By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN When growing up in Howard Lake, Randall Munson dreamed of being a clown. As an adult he became “Circles” the clown, and has received many accolades over the years.
However, none of that compares to what he accomplished Wednesday evening, when he performed in “The Greatest Show on Earth” with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Anaheim, CA.
“I’ve been privileged to perform all over the world, but the opportunity to be a guest clown for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is really the ultimate fulfillment of my childhood dream to be a clown when I grew up,” Munson said.
Munson, the son of the late Roger and Lois Munson (Roger owned the Munson Insurance Agency), graduated from Howard Lake-Waverly High School in 1967.
As a child, he frequently borrowed “The Book Of Clowns” from the Howard Lake Library, which at that time was located in the old city hall.
“The book was all about the clowns in the circus,” Munson said. “I think my dream of becoming a clown probably grew from reading that book.”
Throughout his years of clowning, Munson has met and performed with some of the famous circus clowns featured in the book, including Lu Jacobs, Mark Antony, and Glen “Frosty” Little.
“I realize my clown character, Circles, was formed from the childhood impressions of what a clown should look like based on that book,” Munson continued. “Felix Adler, known as ‘The King of Clowns,’ performed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey for 20 years, and was the unconscious inspiration for Circles.”
Performing in ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’
“The experience was wonderful. I spent time before the show in Clown Alley with the clowns in the show,” Munson said.
While visiting with the clowns, they talked about some of the famous Ringling clowns each had worked with, shared notes on clown makeup and costuming, and shared what it was like traveling with the circus.
Munson also received a behind the scenes tour, where he saw the props and rigging used in the show, such as the iron ball that eight motorcyclists drive inside at the same time, the rigging two women use to hang by their hair, and the tight rope a motorcycle is driven across.
The feature of the show, titled “Dragons” is a huge mechanical dragon, which Munson also was able to see up-close.
“Backstage, it was fun to have circus performers stop to have personal pictures taken with me,” Munson added of the experience.
When it was finally time for Munson to perform in the center ring, he summarizes it like this: “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Center ring. Making people laugh. A dream come true!”
Munson’s recognition for his clowning ability
Although Munson pursued a 20-year career in computer science at IBM in Rochester following high school, he also performed as Circles.
Following his career at IBM, Munson became a professional speaker, speaking in 40 countries across six continents, and continuing to perform as Circles.
During his 40 years of clowning, Munson has received more than 40 national and international entertainment awards.
In 1983, he was named the number one white-face clown in America by Clowns of America, after which he led the first Rochesterfest parade riding the 6-foot orange and yellow ostrich he created.
“I spent hundreds of hours designing and building the ostrich,” Munson said. “Since I’m also a ventriloquist, I created the ostrich with a remote-controlled mouth, so he could talk. Circles calls him his horse, ‘Trigger.’”
Appearing in dozens of Minneapolis Aquatennial parades, and numerous parades in cities and towns, including Howard Lake, Munson was named the world’s top parade clown by the World Clown Association in 2006.
He has also performed at area events, in hospital pediatric wards, during the Minnesota Vikings halftime show, at Disney World in Florida, and at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
A memorable performance took place July 4, 1991, when Munson performed at the White House on the South Lawn during an informal, private event in which no press was allowed.
President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush were present, along with Vice President Dan Quayle and his family, Munson said.
“My family was able to attend with me, so it was a most memorable day for our family,” Munson said. “It was amazing to have the opportunity to make the president of the United States smile.”
“As the sun set, we all sat down on the South Lawn of the White House to watch the fireworks,” Munson continued. “As the bombs burst in the air over the Washington Memorial, the Marine Corps played ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Every time I think back to that time, I get goose bumps all over again.”