Janet “Jelly Bean” Tucker can truly say “It’s fun to look back over my life and see how many things have led me to be the clown I am today.” As a child, Janet’s father took her every year to see the circus and made her a scrapbook with photos of some of the greatest clowns of the time: Lou Jacobs, Emmett Kelly, Paul Jerome, Paul Jung, Otto Griebling, and Felix Adler.
Years later as Janet was graduating from Thiel College in Greenville, PA, she had enough credits to get a degree in business, art or psychology. She called her Dad for advice and he said she should take her degree in business and then use everything she learned any way she wanted. That was good advice since today as a clown she runs her own business, and constantly uses her art and psychology in working with children.
After marriage to Larry when her children came along, Janet wanted to find a way to spend more time with the children. She and Larry began to perform marionette shows and when her son’s pre-school asked her to dress as a clown for their booth at the county fair, she sewed up a costume and had Larry buy some makeup at the magic shop on his way home from work. There were no instructions that said you should powder the makeup so her first attempt at a clown face was soon leaking onto everyone she met. Nevertheless, she had a great time and soon after that, she saw an ad for Purdue University Calumet Campus offering a clown class. In 1977 Jelly Bean was born.
In 1978, Janet saw an ad for a Clown, Mime, Puppet, Dance Ministry Workshop in Oberlin, OH and decided she wanted to attend to learn more about clowning. This was a pivotal point in her clowning career as this convention opened up the whole idea of using clowning as a ministry by using circus skits, magic tricks, and clown skills to illustrate messages from the Bible.
She soon quit her job as the Administrative Assistant to the President of a company in Schererville, IN to become a full-time clown. As a going-away gift, her friends as work bought her a pair of Griffin clown shoes and Jelly Bean was finally a complete clown.
By 1981, Jelly Bean was teaching the clown classes at Purdue Calumet and had written her first book of clown ministry parables. Several other books have followed including “Creating Clown Stuff for Ministry” and “Basic Gospel Messages with Balloons”.
Since then, Jelly Bean has served as the first Clown Ministry Director of the World Clown Association in 1986 and it’s first woman President during the first overseas convention in Bognor Regis, England, in 1991. Janet has remained active with WCA serving as Marketing Director, Regional Director, Alley Director and on numerous committees. She designed and distributed the original WCA promotional flyers and did the original WCA web site for over eight years.
She has been President of her local clown alley, Calumet Clowns, many times and years ago started Michiana Clowns through the clown classes she taught for 12 years at Purdue Colleges, serving as President for several years. She served on the Board of the International Clown Hall of Fame for many years in Delevan and Milwaukee.
Over the years, she has won many competitions and gotten some wonderful awards. She won the only 100% perfect score given in balloon competition at the Midwest Clown Association with a gumball machine she designed in the late 80’s. She received the first Clown Ministry Impact Award in 1993, Lifetime Award for Calumet Clowns in 1995, was the World Clown Association Clown of the Year in 2001-2002, was Artist-in-Residence for Clowns of America International in 2002 and 2003, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Midwest Clown Association in 2004.
Jelly Bean was blessed to be on staff at Clown Camp®, University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, for 28 years. Through Clown Camp® and her clown career, she has enjoyed many overseas experiences including the International Clown Summit in Dalkeith, Scotland in 1989 and the World’s Fair in Aichi, Japan, in 2005. She enjoyed participating in and teaching at the WCA overseas conventions in Scotland, England, Canada, and Malaysia, and has also clowned for mission trips including the Philippines.
When asked about what she enjoys most in clowning, Jelly Bean said “I have done it all, from hospital visits to circus performances, corporate parties and picnics and trade shows, school shows and library shows, but my favorite types of performances are the two things that most clowns do as soon as they learn the art – birthday parties and clown ministry events. I love to do birthday parties because I develop a special relationship with the birthday child and become such an important part of their own very special day. I’ve been doing birthday parties long enough that I’m now doing parties for the children of the children I once entertained (and occasionally the grandchildren!!!).
I love to do clown ministry because I love the Lord and feel it’s an honor to serve him in this way that makes the stories and concepts of the Bible visual, fun, and memorable for the children. From Sunday School and VBS in my local church to clown ministry services in churches around the country and clowning halfway around the world on a mission trip to the Philippines, clown ministry is where my heart for clowning is.
Janet has been “paying it forward” by developing and teaching the WOW Kids Ministry Club for the Fellowship of Christian Magicians for the last 6 years. With Greg and Diane Chalmers and Larry, they teach kids 5-14 all elements of the entertainment arts during the annual International FCM Conference. During the week with 25 hours of classes, the children are taught clowning, magic, puppets, ventriloquism, juggling, drama, mime, character development, balloons, and a variety of comedy skills. Our WOW kids are skilled and trained to be the leaders in entertainment arts in their generation.
When asked about her future plans, Janet said that with her husband, Larry, retired, and her children enjoying lives of their own after college, she now is able to travel more and they are free to enjoy clowning all over the country with performances and at teaching conferences. Jelly Bean just hopes to continue to be able to clown and train others to clown until she gets too old or feeble to lift up her big clown shoes. If that ever happens, Jelly Bean will probably be the first clown to simply paint her feet with funny designs and just keep on making people laugh.