“Patch” Adams – the social activist-physician-clown famously depicted by the late Robin Williams in the film of the same name – once reasoned “People crave laughter as though it were an essential amino acid."

You won’t get any argument from Judy Tudy, Snippy Doodles, Freckles or Chippy. The four local ladies (AKA Judy Seidel, Renate McIntosh, Elaine Bowne and Helene Lyons, respectively) have a combined clowning history of nearly 120 years. And although COVID-19 has put the kibosh on just about all of their usual in-person appearances, it hasn’t dampened their commitment to laughter.

The first week in August is National Clown Week. Not surprisingly, 2020’s ongoing pandemic has sidelined a majority of “normal” entertainment options. But clowns like Judy Tudy, Snippy Doodles, Freckles and Chippy are doing their best to share the joie de vivre that colors their zany alter egos in good times and keeps them going now…even if that means dishing out the laughs and balloon animals from the end of a driveway or over a fence.

Seidel’s Judy Tudy has been performing at venues as diverse as community centers and Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum for the past 36 years. These days, her Zoom magic shows – presented as “wonderful stories…focused on self-esteem” – have become a “safe” way for people to “come together and celebrate…and give parents a much-needed break.”

Seidel says these virtual shows have found success “for birthday parties, country club families and townships…even play dates.” She also hosts an occasional (socially-distanced) impromptu performance at home for kids in her Ambler neighborhood.

McIntosh is regional director of the World Clown Association. Her specialties as Snippy Doodles (and the more understated Rosie) also include magic, and she’s used her balloon sculpting skills to fashion costumes and props that she and husband Michael (who spends part of each year filling in for Santa) have been parading around their King of Prussia neighborhood. A “cruise” in a balloon boat was a particular hit.

“While walking the neighborhood, we spoke with neighbors who were out getting their daily exercise,” McIntosh says. “People in cars drove by and waved at us, (and) it made things a little better (during the pandemic).

“I’ve been a professional clown for 25 years…most of that time in Delaware (performing) at hotels, restaurants, festivals, libraries and schools throughout the Delmarva region and the Delaware Valley. My performances emphasize literacy, fair play and anti-bullying messages while delighting children with storytelling, magic and original balloon designs.

“My last performances before COVID were my Dr. Seuss programs in the schools. When the pandemic hit, I had to adapt to an environment where in-person performances were not possible. During the last few months, I’ve had birthday parties, schools, libraries, summer camps and festivals call to cancel. My calendar is empty except for a couple of festivals in September and October which are still sitting in limbo as the organizers are waiting to see what happens.”

Which, Bowne says, pretty much sums up Freckles’ current situation…beyond an occasional safely-distanced balloon sculpting session.

“As you can imagine, things are not anywhere near where they were before the pandemic,” the Conshohocken-based entertainer continues. “In general, there’ve been fewer requests for clowns in the past few years…more for balloonists or face painters or some of the other characters I have costumes for – everyone from Elmo to the princesses. But I had more than a dozen events for Easter, and everything was canceled because everyone is afraid. A lot of what I do is with crowds, so it’s been difficult.”

Hatboro’s Chippy the Clown has been using her down time to create one-of-a-kind balloon displays for events ranging from weddings to birthdays during the pandemic.

“It’s just crazy,” Chippy spokesman Lyons says. “No one’s working. I do comedy magic shows. I like to make people feel good, and I like to teach through my clowning. I don’t just pull a silk out of a hat. I talk about colors, shapes, numbers. I try to be creative. Doing a show during the pandemic when you have to keep a safe distance just isn’t the same. You can’t just hug a kid the way you can normally. And a hug tells them how wonderful they are…how special they are.”

Lyons traces her quest “to make people feel good about themselves” to her own bullied childhood.

“I just never want to see anyone bullied or feeling bad,” she says. “The most rewarding part of doing what I do is seeing kids smile…bringing love to people. One hundred per cent. To me, that’s the best thing in the world.”

Clearly, a shared sentiment…

“Making kids happy…giving them pleasure through magic or connecting with them through a story, that’s why I do what I do,” Seidel says. “I absolutely love children, and I’m grateful that God has given me the gift of being able to connect with them.”

By way of illustration, McIntosh describes an unscheduled addition to Snippy Doodles’ empty date book.

“One day, Michael and I were driving home from the grocery store and drove by a house that had signs in the yard that said ‘Honk…it’s my birthday,’” she recalls. “A little four-year-old was outside with his family. When I got home, I made a jet pack and helmet out of balloons. I also added six balloon swords, and we drove back to the house. From our car, I asked if it was okay for the little guy to have the balloons. I put the jet pack on his back and fitted the helmet on his head. He ran around the yard waving a sword. That was one of the best days of this quarantine.”

For additional information: Judy Tudy (www.judytudy.com, 215-646-0202 or judytudyclown@gmail.com); Snippy Doodles (www.snippydoodles.com, 302-535-9991 or renate@snippydoodles.com); Freckles (www.frecklestheclownandfriends.com, 610-825-2848 or freckles124@aol.com); Chippy the Clown (www.chippytheclown.com, 215-460-3479 or chippytheclown@hotmail.com).

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