Punkin the Clown
HAMBURG — Connie Morrow, also known as Punkin the Clown, started clowning as a favor to her sister, who was opening a new Goodwill location on William Street.
“She talked me into being a clown, and there was a real clown there. We didn’t know what we were doing,” she said, laughing. “We were out there for 8 hours and didn’t know we had to powder our makeup. It was running all down our faces. We were a mess!”
But despite costume malfunctions, after that event, Morrow was hooked.
“I thought, ‘Hey, I can do anything [in clown]. This is pretty cool!’”
She and her sister worked at Goodwill and then as clowns at the Erie County Fair, but it was not until Morrow watched a video of Dick Van Dyke hosting “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College: 20th Anniversary” that Morrow decided to get serious about clowning around.
“I said to myself, ‘I want to do this. I really, really, really want to do this!’”
The following year, Morrow took clown classes at Maryvale, hosted by Elene “Minikin” Foxe. Clown school taught the prospective clowns how to do their makeup, balloon sculptures, some basic magic tricks, songs, games and other tricks of the trade. After that, it was up to the students to create their own personas and take them into the world.
Her Punkin persona came from Morrow’s love of fall and of Halloween. She likes the color orange, which is why she decided to dress in orange, like a friendly pumpkin come to life. The name was not trademarked by anyone else, so she was able to take it on. As for her trademark pigtails, those speak to her clown personality.
“I knew a little girl whose mother told me that every time she did her hair in pigtails, she became mischievous,” Morrow said. “So I knew that I had to do mine in pigtails, too.”
To get started, Morrow, now Punkin, joined the Buffalo Clown Alley, a group that helps to promote and support clowns working in the Western New York area. She was a part of that group for 11 years, working as the alley’s secretary in charge of the newsletter.
“They would send us out on jobs and I started to get a feel for being around kids,” Morrow said. “I’m kind of a big kid myself. I had a great childhood. The best. And as a clown, I like to try to pass that along to the kids, too.”
After the Buffalo Clown Alley declined to join the national Clowns of America alley, Morrow decided to form her own alley, so she and other clowns could become more connected to the national group. With that, Corny Clowns of Erie County was born, a group of local clowns who met at a local church to trade tips, share ideas and bond over the trials and tribulations of making fun for a living.
“We were going gangbusters, that first year,” Morrow said. “But after awhile, people started having medical problems, having grandchildren. All of a sudden, it just wasn’t working. We started meeting less often, and before long, we weren’t meeting at all. I felt really bad,” she added. “It was my baby. But when it disbanded I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to go off on my own and have some fun.’”
Morrow has been working as an independent clown ever since, doing corporate picnics, business openings, baby showers, charities and other local events. She works with Hunter’s Hope, Everstep, Camp Good Days and other charities as well. In 2009, she won Best Children’s Entertainer in Western New York and was a Parent’s Pick on Nickelodeon. The one thing she does not do is stage performing. “I’d probably pull down the curtain trying to get out,” she said, with a wink.
While balloon sculptures are her favorite, Morrow said that as a clown she has to know “a little bit of everything.
“A lot of people rehearse their shows, but I can’t rehearse my shows. The kids tell you what to do. You have to change things up a little bit, each time.”
She said that she modifies some of her tricks because the Internet has made it easier for kids to find the solutions online, before the party. Sometimes, an 8 or 9-year-old boy will try to show that he knows one of her tricks, only to find that Punkin’s version is not the one he expected.
“I try to go with the flow,” she said. “Sometimes kids will get me going and I have to throw everything [I had planned] out the window.”
Morrow, who is also CPR and Red Cross First Aid trained, also works for the West Seneca Community Emergency Response Team. She just became a licensed ham radio operator and has worked as everything from a bookkeeper to a shop worker to a receptionist. When her mom got sick, she was her caregiver for five years.
“Toward the end, I was working in a regular job, and I was taking time off all the time to take care of my mom,” she said. “And I finally told them that it isn’t fair to them, it isn’t fair to me, so I quit that. I kept clowning on the weekends, to bring in some money.
“That’s the best part about it,” she added. “It’s not like a regular job, where you have to take time off for stuff like that. You set your own schedule.”
Now, Morrow works as a clown full-time, with the support of the man she calls “the kind of husband who will go along with everything.” During National Clown Week, Aug. 1-8, she will be “running around town,” doing clown activities and documenting it all, in order to run for Clown of the Year, an award given at the Clowns of America, International conference, in April.
“I have to document everything I do and send it in to the panel of judges,” she said. She has been working to collect proclamations and letters of recommendation, having received several from Brian Higgins, Byron Brown, Pat Gallivan and several town supervisors, already.
“I’m trying to show the world that we, in Western New York, have a sense of humor,” Morrow said. “I can’t ask for anything better than the life I have. I tell my husband, I tell everyone: I wish you could find a job you love as much as I love my job.”