During his 15 years of clowning, two instances stand out to Crothersville resident David Schill.
One was when he and his son, Adam, walked into the cancer wing at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour and came across a woman sitting in her room.
Their silly actions and tricks made the woman laugh. They then introduced themselves by their clown names and shared their mission — to share the love of Christ with a smile.
“She said, ‘Well, you certainly did. Thank you, boys,’” Schill said. “She said, ‘You have made my day.’”
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Schill learned that the woman was in the hospital because she had terminal cancer. He asked if he could pray with her, and she agreed.
Schill said while he doesn’t know the status of that woman today, it reassured him that clowning is worthwhile.
“That’s what it’s all about — giving a smile to somebody,” he said. “The lady really, really appreciated it.”
The other instance was when they visited Vinton Cox at Scott Memorial Hospital in Scottsburg. Cox was a member of New Harmony Baptist Church in Austin, where Schill was the interim pastor at the time.
“He just laughed it up. We had a really good time with Vinton,” Schill said.
Six hours after their visit, they learned Cox died.
“One of his final wishes was to see his preacher in clown makeup,” Schill said. “Now, he never got to make fun of me, which he would have liked to have done. But he got to see his preacher in clown makeup before he died. It has always been a heartwarming story for me.”
Schill said he has enjoyed fitting clowning into his schedule around his jobs as principal at Crothersville Junior-Senior High School and as pastor at New Harmony.
The Schills’ introduction to clowning started with Adam. He grew up being fascinated by clowns, including dressing up as one during Halloween several times.
One Sunday morning at church, a couple of clowns visited and talked about conducting classes. That captured Adam’s attention.
He was a few years under the required age, but he was granted permission from the parent organization, Smiles Unlimited Universal Clown Ministry, as long as a parent accompanied him. That ended up being David.
“The first class that he went to, I just sat there and read. But I just kept watching them doing it, and they kept saying, ‘Don’t you want to try this?’” David said.
After giving it some thought, David began taking classes with his son. Classes were once a week for 10 weeks at First Baptist Church in Crothersville and lasted two to three hours.
They learned about makeup, costuming, skits and the three types of clowns — white-face, auguste and hobo/bag lady.
White-face clowns wear white makeup all over their face, while auguste clowns wear white makeup around their mouth and eyes with skin tone everywhere else, and hobo/bag lady clowns wear dark makeup.
David chose to be a hobo clown named Mulligan. Clown names are supposed to have some significance, he said.
“Mine is entirely ministerial in nature,” he said. “I used to play a lot of golf, especially at the time I took the clown classes. I took the name Mulligan from golf. A mulligan is a second-chance shot in golf as if the first shot had never been taken. In applying that to ministry and Christianity, once you meet Jesus and become a Christian, it’s a second-chance at life. In God’s eyes, it’s as if the pre-Christian life had never existed.”
Schill said he has always used theater oil-based makeup from an online supply company. It may cost a little more, but it’s anti-allergenic, not as greasy as others and lasts longer, he said.
He first puts powder on his face so the makeup gets set. Makeup application takes 20 to 30 minutes because he makes sure the lines are sharp and crisp.
In the past, Schill said he placed high in makeup contests because of how professional it looks.
“Anybody can buy some makeup and be a clown,” he said. “But by being a part of the organization, our makeup is very professional. The name of the game is to look good. They stressed with us not only appearance but also how we present ourselves.”
It’s all about representing yourself and the organization in the best light possible, Schill said. And when he ties in the ministry side of it, he said, he’s also representing the Lord.
“And if we do that for Him, we need to do the best we can,” he said.
Schill said his costume has remained the same. It includes an old green shirt he bought years ago at a secondhand shop for $1; a vest his son wore in junior high; pants he bought on clearance; knee-high socks; gloves with holes cut out for the fingers; a bald wig; and a hat that belonged to his grandfather.
With the skits, Schill said they typically last 45 minutes, and content depends upon the audience and location. One time, he may be performing for young kids. Then the next time, it may be for people in a nursing home, hospital or at a church. He also has performed shows at day cares, Bible schools and a church camp, along with participating in local parades, festivals and the county fair.
For adult crowds, Schill said, he may do more to make them look silly. But with kids, it’s more about entertainment and involving them in the show as much as possible.
With children, he said, he always starts out by telling them there is no such thing as magic and that it’s all a trick.
“Obviously, trying to be a Christian clown and minister, we don’t lie to the kids,” he said. “No, it’s not magic. It’s a trick. But we’re not going to tell you how the trick works. We’re just going to amaze you with it.”
Schill said he has a good time performing with his son when he gets the chance. Twice in the past, Adam auditioned for the Ringling Brothers Circus. One time, he made the top three, but there weren’t any job openings at the time. He wound up starting a family and now just does clowning on the side.
“A family can sing together and harmonize very, very well because of the genetic connection there,” David said. “The same thing goes in playing off one another with humor. Having been my son and being around each other all his life, we know how each other reacts and things like that. It has been very rewarding.”
Schill also occasionally performs with longtime friend Robby Kloke. Schill said their bond and friendship allow them to make each other look foolish while entertaining the audience, and there is a lot of improvising.
“I just sit back and laugh when he makes me look foolish, and the same with him,” Schill said. “We do crazy, silly stuff, and we never know what each other is going to do.”
Becoming principal nine years ago has prevented Schill from clowning as much as he would like. But when he gets the chance, he makes the most of it.
The thing about clowning, he said, is that it’s something he can do the rest of his life.
“As long as the good Lord allows me and I’m healthy to do it,” he said.
“Sometimes, it’s almost selfish because you clown as much for you as you do for the people you are clowning to,” he added. “But it’s just like ministry; there’s often times I’ll go in to visit somebody or take communion to them or something like that, and I’ll come away more blessed than probably I could ever bless them.”
Name: David Schill
Occupation: Principal at Crothersville Junior-Senior High School; pastor at New Harmony Baptist Church in Austin; clown with Smiles Unlimited Universal Clown Ministry (Giggles and More is the local group)
Education: Crothersville High School (1980); Purdue University (bachelor’s degree in industrial technology, 1984; master’s degree in technical education and training, 1985); Oakland City University (administrative certificate, 2004); Louisville Bible College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (postsecondary education)
Background: Education field (Purdue University 1984-85; Cascade High School 1985-86; Indian Creek High School 1986-92; Scottsburg High School 1992-95; Crothersville Junior-Senior High School 1995-present); ordained Baptist minister for 20 years; clowning for 15 years
Family: Wife, Debra Schill; son, Adam Schill; daughter, Leah Griffin; grandson, Emmett Schill