This is not a joke: Mr Edmund Khong is a clown, and an ambitious one at that. Last year, the self-taught entertainer practised for months ahead of a competition organised by the World Clown Association and ultimately won the All Around Clown Award. He was the first Singaporean and only the second Asian to bag this honour. Not satisfied with that win, Mr Khong, 37, worked hard to win the All Around Clown Award again in 2018. In doing so he was named a Master Clown — and became the first non-American to hold this title. His story is an intriguing one, with more than its share of laughter and tears.
A TOUCH OF MAGIC
Even though Mr Khong is now best known as a clown, it was magic that first captivated him. “I loved watching David Copperfield TV specials,” he recalls. His father was a technician and his mother a housewife. “My parents couldn’t afford magic props so I constructed my own. I only got to buy magic props for my birthday or Christmas.” As a student at Catholic High, and then Anderson Junior College, he continued to hone his skills. “Every Chinese New Year, I’d go visiting and perform.” He would also volunteer to do magic tricks during school visits to homes for the aged.
It was only in NUS that he decided to go in another direction. He wanted to work as an entertainer but it was a crowded field and he needed a way to stand apart from the competition. That was when he decided to pick up clowning. In his first year, he met his “professor”, Singapore’s Ronald McDonald. This was the man who worked as the fast-food chain’s mascot here. “I accompanied him on his jobs and got to see him in action. He was very willing to share everything he knew.”
In University, his official major was History but his unofficial one was Clowning, even though his self-created ‘course curriculum’ was, shall we say, not well-fleshed out. “At the time, there was no YouTube, just books and video tapes. I bought them all and I attended performances by foreign clowns.” He also ‘minored’ in juggling, joining the University’s Juggling Club, where he met his future wife.
A DOUBLE LIFE
Between studying and his clowning career, university life was pretty hectic for Mr Khong. A resident of Eusoff Hall, his friends there nicknamed him ‘ninja’ because he was barely seen. He started doing paid gigs in his third year, and there were occasions when he had to get into costume and makeup right after lessons to get to a show.
BACK FROM THE BRINK
While he is at the top of his game today, Mr Khong has had his share of lows as well. Four years ago, he became addicted to online gaming. “I was on a downward spiral. I was spending 16 hours a day doing it.” He did not get enough sleep and his relationship with his wife suffered. In addition, he was not eating healthily. The combination of stress, a poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle took its toll. He put on weight, tipping the scales at 95kg. ”Clowning is a very physical thing,” he explains. “I developed back problems and a pain in the left knee. The wake-up call was when I went to the doctor: At 33, I had all the three highs — blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. This is stuff you should only see in your late 40s.”
He decided to clean up his act. He reduced his sugar intake and turned to natural food, “fish rather than fish cake, chicken rather than chicken nuggets”. It took him eight months to lose the flab and today, he is a trim 68kg. Kicking the gaming habit was a lot harder. He tried going cold turkey but that failed. “It was a huge mistake,” he recalls, as it created a void which he filled by taking up another game instead. He realised that he was the sort who would get obsessive when he latched on to something, so he latched on to getting fit. He started power-lifting and loved it so much that he went on to get certified as a personal trainer. While he does not work as a trainer, one thing he has learned from it is the principle of progressive overload. The idea is that if you want to get stronger, you have to keep pushing your body. “I’ve taken this principle into clowning — it guarantees that anyone in any profession will get better over time.”
One challenge he faces is anti-clown prejudice. Thanks to movies like Stephen King’s It , clowns are seen as scary as well. “I have customers who tell me, ‘Don’t come in makeup’. They even try to avoid using the word ‘clown’. 80 per cent of the time I do my show in Singapore, it’s without makeup.” As such, he works around such notions. “From a business point of view, I don’t call my show a clown show, I call it a comedy, juggling and magic show.” The ability to overcome adversity, the zeal for improvement, and the desire to serve others all demonstrate that for Mr Khong, being funny is indeed a serious venture.