In this week’s Third Degree, Paul Bradley spoke to Clown and Magician Jessie Harkin from Convoy.
Hi Jesse, thank you for the interview. How are things with you – busy year?
Things are good! I just got back home from touring with Circus Corvenieo for eight months! I’m excited to be back in Donegal, with my family.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, please?
Sure! I’m from Convoy in Donegal, I’m 27 years old. I’ve been a magician since I was 12, and got into clowning when I was about 14 or 15. I have done quite a bit of traveling, I tour all over Ireland with the Circus and I worked on a cruise ship from San Francisco to Alaska for a month, I have been back and forth to The Magic Castle in Hollywood, (Headquarters to the Academy of the Magical Arts) and to Vegas…I haven’t performed there but I hope to someday!
In my spare time I make TikTok videos to help people overcome their fear of clowns, I recently made it to half a million followers. I’m super grateful for my online community, they’re all really nice people.
It goes without saying, but it was an unusual career choice. Was there something specific that drew you to clowns and magic tricks?
It is a different one, yes! I went to a circus when I was three years old and I thought that the elephants were the coolest thing in the world, the next best thing in the show was the clowns so I assumed that surely they’re in charge, they own the elephants. So I thought if I became a clown, I would get a pet elephant. I still have the Polaroid picture of three year old me on the elephant. I found out from my circus friends that it was probably Courtney’s Circus New York!
I was soon bullied out of wanting to be a clown by other kids and gave up my dream around age five and decided I’d try to be an artist instead.
I got into magic the summer I left primary school when I saw Derren Brown on Channel 4, it was a mentalism trick about a giraffe that made me start looking up magic trick tutorials on YouTube the next day. Once I learned a couple I showed them to my family and they smiled and were impressed and I never looked back.
Where did you learn the particular skills – part theatre, part clown, part magic seems like a difficult syllabus.
I mostly learned online for the first few years, my parents got me magic sets from toy stores and I made some props myself. I had a Derren brown book, Tricks of the Mind, which had a couple of tutorials in it for coin and card tricks. When I was 16 I was doing some contact juggling for a friend and they told me about a circus school in Derry called IN YOUR SPACE. I told my parents and they brought me in for the once-a-week class where I learned the basics of many different circus skills; juggling, diablo, plate spinning, stilt walking, unicycle, poi and more! I have yet to receive any formal clown training.
Do you have a few set routines and tricks, or is there a constant process of writing and rehearsing new things?
I’m always trying to come up with ideas for routines, usually the theme first and then picking tricks to fit that theme. I’ll try the routine for friends first, and add it to shows when it’s good enough, I’ll change things as needed, try new jokes when they come to mind and if they work I keep them.
What is life actually like with a circus? Does it have the grotty kind of romance you see in old films? Does it travel much, are there unusual friendships, is the ringmaster a cruel stranger?
It is a lot of hard work but it is rewarding. You live at work so there’s always work to be done. The weather really makes or breaks circus life. Building a tent in the rain can ruin your whole week if you’re in a town without Revolution washing machines and dryers, and the price of them would near ruin your week regardless.
Building the tent takes about five hours if we have all hands on deck, we can empty, drop the tent and have everything packed away in an hour and a half, which is very good if there’s a storm on the way. When the weather is nice it’s lovely, breaks from building the tent for ice creams, enjoying the view of the tent when it’s built. There’s just nothing like it.
You are around the same people for eight months straight so it feels more like a little circus family by the end of season. I’d love to lie and pretend Shane and Brandon are cruel ringmaster strangers but they’re some of the nicest people I’ve met!
I read that you once had a funny post removed from Tinder because you were in character as Kazoo. How did that pan out in the end?
Yes, I was banned from Tinder a couple of years ago. I was making a TikTok series of Kazoo on Tinder, where I changed all my pictures on Tinder to pictures of my clown Kazoo, then read the funny messages I would get in videos as well as my responses. It was clearly a joke that not everyone got, so my account got banned. Jam media then contacted me to write a piece about it and I said yes. They said they worked with BBC and a few other things so I thought cool, I might get a few articles about this. A couple of weeks later I woke up and realised I was in the New York Post, as the day progressed more and more articles popped up. I was in the news in over 30 countries.
I was invited onto the 6 o’ clock show and was on the news in Mexico and was even featured on the Drew Barrymore show! I couldn’t believe it! It was a really weird week.
Oh, and once the media reached out Tinder lifted the ban on my account! I’m dating an old friend from circus school now and he joined the circus too, he’s a fire breather and does some comedy in the show with me too. The articles didn’t really affect my follower count on any of the social medias but it was fun!
When you’re not with the circus – say, during the winter – what does Kazoo do? Parties, event nights?
I do birthday parties and events! I do magic shows, balloon animals, glitter tattoos, facepainting, karaoke hosting and trivia hosting! I have different characters too, party princesses, an elf and a Charlie Chaplin character! You can find me on Facebook by searching: Kazoo The clown / Jesse Harkin Magician or @Kazootheclown on Instagram or TikTok.
Do you have a plan if you ever perform at a function and someone in the audience suddenly discovers that they have a phobia of clowns (“Coulrophobia”)?
Of course! Some people are definitely afraid of clowns, but it’s fair. Think about it; when’s the last time you saw a movie about a nice clown? What about a TV show? The only one I can think of is Patch Adams and that came out in 1998. So If I say, think of a clown, people are more likely to picture a clown from a horror film and those are supposed to be scary. So when people are afraid of me, I pretend to be afraid of them, I back away, I try to hide to hopefully make them feel like they have more power over the situation, I’d say it works about 70% of the time, and sometimes the ones that were still scared are the ones that want to be my friend most by the end of the show.
Is there any truth in the old “tears of a clown” trope? That there might have been a sadness or lack of confidence that a new persona allowed you to overcome?
For sure! I was the furthest thing from confident when I started. One time as a young child, I got new shoes; we went to my Nana and Grandads house and my Nana complimented my new shoes. I started crying and never wore them again, I couldn’t deal with any attention on me. I remained shy at school, never had many friends, until I started learning magic, it helped me approach people because the attention wasn’t on me, it was on the playing cards or the coins. It got harder again when I tried to do actual shows for crowds, this is when I brought Kazoo into the equation. It was easier to hide behind a character, even though Kazoo was just me with the volume turned up! Now I can keep the same energy with or without the costume.
How far would you like to take Kazoo?
I would love to one day live in the States near Hollywood or Vegas, there are so many people there that I can relate to. You know how musicians tend to hang out with other musicians, usually ones that play the same genre? Over there there’s so many magicians and clowns and it just gives me a real feeling of belonging, it’s really nice.
The book or the film?
The perfect night?
A night at the magic castle, watching the top magicians in the world performing, and listening to Irma the ghost playing the piano!
Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.
Like painting art or performer? I’ll do both! But my favourite painting artist is my Uncle Dermot Anderson, his portraits are incredible! My favourite performer is Naathan Phan, also known as Magic Asian Man, he’s my favourite magician and one of my best pals.
Your nickname at home?
My dad had nicknames for me and my older brother growing up, my brother’s nickname was Clown and mine was Poppet… funny how that turned out. My brother Joel isn’t a poppet sweet, he’s a folk musician. You think dad would swap the names but no, Joel is still Clown.
What motivates you?
I just want to make people smile!
What do you look for most in a friend?
A pulse. I’ll be friends with anyone as long as they are kind!
Do you have a motto you try to live by?
” You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realise how seldom they do.” – Derren Brown