(James E. Strates Fair)
Along the Midway at the New York State Fair, James E. Strates operates a stand called “Hit The Red”.
A guy, with clown make-up invites passerby’s, well, I should say, insults passerby’s to dunk him in the water.
$2.00 gets you 5 balls to try your luck.
“Patches” has been a bloke (his word for what he does) for 9 years now, and this is his last year.
“Pathces” talked with us about his job at James E. Strates, during this year’s run (2009) of the New York State Fair.
Q – You go by the name “Patches” the Clown?
A – Yes.
Q – Why did you choose that name “Patches”?
A – Because of an old man back in the 1800’s named ‘Patches’ O’Reilly. He was a really old hustler. He made a lot of money. So, I went by his name.
Q – By hustler, you mean gambling?
A – Pretty much. He was an old time carny. He was pretty much the top agent for seven years running, so I just took his name. He was never with a clown, so I figured why not make him a clown now? He’s kind of a legend.
Q – How long have you been doing this act?
A – I’ve been a clown for 5 years, travelling for 7.
Q – What were you doing before?
A – I was a Ride jock. I was an inflatable ride foreman. Basically, I was over in Kiddie land with all of the blow-up rides. I was the foreman of that. I ran the rides.
Q – How did you get into that?
A – My Dad’s a Carny. My Mom’s a Carny. My Gramp’s a Carny. My whole family except for one person is a Carny.
Q – I guess that explains it. It runs in the family.
A – Right.
Q – Did you ever work outside the carnival business?
A – I was also a night auditor, for the Microtel Inn, Carrier Circle.
Q – You’re from Syracuse?
A – Yes.
Q – Are your parents still working?
A – My mom’s retired and my Dad’s retired also.
Q – Don’t Carny workers retire to Florida?
A – Gibb town.
Q – Not Winter Park?
A – No. Gibb town. Gibb town is all carnies. Ain’t nobody with it who ain’t down there.
Q – What high school did you graduate from?
A – I was going to Fowler High School and left when I was 15. I was gonna graduate early and then I came out here and made a lot of money.
Q – You’re in that tank for 4 hours?
A – No. I’m in there for 5. I’m the longest running clown so far. The other guy might have been doing it longer. I’m not really sure about that. But, I personally have been doing it for 5 years. I’m the longest running clown for right now.
Q – You ever get hungry in there?
A – Yeah. We eat all the time in there. We won’t let you get our cigarettes or our food wet. So, you guys can try all you want, but, you’re not gonna get it. (Laughs).
Q – What happens if you have to go to the bathroom?
A – We get out. I know a lot of clowns have a stereotype of being mean, but, Strates is a family show. You gotta be more family oriented. So, we’re more like knock-knock jokes, hill billy jokes, red-neck jokes. We don’t get into a lot of the racial complaints. We’re more about having fun than doing the actual insulting part of the job. General money is just as good as if we were doing an aggressive attack. Up in New York, they don’t like the aggressive clowns, because a lot of people complain. Over a million people come to the New York State Fair every year. We can’t have like 12,000 complaints every year. So, we gotta keep ‘em under 5. We only had one last year, so we can’t get one complaint.
Q – People complain about what?
A – We had a few different clowns now. This is like our 12th clown. Some of the other clowns are far more aggressive. When I first started, I was getting racial complaints, sexist complaints, Spanish complaints. I’d cuss people out in Spanish. I’d cuss ‘em out in English. I make fun of everybody.
Q – Why’d you leave school?
A – I was going through school at an accelerated rate. I should’ve been out of high school when I was like 14, but I don’t know, it was something with the school board. I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), so all my books were on tape. So, I’d just go through the 3 years ahead of school that I wasn’t even going to, listening to ‘em, did the book work on ‘em and that’s pretty much how I was gonna graduate school. I did all the work before I had to. And they were like, ‘You still have to go through gym’. I hated gym. They made me swim and I didn’t like water, but now I’ve gotta do it. (Laughs).
Q – Why do you have to be a clown in this stand?
A – Technically, we’re not clowns.
Q – You’re performers?
A – No. We’re bloks. There’s a difference. Clowns-----big red noses and they travel with circuses. Blokes are just insult professionals. That’s all we do. We say we’re clowns, but, that’s only because of the make-up aspect of it. It’s easier for people to identify with the word clown versus bloke ‘cause that’s an English term, where the game was actually invented way back for kings and queens. Soak The Bloke. That’s exactly what the name of the game was. Drown the clown. There’s a lot of different names for it.
Q – Why do you have to take on the appearance of a clown out there? You could put on a cowboy hat, a hard hat.
A – Oh, yeah. We wear all kinds of different hats.
Q – You could go on with a Southern accent, a British accent.
A – I do it all the time.
Q – How did you develop this skill of thinking so fast on your feet?
A – Well, I look at it like this: before I was a clown, I used to stand back and watch the other clowns’ act. Alan Mofield is the guy who built the tank and there’s like rules to being a clown. Some people are like a 5 second clown. Some people are like a 10 second clown. Some people are more advanced, like 3 seconds. You got some clowns that when they breathe in they can literally still move their vocal cords.
Q – You don’t have any joke books, so there’s a chance you can repeat yourself up there.
A – Yeah.
Q – Do you like that?
A – What it is, is, it works like this, when you get a crowd you go through all your jokes. Then you start repeating yourself just because the crowd that’s out there has already heard it; the people walking by haven’t. It’s a new person with a new situation with a whole new twist to a joke. You can literally say 12 different jokes but, it literally means the same thing. The joke is pretty much anything you can twist it up to be and put it out there as.
Q – I take it you’re gonna be with Strates for a long time to come. You love your job.
A – No. This is my last year out here.
Q – What happens to you then?
A – I’m going to become a security guard.
Q – You think you’re going to like that after doing this?
A – Man, there’s a lot of drawbacks to doing that job. It’s not a hard job, other than the physical part of getting up and down and up and down. I’m from Syracuse. That’s all we do is talk shit. I’ve had people get mad and throw beer bottles at me, cups of soda, eggs, water balloons. There’s a lot of drawbacks. Some people just don’t take jokes at all. I had one dude get mad ‘cause he was a biker and I called him a hippie. He threw a beer bottle at me and it busted in the cage. Cut my foot open that night.
Q – You’re saying you’re going to be a security guard in Syracuse?
A – Most likely.
Q – When the Fair closes in Syracuse, that’s it for you?
A – No. I’m finishing it up in Winston-Salem. It’s probably gonna be like October 11th, October 12th (2009).
Q – Then you come back to Syracuse?
A – Then I come back to Syracuse, yes.
Q – How do you know there’s a job for you in security in Syracuse?
A – A friend of mine is an employment person for a security co. I’m gonna go there and he can dispatch me to like S.U. (Syracuse University) or I can even be a security guard here (New York State Fairgrounds) for like the boat shows and stuff like that. It’s like a union security job. To become a security guard, you gotta go through training courses, like hand-to-hand combat.
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