by Mary Rupert
Eric Stonestreet isn’t the only famous entertainer from Piper who makes people laugh. Dean Kelley, a Piper graduate, entertains millions of people as a clown for the Ringling Brothers circus.
Kelley will entertain the home crowd Sept. 10-14 as the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey “Built to Amaze” Circus comes to the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
People would sometimes ask Kelley about Eric Stonestreet, a comic actor from Piper now on “Modern Family” television series, who also did some clown acts.
Kelley, 34, said the two are both graduates of Piper High School, but in different eras.
Being a clown on the weekends in high school, Kelley also did theater and was in the band at Piper, he recalled in a recent interview. He was a drum major in the marching band, and played in the jazz band as well.
“My passion and my focus on my free time when I wasn’t doing school things was clowning,” he said.
“Once I got out of high school and went to college, I did professional theater in the Kansas City area,” Kelley said. He worked at the New Theater, Coterie Theater, and Theater for Young America, and that’s how he got a lot of performing experience, he added.
A graduate of Piper Elementary, Piper Middle School and Piper High School, Kelley attended KCKCC before joining the circus.
Most of his family lives in the Tonganoxie area now, and he was able to visit them just last month while traveling from one city to the next. He expects to see them again while he’s performing this week.
“I’ve traveled to 48 of the 50 states because of Ringling Brothers,” he said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity and wonderful career. I’m loving every minute of it.”
What does he like most about being a clown? Kelley said he likes the fact that he could do something that he loves to do, and not everyone can say that.
“One of the coolest things about being a clown, being in Ringling, is I get to perform for millions of people every year. To make people laugh all over the country, it’s amazing,” Kelley said.
While on the job, Kelley says he’s a magnification of himself, “very big and boisterous, making sure people want to have a good time.”
It is much harder to be a clown than people think, he acknowledges.
“I like to say it’s the hardest work you will ever love,” he said. “A lot of people think you can just throw on makeup, baggy clothes, and poof, you’re a clown. Makeup and costumes are part of it, but there is so much more to it.”
There are skills such as juggling, stilt walking, how to ride a unicycle. Routines performed by clowns are choreographed with clowns spending hours and hours on it before a routine even gets to the audience, he said.
This is Kelley’s ninth year with Ringling Brothers, and he’s been a clown for about 20 years now. He hasn’t missed attending a circus since he was 4 years old.
While in the Kansas City area, Kelley was a member of the International Clown Alley No. 92, and was vice president of the organization at one point. It is an organization that will help those who aspire to being a clown.
“A lot of people have dreams as kids, but I stuck with it,” Kelley said. “I literally ran away and joined the circus. It’s been an amazing career. If you set a goal for yourself, you can attain it. I’m living proof.”