Clowning around at the ’stock show

HARLINGEN — “The end!” said the crowd gathered around Lanky the Clown, who looked confusedly at the black balloon.

“This is the end,” he said. “This is the beginning, this is the end.”

“The other end,” said Crystal Wilbers with a big grin on her face as her son Christopher watched. She and others at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show watched yesterday with amusement as Lanky struggled to inflate the balloon.

Finally Lanky, aka Danny Kollaja, figured out how to inflate the balloon into a long black sausage. He gestured toward another boy who quickly sliced it in half with his hand and Presto! Two balloons appeared.

Everyone seemed pleased with Lanky’s performance.

“It was entertaining to my 10-year-old,” said an appreciative Wilbers.

“He was really getting into it,” she said. “I wonder how he got his nose.”

Lanky obtained his nose, his makeup and his skill over a career that spans 35 years. When he started out there were no clown schools unless you worked for a circus.

“That’s a hard life,” he said, shaking his head.

So he learned through experience. And that experience has stretched far and wide. He’d just finished the Houston Livestock Show and will soon head to the Yuma County Fair. His skill has taken him much farther, to Russia, Guatemala, Japan, Cambodia and Rome.

“I went clowning in Afghanistan just four months after 9/11,” he said. “There was a coalition of 23 of us that went to the orphanages and hospitals.”

That coalition was organized by Patch Adams, the same physician portrayed by the late actor Robin Williams. There was at least one clown from each of the seven continents. They didn’t speak the language, of course, but that was not and obstacle for a talented clown.

“You’ve got to rely on the physical aspect,” he said simply as if it were all part of the skill he’s learned.

In other words, lots of smiles, comical frowns, balloons and other attributes to entertain kids who’d been traumatized.

Through years of experience in many places, he’s honed his skill at improvisation to the point it seems second nature.

“You have something new every day,” he said. “Every place is different, the kids are different. You have to be able to read them and integrate it into your routine, and it’s not a stage where you have a specific routine.”

Soon more children gathered around the colorful clown with the deep insight into the human condition, cutting jokes with a customary “ggg-ggg” as he sat on his tiny bike.

“You like my hardly?” asked the wise clown. “This is hardly a bike.”