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For a Clown, the Fun Just Starts at 65

April 03, 1986|SOLOMON J. HERBERT | Herbert is a Canoga Park free-lance writer

At 65, Roger Scholl retired from the postal service, where he had worked more than 20 years. He quickly found that a life of leisure was not all it was cracked up to be.

"I was going nuts . . . just sitting around vegetating," the Reseda resident said. "I always wanted to remain active for my whole life, and yearned for something to do."

Scholl's wife had been a musical clown at one time. And now, a longtime acquaintance asked Scholl if he would like to attend a meeting of the local clown club. He went, and the evening answered his need.

Roger Scholl became a clown. It was 1979. Scholl's family and friends knew him as a practical joker. But at the club, he said, "I became an entirely different person . . . uninhibited. All of a sudden I was able to express myself like I never did before. I could do things, and, even if I made mistakes, people would laugh, because they thought it was part of the act. It gave me a tremendous feeling of freedom."

Scholl turned pro a year later, when he played a birthday party in Encino for a 3-year-old. Under the professional name of Dr. Clown, he accepts similar engagements and also works as a volunteer, performing regularly at local convalescent homes and hospitals.

His motivation is twofold. "I guess it was a matter of realizing that our meager Social Security check wasn't enough for us to live on," he said. Looking for a way to supplement it, "I thought what a wonderful way of getting the job done and making children happy, all at the same time.

"When you make other people happy, it makes you happy," he said. "I don't think there's anybody in this world that doesn't want to be happier."

"He loves kids, and is really good with them," said Dorothy Scholl, 70, his wife of 35 years and his assistant in the act.

She recalled a recent performance for mentally disabled children, who were particularly appreciative. "They just wanted to be loved . . . and wanted to love us," Dorothy said.

"I don't know what made them so outgoing, so sweet and loving," Roger added, "but I have a hunch it has to do with their intellect not blocking the flow of love coming from their souls. We all have a lot of love in our hearts, but we're kind of afraid of our fellow man sometimes, and what he's going to think if we express it. But these kids were not inhibited."

Scholl's act consists of what he calls "balloon buffoonery." Using balloons, he creates such things as animals, clowns, and bouquets, then throws in a bit of juggling and magic. For example, he often starts a show by pulling several brightly colored scarfs from the air and juggling them.

Next he might do the old routine of "I'm going to put you in the bottle," during which he places a small letter u in a bottle, evoking giggles and snickers.

Other favorites with the children are his "shoehorn and playing card bits," where he conceals a kazoo in his shoe or a harmonica behind a deck of cards, and toots a snappy tune, while the kids clap, dance, and stamp their feet gleefully.

"I'm not trying to mystify and fool the children as much as to make them laugh at me," Scholl said.

According to Dorothy Scholl, by the time he has finished a show, even children who were at first apprehensive are begging for more.

"It's amazing how they all run up and want to hug the clown," she said.

In the mid-1960s, Dorothy Scholl was working as the director of a senior citizen's program. As part of her duties, she organized Dorothy Scholl's Music Clowns, a "kitchen band" made up of costumed senior citizens who played kazoos, pots, pans, or anything else that could produce a sound. Roger Scholl joined the band and played a variety of instruments, including the washboard.

After adding traditional instruments, several dance steps, comic routines, and other skits to the act, the Music Clowns, all 26 of them, were in popular demand, the Scholls said.

"I was getting calls from all over," Dorothy said, "and we'd go out and entertain people that couldn't come to us."

The group didn't limit their appearances to other senior citizens organizations, however. "Believe it or not," Roger Scholl said, "we even performed downtown at the Music Center."

Scholl was elected in 1983 president of the Calvalcade of Clowns.

Soon after, there occurred what Scholl describes as one of the greatest events of his life--a clown convention he attended in Albuquerque, N.M.

"Meeting 300 people who were interested in the same things as I was, . . . I soaked it all up like a sponge," Scholl said. "I just can't begin to tell you how wonderful it was. It was an experience that I would hope and pray that everyone would have in the course of their lives, because it gives you such an entirely different perspective of what clowning is all about. Everybody was just thinking about what they could give, and not what they could get. There was such perfect harmony, living like God intended, you might say. It was just beautiful."

As much as he enjoys his work, Roger needs to take a break from clowning every now and then.

"We like to take mini-trips in our Volkswagen van, and spend a few days at a campground," he said. "We also like to take walks, and commune with nature."

Scholl encourages more people to become involved in clowning. He is forming the International Fun Club, a nonprofit organization that he says will be family oriented.

"Everyone is welcome, especially those who want to express their creativity and learn skills that they can impart to others," he said. "Then they can spread their own special brand of spiritual sunshine, so that this poor old world will have more joy in it."

Anyone can be a clown, Scholl believes. "All it basically takes is to let your wonderful sense of humor come forth . . . your love of life and love of others . . . and then cultivate it. There's no one who really can't become a clown if they're willing to make the effort. But then, that applies to almost anything else in life."

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