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Guelph's Cleo the Clown keeps bringing the smiles

'I'm as exciting as a bouncy castle,' said Jenifer Pettigrew, also known as Cleo the Clown

As Cleo the Clown, Jenifer Pettigrew is serious about bringing the fun to every party.

"I jokingly say, 'The world should sparkle more,' because I always carry glitter," said Pettigrew, the owner of Cleo the Clown Entertainment in Guelph.

The children's entertainer has been involved in parties, events for corporations and events in the community for over 20 years, including being part of the pre-game and halftime entertainment for the Guelph Nighthawks, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Guelph and the Hamilton Princess Ball for Cystic Fibrosis.  

Pettigrew said she fell into clowning and realized it was a good fit for her. 

“There’s very few I haven’t been a part of. If it involves kids, I’ve probably been there once or twice over the past 20 years," said Pettigrew.

"I feel like every time I go out to an event, it solidifies why I do what I do, it's the smiles, it truly is. I can be completely exhausted after a 10-hour day, but it's the smiles that solidifies why I'm out there, and it makes that person's day."

Originally a hairdresser, Pettigrew said her and her co-workers purchased a book years ago called I Can Be Anything I Want To Be If I Just Knew What That Was and each decided to pick a different career to try and set out to follow the book's advice. She chose to learn how to be a clown.

"I have no idea why I picked that, but back then what we did is you had to pick up the Yellow Pages phone book and look for somebody, so, I did. I found a clown and I called to ask her the three questions so that I could carry on with my portion of the coffee room project we’ll call it. Anyways, she was like, ‘I don’t have time to talk on the phone, just come to my office,’" said Pettigrew.

“So I went on my next day off, and I met this woman, and she was a firecracker. She was hilarious. I was there for hours. We got along so well, and then when I left, I went to leave and she was like, ‘So because I’ll have to train you, I’m going to start you at this wage,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, that was a job interview?’”

After two years, Pettigrew left that business and started her own in Guelph. Today, Cleo the Clown appears to be the only professional clown in Guelph.

"My business slogan is 'Miles of Smiles' because that's what I want to create, because what else would you want to leave behind? Miles of smiles."

Like other professions, Pettigrew said there is a lot of behind the scenes work clowns do to prepare for events. In Canada, there are also organizations, like Clowns Canada or Brant Clown Alley, which hold conferences. Pettigrew adds clowns were the first to network before other professions.

“What’s the newest thing I could be using in my industry? Balloons, you’re constantly learning new things to twist with balloons, what are my fastest things I can do at corporate events? What can I do that’s more intricate for candy cups, let’s say. There’s always education, there’s always learning new things," said Pettigrew.

She adds her daughter has also gotten into the children's entertainment business and runs her own tie-dye company called Monkey Bum Tie-Dye.

"I think it's fabulous," said Pettigrew, noting their businesses are intertwined. "She's been going to parties with me since she was very young, adding the sparkle to the party with glitter tattoos, and when the opportunity came to purchase that other business, it was a good fit. Now she is the tie-dye girl."

With the return of parties, Pettigrew said she feels like she picked up this summer where she left off during the pandemic.

“I have to re-familiarize myself with kids, because they’ve been nowhere for three summers, so if you’ve got a six-year-old, the last time they were out they were three, so they don’t remember any of these things,” said Pettigrew.

She notes there are fewer entertainers today than three years ago due to the pandemic. She adds it has made it harder for new clowns to get started.

“I would say more than 50 per cent of us are gone that didn’t return. They either retired, or took other jobs, because there were no parties," said Pettigrew, adding they were lucky to have established themselves prior to the pandemic.

“Finding all the resources that you need aren’t readily available like they were before, which is okay. It makes you think twice, it makes you plan differently and it makes me happy that I have a network of people where I can go and say, ‘Where are you getting this? Because I cannot find it.’”

Cleo the Clown will be at the CIBC Run for the Cure, which is happening Oct. 2. To learn more about Cleo the Clown Entertainment, go to cleotheclown.ca.