When they aren’t clowning around, Tickles and Yowza are just Jennifer and Ron Burke.
The Highlands-based entertainers has been clowning for decades and can often be spotted at community fairs, celebrations and events such as the Mother’s Day Paint-In at Royal Roads University.
Jennifer first transformed into Tickles in 1985. She was an aspiring actress and her teammates in theatre sports voted her the clown of the group.
While some actresses may have been insulted by the comment, Jennifer took it as a compliment and just rolled with it.
“She had the unanimous approval that she was a clown,” Ron said
After having three children, Jennifer figured a career in clowning was a fun way to raise her children without ever having to put them in day care.
Naturally the children grew up clowning too. Sunny, 29, started when she was five, Spring, 26, and Aubrey, 24, both started when they were three and a half.
Each of the children picked their own clowning name and designed their costumes. Sunny chose to be Fickles, Spring chose Dots-a-Lot and Aubrey picked Po-Co.
Aubrey still works as a clown, sometimes with his parents and sometimes on his own, still under the name Po-Co.
“I love it, I loved working with my family (as a kid),” Aubrey said. “It skewed my perception of work because I had to much fun doing it.”
It wasn’t until years later when Aubrey picked up some odd jobs such as custodial work, when he experienced other types of jobs. Spending a childhood clowning around sounds like every kid’s dream, there was one drawback — Halloween.
Each year the family often found itself booked with gigs at malls or parties.
“The kids would complain that they had to be clowns again for Halloween,” Jennifer said. After they finished work she would take the kids trick-or-treating.
Aubrey remembers his mother’s local fame as Tickles earned her more candy in her trick-or-treat bag than he or his sisters.
Now the family is starting its third generation of clowns. Sunny’s daughters, four and five years old, have decided they might not only be princesses, but clowns too.
While Jennifer and the children were clowning in the early years, Ron was busy running the family horticulture business. Ron would help his wife and kids set up for performances and saw the allure of clowning around.
When the horticulture business started to wane, Ron joined his troop of clowns to become a full-time clowning family in 1990.
“When we go to work people are laughing,” Ron added. “It’s not necessarily a great paying job, but we have gotten by from it.”
In 1991 Jennifer attended Clown College at the University of Wisconsin. The following year, Ron went. The college was taught by professional clowns who had worked for high-calibre performances such as the Barnum and Bailey circus.
At the college covered topics such as physical comedy, miming, slapstick, ventriloquism and make-up.
The children never went to clown college, but they took several dance, acrobatic and music lessons to help them with their acts.
Ron recalls giving Aubrey pogo stick lessons in the backyard.
‘We would put more effort in training them than we ever did in plastic toys,” Jennifer said.
“We even had our kids join the Christ Church Cathedral choir to capitalize on singing lessons,” Ron said.
As a family, the Burkes also joined juggling and magic clubs to pick up new skills and share a few of their own.
“We’ve even raised our own doves for magic tricks,” Ron said.
Ron and Jennifer travel across B.C. and Alberta for clowning shows. They focus on family events and birthday parties.
With a slower economy, Ron and Jennifer find themselves booked for 200 to 300 shows annually. Before the recession began they were booking up to 400 shows a year.
Aubrey has found that while he enjoys clowning for children, he has found a deep interest in a more avant-garde clowning style for adults.
“I use clowning as a way of expression,” Aubrey said.
Clowning has been a part of the family’s life for as long as the children can remember, now with the third generation up and coming clowners they are devoted to the craft.
“It’s a huge thing to make large numbers of people happy,” Ron said.
Ron admits there are other perks from the job.
“About six times in the past 20 years I have been pulled over for speeding (when dressed as Yowza),” Ron said. “Each time the police have said they can’t give a clown a ticket.”
While the family is a clan of clowns, they don’t cram into a tiny clown car — they drive a Volkswagen instead.