will arrive in town a few days before the show. Run some errands, see a few movies or do whatever – hang out. Then our crew sets up one day before the show starts and then on opening day we go in for a rehearsal. Then we open that night.

So for me, it’s a dream come true to be part of something like this for Ringling Bros. It’s harder to be a clown for them than to be a quarterback in the NFL. So I feel  very lucky to be a part of this huge legacy.

Allie: What do you call your type of clown or clowning?

Dean: It’s called Auguste. There are three types of clowns. I’m part of the ones that are more silly, get slapped in the face and goof around.

Allie: Every single child at some point has the dream of running away from Mom and Dad and joining the circus. What do you say to them?

Dean: Every child has a dream of being a firefighter, a policeman or similar. Then there’s those rare kids that have that gleam in their eye that they want to grow up and do this. I encourage it, I really do. Growing up I had people encouraging me that really helped. It can be a little off-putting and I still had regular people that would tell me to get a real job but I haven’t figured out what a real job it.

I get to travel all over the country and perform for millions of people every single year. For me, its better than sitting behind a desk, or selling cars, or a multitude of things, so I always encourage people to just go for it!

Allie: So what’s it like being in one of those cars with 30 clowns?

Dean: It can get a little crowded, especially on a hot, summer day. Ya, it can get a bit crowded in there. I’ll never tell you how we do it and there’s not a trap door or anything like that. We actually get that many people in that iddy bitty car.

It’s kind of amazing and it’s like a big puzzle.

Ticket prices range from $20 – $80 and are available online. at or at the box offices. Guests can get more information about the show at:

For shows coming up in Seattle, Kent, and Tacoma, Washington see the information below.

Barnum Bash is saluting our Armed Forces this year by offering $10 tickets to ALL Military Personnel and their families at all three locations (Saturday – 11:30 AM & 7:30 PM shows and Sunday – 5:00 PM shows). And, they’re doing a special salute at the Sunday, 5 pm performances.

The code to redeem this special ticket price is MIL10 and is available online, by phone and at the Box Offices. Tickets must be picked up at the Box Office with Military ID.

Kids’ tickets are also available for select performances for $10 each (with special discount code SIMON from Simon Malls – Northgate & Tacoma Malls) and Opening Night tickets are half priced for only $10 (not valid for VIP, Front Row or Gold Circle seating).

Tacoma Dome
Friday Aug 17 7:30PM
Saturday Aug 18 11:30AM, 3:30PM and 7:30PM
Sunday Aug 19 1:00PM and 5:00PM

Comcast Arena at Everett
Thursday Aug 23 7:30PM
Friday Aug 24 7:30PM
Saturday Aug 25 11:30AM, 3:30PM and 7:30PM
Sunday Aug 26 1:00PM and 5:00PM

ShoWare Center in Kent
Friday Aug 31 7:30PM
Saturday Sept 1 11:30AM, 3:30PM and 7:30PM
Sunday Sept 2 1:00PM and 5:00PM
Monday Sept 3 12:00PM and 4:00PM