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Clown Population Embraces Tiny House Movement

Clowns test the social fabric of tiny house communities while imparting valuable lessons in low-impact living.

April 1, 2017

Clowns have made themselves right at home in tiny house communities across the country, redefining what it means to be a friendly neighbor.

Photo: Giggles the Independent Clown Photographer and Paul VanDerVerf. License: CC BY 2.0.
Members of Simply Home Community, a tiny house cohousing community in Portland Oregon, are famous for their environmental stewardship, sense of community, and acceptance of others, but an influx of clowns is challenging these social norms. The new residents’ cultural differences made members wary, at first, but the clowns are now winning over the community and redefining what it means to be sustainable in the tiny house era.

“We’re all about resource and space efficiency,” says Simply Home Community resident Liza Mendoza, relaxing on the porch of her 100 ft2 gypsy wagon, Tater Tot. “And tolerance, of course. I mean, we welcome everyone,” she emphasizes, pausing nervously to scan the community’s bylaws, “but how many people are living in that tiny funhouse?” She points to the 20 clowns slowly exiting a canted bright yellow, red, green, and blue home. “And how are they all fitting into that car?!” she adds as the clowns conga line dance into a polka-dotted Volkswagen Beetle.

Mendoza, a member of the Tiny House Collaborative that promotes simple living, stresses that she is not judging the clown lifestyle, but is still adjusting to the sheer number of clowns, the honking horns, and the red-rubber noses. “They can be a bit ‘boisterous’,” she says, conceding, “I’d still rather look at their baggy pants and orange wigs than Trevor’s steampunk bowler hat and handlebar mustache, any day. I am so sick of cleaning mustache wax out of the common house bathroom sink.”

Members of the community acknowledge the cultural differences and the need to establish a better dialogue with the new neighbors after last month’s disastrous potluck, where organic, locavore fruit pies and hundreds of cream pies became weapons in a pie fight that lasted well into the night. “The cleanup took two weeks, and I doubt we’ll ever get the blueberry and custard stains out of the futon,” sighed Mendoza.

Sad Boy Jonny tells BuildingGreen that living in the Simply Home Community has not been all sunshine and squirting flowers for the clowns either. “We come from a noble tradition, but clowns face discrimination everyday,” he says, suppressing a sniffle while pulling one handkerchief after another out of his coat pocket.

These frustrations are familiar to Choco the Magnificent, representative of Clowns of America, International. He has been a pioneer in the fight against clown discrimination—and the cramming of clowns into small spaces—for more than forty years, yet he shares the tiny house community’s sense of exploration of housing possibilities. “In the '60s, we were the first clown-based organization to encourage revolutionary environmental policies, and not everyone was ready for us,” he says. “We experimented with radical population density and energy-saving ride sharing,” Choco says, becoming agitated. “And that’s more than those mimes and their BS ‘resource-efficient’ invisible walls ever did!”

But Choco the Magnificent also recognizes that public perception of clowns has become more negative over the years. “From those heady beginnings we now have Ronald McDonald and other scary clowns,” he laments. The closing of Ringling Brothers Clown College was another oversized hammer blow to the clowning arts, leaving the country’s clown population with few opportunities for higher education or jobs. The school’s closing led to the Great Clown Migration of 1997, where faculty from the sustainable clown programs drifted across the country, often settling in tiny house communities like those in Portland, Madison, Austin, and Denver.

Fortunately for the Simply Home Community, out of their pie fight came understanding, acceptance, and laughter. Resident Melissa Johnson says she now appreciates the clowns. “They are not scary at all. They’re actually really fun,” she says. “And they never argue, which is amazing considering their cramped living conditions.” Johnson now often hangs out with the clowns on the common green. “Patchy Pants is teaching me how to ride a unicycle. It’s good to step outside and unwind once in a while. Seriously,” she says, taking a deep breath, “if I have to spend another minute inside that Lilliputian, head-bruising, @#$ing tiny loft I’m gonna snap! Sorry, I mean, it’s really comfortable. It’s great. Really.”

Mendoza is beginning to see the clowns through fresh eyes, as well, and is even learning new sustainability and space sharing lessons from them. “Just last week we squeezed ten people into a Prius to go to Whole Foods,” she says. “We challenged the notion of what motorized transportation can be, and what laws police will enforce. The Uber driver wasn’t very happy and Trevor ripped his mohair vest, but everyone else had a good laugh. It was exhilarating—and cramped.”

Like grease paint on a hot, humid day, Mendoza thinks the clowns’ radically funny sustainability message is beginning to rub off on others, as well. “We can all have smaller environmental footprints, even those of us wearing massive clown shoes.”


For more information:

Clowns of America, International
justclowningaround.org 

Tiny House Collaborative
thlab.org