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One Mans Laughing Mission to Help Lift Spirits

Los Angeles Sentinel, News Feature, Janet Alston Jackson Posted: Jul 27, 2009

"No matter what life puts you through, you always have to keep a smile in your heart, because the world needs more laughter."

Those words spoken by Sean Davis, the sole African American clown in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, is the reason he takes his funny job, seriously. Davis wants to help people forget their troubles, at least for a couple of hours.

"With the state of the economy, it's a huge badge of honor that I wear my clown suit being the only African American on the cast who is breaking stereotypes," says Davis. He feels the Black community hit hardest by the economic downturn, especially needs a break from stress and depression.

The former Marine, who proudly served in the first Gulf War, is part of an act called "The Heavies," in Zing Zang Zoom." When asked how he got involved with the circus, he's candid. "I met a girl who was a dancer in the show. The cupid arrow hit me in the head. I came across an opportunity to travel on the road with the circus and be with her," says Davis who always had aspirations of becoming a performer. The circus was a natural fit for him.

"Within a month from being home from the military I was back on the road again with the show in 1997 as a member of a support crew setting up and tearing down the circus and putting up props during the show.

The couple married and had a daughter. Although the marriage didn't last, Davis's love for the circus did. He found himself auditioning to become a clown and after making the cut, he was off to Clown College.

"It's fun, but it's hard work says the performer. "You work 12 hours a day for six days a week. If you are not in shape, you'll get in shape. You learn character development, make-up development, physical comedy, stilt walking, and how to fall without injuring yourself."

After graduating he became the first in his family to perform with a traveling circus. In January 2009 Davis became part of the new "Zing Zang Zoom" show which features fun-filled magic acts merging with traditional circus arts.

How did his family accept his new profession? "My stepmother was all for it. My dad at first thought I was going to live like a gypsy. Overall, the family is very supportive," says Davis who knows they can't wait for him to come home to Chicago in November with the circus. For the first time they'll be able to see him perform, including his nine-year-old daughter, Alexis.

Being in the show for Davis is a sense of pride representing African Americans and having them identify with the circus because of him. He loves meeting guests at the pre-show and taking pictures with them because he'll be a part of families good memories together.

"I remember being in the pre-show in Tampa, Florida, and apparently it was the first time this little Black girl had visited a circus," says Davis. "I overheard her say to her mother after seeing me, 'Look mom, they have brown clowns in the circus too.' The most rewarding thing for me is when I meet a first-time circus guest, whether they are fifteen years old, or a fifty-year-old lady. It gives me more motivation to get out there and give even more energy because they have never experienced the circus before. I want to do as much as I can to make sure they have an awesome experience."

Davis has big plans when he finally hangs up his big red clown shoes, "After I am done performing, I would like to go into the management side of the circus because I love being here," says Davis who feels the opportunities for African Americans and other minorities with the multi-cultural circus are available, "The doors are always open."

There's no question Davis loves his job. He performs 12 shows a week, lives and travels on the train with other performers for eleven months a year, and volunteers his time rising in time for the 3:30AM traditional animal walk. He escorts the horses and eleven Asian elephants each weighing 10,000 pounds and standing nine feet tall, to the arenas in cities.

The elephants belong to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation which helps to preserve and protect the species' well-being. "This year a male calf born on the inaugural eve of the 44th President of the United States, was named Barak," says Circus spokesman Andy Perez. "He's the first Asian elephant born at the Conservation as a result of artificial insemination."

It was an exceptional and emotional walk for Davis escorting the animals to the Staples Center knowing that he was bringing tears of laughter to the arena the same day it was filled with tears of sorrow for Michael Jackson's memorial. He's a big fan of the King of Pop, and knows that Jackson loved the circus, which was replicated in parts at the Neverland Ranch, including housing elephants.

In the meantime, Davis knows like Jackson did, as a performer the show must go on despite of any tragedies in your own life. "The most challenging thing for me working in the circus is putting aside my own personal problems in order to put smiles on the faces of the guests who paid to come see the greatest show on earth," says a pensive Davis. "It's not about me anymore."

(If you missed the Los Angeles shows you can still see the circus:)

Anaheim, California
Jul 15, 2009 - Jul 26, 2009

Ontario, California
Jul 29, 2009 - Aug 02, 2009


Laugh therapy is part of mainstream medicine, and "Clown care" is part of bedside treatment. Hospitals are bringing in clowns to juggle, perform magic tricks and gags as they make "clown rounds." They bring novelty store rubber chickens and other paraphernalia to promote laughter in nursing homes, cancer units, and even hospice settings.
Here are facts why laughter is important in your life:
--The average American child laughs 200 times per day, while adults only laugh about 15 times
--When you laugh oxygen gets into all the cells in your body, which is needed for energy and vitality
--Lowers blood pressure and reduces pain levels
--Helps with cholesterol
--Causes the brain to produce a variety of chemicals that naturally make you feel better
--Increases job performance especially if your work depends on creativity and solving complex problems
--Improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain
--Reduces blood sugar levels
--Increases glucose tolerance in diabetics and non-diabetics alike
--Connects people emotionally (Some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together.)
--Helps your blood vessels function better. It acts on the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, causing vessels to relax and expand

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