One of the Kentucky State Fair’s most popular attractions is, of course, the midway. There are the thrill rides, but the midway is also lined with game booths with the promise of prizes like stuffed animals and other toys.
There’s one midway booth where the reward is something more intangible.
Walk to the far end of the midway and you might hear the singsong taunts of Bozo the Dunking Clown.
“Do like you oughter and knock me in the water,” he cackles. It’s officially called the Dunk Bozo booth, but the clown is a little more sinister than the name suggests.
“That’s right little boy, hold mommy’s hand, we don’t want her to get lost,” he says to a passing woman and child.
Walk within earshot and Bozo will start in on you, taunting you to come over and try to shut him up by throwing baseballs at targets on each side of his cage.
“Here comes a guy with a big bald head, doo-dah, doo-dah. Hair won’t grow where the brain is dead,”the clown sings to the tune of “Camptown Races.”
Many passersby just can’t resist the urge to come up and put Bozo in the water. It’s three baseballs for $2 or 10 for $5.
But the more you throw and the more you miss, the heavier the clown lays it on, as a father and his young son found out.
“Come on buddy—yow—that’s what I thought, send a boy to do a man’s job!” the clown said to the father as the son fired baseballs at the target.
The dunking booth clown is actually a seemingly mild mannered young man by the name of Mike Bobbie, whose father owns the booth. The 23-year-old from Ohio is one of several clowns who pull four-hour shifts in the dunk tank, but his colleagues said he’s the best of the bunch when it comes to enticing fairgoers to bring him down.
Bobbie was not allowed to talk to us while off duty, but in a brief interview from his perch during a lull in business, he said it’s taken him just a few years to polish his repertoire of insults, which he delivers in a patter often punctuated with the word “water.”’
“When I first stared doing it, I would rehearse a little bit beforehand, but now it just comes natural,” Bobbie said. “I try to make people laugh and have a good time. Kind of a stress reliever for everybody.”
It doesn’t take long to appreciate Mike Bobbie’s talents. On a Wednesday evening, a crowd quickly forms as a teenage girl tries to hit the target.
“You go girl—can’t do it,” Bobbie said just before the girl hits the target and puts him under.
Bobbie doesn’t give the customers much time to savor their triumph.
“You didn’t knock me in the water, I slipped and fell, kid,” he told another ball tosser.
Bobbie said he has only a few ground rules for his act. No profanity is allowed. There is some ethnic humor, but he said he’s a pretty good judge of what should be off limits.
Middle-aged men seem to an easy target.
“You’ve got a Russian haircut—it’s starting to rush to the back of (your) head,” he told one unsuspecting passerby.
And the fairgoers seem to be good sports. With the exception of one obscene hand gesture, everyone appeared to take his zingers in good fun. Bobbie said an overserved fairgoer might get a little aggressive, but that doesn’t happen often.
In the spirit of participatory journalism, I plopped down my $2 for three baseballs and a chance to bring Bozo to justice.
He lets me have it.
“Come on Grandpa. You want me to come down and help wind up your pacemaker?” he said. I missed badly with all three balls, but I have to admit, it does feel good.
Mike Bobbie says he loves his job, traveling the world and making people laugh, mostly at themselves.
And fairgoers seem to revel in the thrill dunking a mouthy clown.
The Kentucky State Fair runs through Sunday.