Walks of life meet at State Fair

Young, old alike targets for Bobo the Insult Clown
Tuesday, August 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:21 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

SEDALIA — Bobo doesn’t like you. He thinks you have big ears, bad hair and a bubble butt. Even worse, he’ll tell you right to your face.

Name-calling is all part of a day’s work for Bobo the Insult Clown, whose dunk tank is one of the dozens of Midway attractions at the Missouri State Fair.

“What do you want, you long-haired sissy?” Bobo yelled at a boy walking past his brightly painted wooden dunk tank.

Taking the bait, the boy handed over his dollar for three baseballs. A crowd of fairgoers watched as the boy sailed each ball past the target near Bobo’s perch. Three dollars and a stream of insults later, the boy finally gave up.

“I’m still high and dry,” Bobo said.

Bobo isn’t always so lucky. Fairgoers hit the target and drop him into a tank of cool water a handful of times each hour. The secret to staying up is staying mean, booth manager James Reynolds said.

“Piss them off. Make them mad enough to spend their money,” Reynolds said.

Chris Ford, 17, who collects money at the booth, said many fairgoers are willing to spend $10 to $20 trying to dunk Bobo. Reynolds said the dunk tank has made as much as $2,700 in six hours at the fair.

Some of these profits go to Bobo, who is actually portrayed by three people. Sedalia teenagers Ford and Kevin Lee, 17, take turns with Reynolds playing Bobo and are paid on commission. Ford has worked at the fair for five summers and said this has been his most lucrative job yet. Ford made $600 in a single night.

“I’m way harsher than Kevin,” said Ford. “If I see a kid that’s chubby, I’ll call him Mama’s little refrigerator.”

Reynolds, who has managed the booth on and off for 20 years, makes a point of sitting next to the booth so he can occasionally feed insults to the boys. Last Friday, when Reynolds told Bobo to call a fairgoer a drunken bum, the man complained to two of the fair’s patrolling police officers.

“The cops just laughed,” Reynolds said with a smile.

Not all fairgoers are as easily angered. Sedalia resident Andre Smiley refused to respond after being called a “big bro with no Afro.”

“He’s trying to piss people off,” Smiley said. “But he’s a kid, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Of course, there are a few limits to what Bobo will say to make a buck. Ford said he won’t use profanity, and he won’t yell at people with illnesses.

“We can’t treat people with illnesses like we treat everyone else,” Ford said.

All in all, Ford likes working at the dunk tank.

“It’s a good job,” Ford said. “I might try to do it again next summer.”

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