This feature is AAT’s most recent publication after crossing the two year milestone! It’s been such a blessing to speak with such a diverse group of men, women, teens, and kids doing amazing things in our community. Many of them have genuinely had me (Anthony Crosby) thinking about different aspects of life. However, the conversation I had with today’s guest really left me thinking some deep thoughts. I’ll be honest, I was not expecting to get so philosophical when I sat down to chat with this person, but that’s the beauty of what we do around here! You never know how you’re going to be encouraged by a conversation with someone!
This week, we’re joined by Stephanie Payne. If you don’t recognize that name, perhaps you may know Steph by her alter ego, Bubbles the Clown! For the last two decades, this Elko-raised entertainer has been bringing smiles and joy to kids and adults alike. Clowning isn’t just a hobby to Stephanie; she’s put a lot of education under her belt over the years to become a professional at what she does. In fact, she’s actually on staff at a clown schooling program to help educate the next generation of clowns! Although Bubbles is not making as many appearances at weekend birthday parties as she used to, you can still find her having a ball at local events and business/corporate parties!
Thank you for joining us this week, Stephanie! I think the first question I have to ask is pretty apparent. What’s the story that led to the birth of Bubbles the Clown? How did you find your love for all of this?
“It started in high school. I went to Elko High and I was the mascot! I did it throughout my sophomore, junior, and senior year of high school. I loved being the Chief! There was this little girl who loved the Chief! She would come to all my games and follow me around. One year, she invited me to her birthday party, and I went as the mascot!
“I went off to college (Weber State) and became the mascot (Waldo the Wildcat), and that was great until the mascot from Utah State picked me up, body-slammed me, and broke two of my ribs! After that, I had to grow up—I became a mom and had kids. My son was really sick when he was a baby, so we would have to drive back and forth from Salt Lake City, Utah all the time. On one drive, I was listening to a Chicken Soup for the Soul tape. It was about this Ronald McDonald clown visiting a child in the hospital; for some reason, that talk stuck with me because of the impact that clown had on that child. I started thinking about how I could be a clown! I could take what I learned in high school and turn it into becoming a clown. I decided to try to see if I would like it, and it’s been twenty-two years, and I’m still Bubbles the Clown! It has been a ride and I love it!”
What have you loved most about being Bubbles for the last twenty years, Stephanie? What has living into that identity meant to you throughout all that time?
“Anytime you do something for others, you bless yourself. When I started, it was a hard time in my life. My son was sick and I was struggling with some depression due to the stress in my life. When I focused on doing this and turning my attention to something positive, I was able to get off my antidepressant medication.
“I think God gave me a talent, a smile, and joy in my life, and this is the tool I use to share all of that. Bubbles opens doors for me. I, Stephanie, wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit hundreds of people on the weekends, but Bubbles has that opportunity. If I’m going to an event to make balloon animals for kids, that’s an opportunity to interact with people and let them know they’re important.”
Stephanie, clowns are quite prevalent in our cultural consciousness right now. How does the media’s depiction of what you do impact your work?
“It does get tough around this time of year when movies like IT and Joker come out. There are people with legitimate fears of clowns, and I generally I understand that. However, it’s really hard when people take something I am passionate about and turn it into something maniacal or perverted. I’m trying so hard to bring joy and happiness to people, but then people twist it. So, that does get hard because I do believe what I do is important, and I’m passionate about it.”
What would you say if one of our readers wanted to meet with you for coffee to discuss how they could get into the clowning business? What would your advice to them be?
“That’s an interesting question because that’s what happened to me. When I started, there was a gentleman in town who was a clown but was not going to be doing it anymore. I met with him, and he taught me some tricks and how to do my makeup. It was after meeting with him that I started to attend conferences and programs to learn. So, my advice would be to follow Bubbles’ philosophy—”the hokey pokey is what life is all about it.” If you’re going to do something, you can’t just put an arm or a leg in; you have to put your whole self into whatever you do. If you have to shake some things about to get it done, that’s okay, just get it right. If you’re going to clown or anything else, whatever you’re going to do, do it with your whole heart and be the best you can be.”
Stephanie, can you share with us one of your favorite memories as Bubbles?
“I went to Singapore to clown; we did an international outreach program there. While we were there, I got invited to go to a school for severely handicapped children. There was a girl there who I at first thought was afraid of me. The next thing I knew, she grabbed my hand, and when she did, the staff of the school gasped! I thought I had done something wrong. The girl then proceeded to take me around the whole school, play with me on the playground, and do puzzles and activities with me. As I was getting ready to leave for the day, the administrator of the school told me that the girl had never initiated contact with another person before. That’s why Bubbles can be such a tool for good. People can feel God’s love through me, and that’s my goal. Every time I do an event, I pray that I have an impact on someone that day.”
That’s an incredible story! Thank you for sharing that with us, Stephanie! Are there any other pieces of wisdom you’d like to pass along before we let you get back into your big, red, floppy shoes?
“I think we need to remember that everyone has unique talents to share. Sometimes, we’re too hard on ourselves, and we compare ourselves to others and what their abilities are. We need to take a step back and think about what God has blessed us with and how we can use those talents to bless others.”
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See you around, Elko!
Written by: Anthony Crosby
Edited by: Nadara Merrill