Arguably, we’ve interviewed a lot of clowns over the years (ba dum dum), but this is the first time a real, floppy-footed, red nosed, magic-makin’ clown is the subject of an OnMilwaukee.com interview.
Jamie Ansley is a professional clown who goes by the name "Funnywinks." Her career began in 2002, when she was living in New York City.
"I know it sounds strange, but I needed a job. I was an artist in New York City, and I’m not very good at waiting tables, so I had to get creative," says Ansley. "I had worked as a costumed character for Six Flags back in college as Tweety Bird and Taz, so I thought of the ever-popular industry in New York City -- children’s parties!"
Per the recommendation of a friend, Ansley contacted a small company called Clown-O-Rific and offered her services as a costume character. However, the owner said he was only hiring clowns at the time, but he would be willing to train her.
Ansley shadowed the owner, whose clown name is "Looney Lenny The Clown," in a pediatric wing in a New York hospital.
"I was completely taken with his compassion, sensitivity and skill for connecting with children. I was sold," says Ansley.
While living in New York City, clowning became the bulk of Ansley’s income, but she maintained several other part-time jobs, most of which also involved children. However, in Milwaukee, Ansley has been able to work full time as Funnywinks since last June.
Prior to becoming a clown, Ansley was an extra in soap operas and today, she occasionally does a television commercial as Funnywinks. Most of her income, however, comes from the 100 shows a year she does as a party clown.
Ansley -- when dressed as Funnywinks -- wears the usual clown attire: a red nose, hat, floppy shoes. She does not, however, wear full face makeup because she thinks it’s too intense and can scare kids. Ansley says her Funnywinks costume will never change.
"Funnywinks has a costume that I’d like to stick with so that I can be recognized easily. It’s a branding choice," says Ansley.
During her shows, Ansley offers face painting, interactive magic, music and dance performances and balloon animals.
According to Ansley, in the clown world, there is a hierarchy that places birthday clowns beneath circus clowns and theatrical clowns. Consequently, she sometimes struggles to receive support from other clowns in the industry. Ansley says she wrote a play based on clown-to-clown judgment.
"Some of those at the top may not consider me a real clown. That really hurt at first, but I’ve since made peace with it," says Ansley. "I am a clown, no matter what type I am."
Ansley says her favorite part about being a clown is working with kids.
"I love having the tools that really engage kids -- the face paints, the magic, the balloons, the silly dancing," she says. "My favorite is performing magic and shining the spotlight on those who volunteer during my show to help with my magic wands or whatever it may be. I’ve known some very shy children to come out of their shells while engaged in the story of my magic. It’s wonderful."
The most challenging aspect of being a clown, according to Ansley, is preparing for a party as a solo performer. First, she has to assess the space before a gig to figure out the best staging arrangement. Then, she has to arrive at the gig super early so she can set up. Plus, there’s the physical hardship of having to lug a lot of equipment.
"Usually, the children are excited to see me when I arrive, and I’m sure it’s a bit of a let down to see a clown shlepping all of this equipment and setting up. I would love to have an assistant," says Ansley. "In fact, some children offer to help, which is the sweetest thing. But once I’m all set up, I’m all smiles."
Ansley says there’s more to being a clown than just wearing the costume and entertaining kids.
"It’s about building their self-esteem, too. While I’m face painting and making balloon creations, I talk to the child in front of me. I ask them questions like ‘What’s your favorite color?’ and ‘Do you have a dog at home?’ I love this part of the job!"
Kids are occasionally scared of Funnywinks, but most of the time, they love her. Ansley says it’s thrilling for most kids to see adults dressed up in a colorful outfit and behaving childishly.
"We’re all children inside anyway. I’m pretty lucky I still get to wear my hair in pigtails and be completely welcomed by a group of 5-year-olds," she says.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.