Jeers of a clown ‘Rage in a Cage’ explains why he’s gotta be so mean on the midway

By on October 2, 2013



, Staff Writer

Kenny the Clown cackles and teases fairgoers who try to dunk him during the Ephrata Fair.

"I strive to be funny and entertain and I’m not there to really make anybody mad," explained Kenny the dunk tank clown. He goes by only Kenny to protect his identity.

"It’s about them achieving something. It’s not what I say, it’s them putting me in the water. I’m not on stage, they are."

Although Kenny the Clown and his infamous dunk tank are tucked away at the end of the midway by Park Avenue, you can still hear the echo of his cackle from afar. It’s most likely followed by an insult he made to a fairgoer to reel them in to play his game.

"Talk about a stress reliever!" laughed Kenny. "It’s laughing! If you stand there and listen I’m laughing … all the way to the bank!"

Kenny got his start in the carnival business as a child who loved going to the local Fireman’s carnival. His uncle was a volunteer for the fire company and ran one of the rides part-time. Kenny and his friends would spend the entire days and nights at the carnival and help clean up trash in exchange for ride passes.

In 1982, after spending three years in the military, Kenny became involved in the dunk tank industry after finding that some of his friends were still in the carnival business. His first gig was in the parking lot of Shea Stadium in New York City during the Mets games.

"First you had to work the counter and learn the material," Kenny explained of becoming a dunk tank clown. "Then you’re an apprentice. They ease you in. I was there for three days and the main clown, my mentor, it was his birthday and he wanted the day off, so I took over for him."

Kenny and the owner of the tank became business partners for the next nine years before the two parted ways and Kenny went into business on his own.

As he’s perched on his post, Kenny runs through the gamut of one liners and insults he can throw into the crowd. He studies the crowd for his next target.

"There’s features – you got clothes to pick on, hair styles, and throwing styles," explained Kenny. "You want to get that heckler too and put them in their place. That’s the best part."

Kenny, to most passersby, seems like an inconsiderate miscreant. But, believe it or not, there are lines he won’t cross.

"You don’t hear me calling anyone stupid or an idiot. Those are bullying words. If I pick on someone’s nose, and he’s uncomfortable, and doesn’t like it, I’ll try to pick on something else. Here’s what it is – you don’t want to pick on somebody that it’s going to get them upset."

That’s not to say it hasn’t happened.

"In Brockton, Mass. they rolled M80s under the dunk tank just to scare me," said Kenny of those who did take him too personally. "The police at the end of the night were there to make sure I made it the 20 feet to the truck where I changed."

The record amount that anyone spent on dunking Kenny was $450 in one night. But he’s also found that business has been dwindling the last few years. The biggest culprit? Cell phones.

"Cell phones really interfered with business. People are on their phones too much. It’s sad. And 9/11 also hurt us. Since then we’ve been down about 40 percent."

Kenny has been a part of the Ephrata Fair for about six years. Concessions manager, Terry Lesher saw Kenny in Allentown and invited him to Ephrata’s Midway.

"It was at his insistence that I come to Ephrata. My first year in Ephrata one of the cops was going to close me down for what I was saying. He didn’t understand the concept of the game," said Kenny.

Though it always looks like there’s a big crowd around Kenny and his dunk tank, he says about only 15 percent of fairgoers will actually try to dunk him.

"It’s the same guy playing over and over again. There’s five or six guys that are playing. They want to keep going. They’ll come out of the crowd and their friends will sponsor them," he said.

Kenny, like many of our favorite concessions, says he is throwing in the towel, retiring and handing the torch to someone else. Next year will most likely be his retirement tour.

"I’ll be back next year, but I don’t think I have it in me to do every night.

"There’s other guys out there that can do this," continued Kenny. "I already lived the dream."

More CLOWN, page A19

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