I did the Macy’s Day parade today as a CLOWN.
Fun fact: There are over 900 clowns in the Macy’s day parade. There are approximately seven trained, “real-life” clowns. The other 893 “clowns” are extra characters to work the crowds and make it more entertaining in between floats. Because even though you’re in front of Kelly Rowland, she doesn’t do jack shit until the cameras come on at the very end, at 34th St. So truly, the clowns are the heroes of the day.
I was one of 18 groomsmen in the wedding-themed clown troupe. Our group was a new 2019 debut, and it’s probable they spent the entire group’s budget on the bridesmaid’s way-too-nice shawls and whatever the hell the bride’s boobs were made out of. This left us with a balanced group of 18 groomsmen, 4 bridesmaids, a groom on stilts, and a busty bride. The groomsmen, always ignored in the wedding, were stuck with shirt tuxedos and collapsible hats. I could have had more fun with a much more cumbersome costume.
For example, everyone was obsessed with the clowns who got to be breakfast foods. Specifically, the sticks of butter! They got their own expedited makeup lane, their own special bus (because they could only reside in a 180-degree position, whether that be standing or laying across the seats), AND the most TV time. They also had a tub-load of butter jokes.
I was especially intrigued by the clowns stuck in a bathtub together. NYC city planners managed to cram as much as possible (and more) onto one tiny island, but the avenues are much wider than you would expect. When you’re not dodging A-WOL cab drivers, you have a lot of room to clown around. You can also get lonely if you lose your clown group to work the audience! I think it would be fun to have someone strapped to you in a rub-a-dub-tub. Although, it makes going to the bathroom in the porta-potties twice as difficult.
The parade itself was unsurprisingly organized (this is the 93rd time they’ve done it, after all) but surprisingly unstructured. To get this gig, I just had to know somebody at Macy’s and sign the online clown creed. There are a few more qualifications if you want to lead a clown group, walk on stilts, or rollerblade; but it’s something New Yorkers participate in just do to get a better view of the parade. We asked one guy how often he’s done the parade (he was on rollerblades, so he was an obvious professional), and he said he’s been doing it for 15 years. When asked why he said, “I have nothing better to do on Thanksgiving morning. I guess I could be sleeping?”
I still have no idea how things went smoothly. They allowed over 900 untrained clowns to prance 40 blocks, throwing confetti in people’s faces and hopefully keeping the Macy’s name in good grace. Everyone seemed to follow the clown creed, except for the stick of butter that kept getting into Al Roker’s shot. There was only one bad clown out of 900 (a 0.1% failure rate), an astounding statistic.
Let’s talk about the balloons, because those are the most terrifying things about the parade. You do not have to be trained to hold the balloon, even though it takes a professional amount of strength and coordination. The only two balloons I saw manuevered were Snoopy and Jett, which was enough to increase my stress levels right before showtime. Snoopy himself is an unruly beast. Because of his odd shape, he catches the wind in the worst way and is notoriously the worst balloon to handle. Again, you don’t need experience to hold a balloon, but when the leader was shouting, “Left flank! MATRIX ONE, MATRIX ONE!” you have to think they put the veteran balloon holders on this dipshit dog.
I am fascinated by how the balloons work. They are inflated and deflated at least five times during the week leading up to the parade (four times too many in my opinion). Steering those helium beasts involves a mascot coxsen who is trying to control 40+ untrained handlers and an unnaturally shaped flight risk. They do not get to have fun or throw confetti at people.
With all of the expertise and experience with the balloons, we did lose two soldiers. Ronald McDonald’s left leg deflated during the parade, only making it about halfway. He was promptly removed from the route and not allowed to finish. I don’t think an amputated Ronald McDonald would go over well with the kids who haven’t decided if they’re afraid of clowns or not. And although they were flying at the lowest level (MATRIX ONE), there was another balloon Hoda announced was “unable to fly” with absolutely zero further information. This balloon was an octopus or sun-themed things, so it had many more limbs than Ronald that could have imploded.
The removal of Ronald is representative of the ways that Macy’s tries to avoid inducing phobias from 900+ clowns. Macy’s clowns are not meant to be scary. The makeup is done in bulk and
really mild, so you can tell there is a relatively normal human underneath. It truly accented my round face and double chin in the worst way possible. But in costume, I don’t think any of us looked scary at all.
I quickly realized why Disney has an underground staging area for characters. There was nothing magical witnessing exhausted clowns at the end of the parade walking with their wigs and props in hand, makeup half melted and asking for a drink. When you see Mickey smoking a cigarette, or even worse, a line of clowns for the port-a-potty, you realize you aren’t a child anymore.
All in all, the parade was possibly the peak of my life. It’s exhausting to skip 40 blocks on an empty stomach, but it was better cardio and much more fun than a 5K Turkey Trot. Everyone was in a good mood and smiling. We thought we saw police snipers and debated whether they were there for crowd control or balloon control, but when they pulled out their phones to film the beginning of the show, we realized they were just getting a better vantage point. I said “Happy Thanksgiving” to more people than I have literally ever seen in my entire life, and with much more energy and gusto than I have ever had on Thanksgiving morning.
New York City’s resiliency and acceptance of the outrageous continues to astound me every time I go, and I’m glad I got to participate in such a cherished tradition. The clown possibilities are endless—I can’t wait to see if I make it in a tandem bathtub next year.