Rosendale clown Dagen Julty, who goes by “Clown Lovejoy,” sees himself as proud heir to a grand and positive tradition. Clowns were a fixture centuries before P.T. Barnum traveled the country with a menagerie of exotic animals and unusual people, including clowns. According to Julty, a profound cultural shift in recent years culminated in “the clown scare” of 2016, when children and some adults reported sightings of “killer clowns” in various woods and other locales. The clown had become a figure of phobia rather than a bringer of happiness.
Clowning has a checkered historic past. Because they had already deprecated themselves by their calling, clowns didn’t have to live by the social rules. They were predestined to be fools. In hierarchical societies, their status was very useful. According to lore, it was a clown who made a gesture that convinced emperor Chin Shin Huang-Ti that whitewashing the entire length of the Great Wall of China was a poor plan. The clown painted a phallus on the structure — only a clown could get away with a gesture like that.
Julty’s calling, he says, includes more than bringing levity to his immediate surroundings. His job is to spread the art and the spirit of the clown to whoever has the capacity to receive that gift. “That’s a clown’s role, to reach into the darkness and bring light there,” he said. “But the role of the clown has been distorted. Times are so dark now, no one wants to hear someone say ‘Let’s be happy.’”
Julty, 66, has not only undertaken the uncertain path of clowning himself, but he also leads clown hopefuls in their search for their innate performative personae.
“I help people find their inner-clown character that’s an intrinsic part of their personality — [I] take people on a guided meditation [to find it],” explained Julty. “They slowly realize, ‘I’m a shy clown, I want to celebrate my shy side,’ or ‘I’m a bumbling clown.’ Then [we go] out in the world, we either go to a supermarket or a town square, or if it’s close, a hospital. That’s one place that’s very important to go — clowns can heal through humor and silliness.”
Julty was born to “very liberal” New York City parents who “encouraged him when the hippies came along.” After mastering a number of instruments — he started with the flute, piano and guitar before clowning led him to take on the banjo, ukulele, pennywhistle, accordion and a world of noisemakers — he spent most of his adult life as a private music teacher for children and aspiring adults, including a stint at the Woodstock Day School.
It was there that a friend of his who was a clown asked him why he didn’t become an entertainer who educates rather than an educator who entertains. “We think of clowns as coming from another dimension, and they do. They come from the world of the inner child, they’re adults who have an allegiance to their inner child, and that is something that children need,” said Julty. “Children need to see adults who still acknowledge the power of innocence and youth, and adults need to remember that we don’t need to be adult and serious all the time. Clowns have become in the eyes of many a figure of phobia rather than a bringer of happiness — but let us not forget that it’s OK to be goofy, it’s OK to make mistakes, and it’s OK to be funny.”
In 1992 he took a clowning class with Wavy Gravy, the official clown of the Grateful Dead most known for his role at the 1969 Woodstock Festival managing the throngs through levity. Asked what he and his entourage would use for crowd control at the event, he replied that they would be outfitted with cream pies and seltzer bottles. Julty’s original persona, Happy Dan the Music Man, was conceived two years later in 1994. Happy Dan was “a merrymaker, someone who makes the world a happier place along with storytellers, jugglers, mimes and clowns.” (All clowns are merrymakers, Julty said, but not all merrymakers are clowns.) For 20 years, Happy Dan entertained children of all ages including babies, seniors and the disabled. He worked primarily in western Massachusetts.
Before arriving at his current stage name, Julty experimented with the names Jolti and Oglesby. The inspiration for his current name came when he was performing on the streets at the first Women’s March in New York City a few years back.
“I had, up to that point, been working with the name Oglesby,” he said. “Here I was, at the Women’s March, and these women thanked me for coming and cheering things up and asked my name. Before I could think, the name ‘Lovejoy’ popped into my head and it has stuck ever since.”
At a recent open mic he asked an audience member to choose random phrases like, “Whom can you trust?” and “What is the meaning of life?” out of a hat. Julty responded in ways that were both funny and pithy. He finished the performance with an improvised performance poetry piece, interspersed with a jazz flute accompaniment that seemed effortless. “What I’m looking for is relevance,” he explained. “I continue to figure out what my message to today’s world is, because it’s so different. If I were clowning to the era of my youth, my message would be be happy and have fun. Now people would say, ‘How can we be happy, when we have this president or this climate threat or these people doing these horrible things?’”
Julty wants to form a traveling circus troupe. “It’s not going to just be clowns,” he said. “[I want] visual artists, jugglers, dancers, creative people of all stripes,” he said. “We’re all going to be part of a movement to upgrade life on earth!”
He intends on hosting a clowning workshop in May. Those interested in attending, joining a circus troupe or hearing clown wisdom can contact Julty at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 633-2060. Examples of his performances are available on his YouTube channel, Clown Lovejoy.