Interviews With People Who Have Interesting or Unusual Jobs
We’re always looking for people with interesting or unusual jobs. If you fall into one of these categories, or know someone who does, please e-mail us at email@example.com.
I’m Your Trumpet-Playing Gorilla: An Interview with Brian Wishnefsky, a.k.a. Sparky the Clown.
Q: How did you get your start as a clown?
A: I’m not just a clown—I do all kinds of acts. For instance, I’m a gorilla, a stage hypnotist, I do magic as a wizard, I do Santa Claus, practical jokes, and a lot more. You can see all the things I do at my website, www.pranks4u.com.
Puns are my big thing. I’m the master of puns. My company name is Pranks for the Memories.
I also do tarot reading and balloon twisting. My car has polka dots on it and is painted with my contact information on it.
Q: What kind of car is it?
A: It’s a 1997 Toyota Tercel. It’s a sports car—it’s black with mag wheels. It wasn’t my style, but the guy gave me such a great deal—and now it’s a clownmobile.
Q: How did you get started doing all of these things?
A: When I was five years old, I made a wooden TV set and got inside to do a show for my family.
At age eleven, I was playing the trumpet. I started as a classical musician and I played with a band at weddings and bat mitzvahs. I went to California Institute of the Arts and they had all kinds of multimedia things there, like theater, dance, arts. I majored in classical trumpet playing and ethnic music. It’s called ethnomusicology.
Then I left L.A. to go to San Francisco. One day I was downtown and I saw an accordion-playing gorilla on the streets. He was playing ethnic music, so I went up to him and said nicely, “You’re playing the song wrong,” and he said, “You know about this type of music?”
We became friends and he was going to give me a job as an ambulance driver. I was with him one day when he went to take a break and go get a soda. I asked him if I could put on his gorilla suit and he said sure. So I dressed as the gorilla and somebody threw money in my case and I was hooked.
That was around 1976, ’77. I was on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, Eight Is Enough. I was the trumpet-playing gorilla. One time, I was on The Mike Douglas Show. Tony Orlando was there and all of these women were screaming, “Tony, oh Tony!” and I stood up in my gorilla suit and screamed, “Tony, Tony!” and he stopped the show and came over and kissed me.
Q: Was that kiss planned?
A: No, they were filming at Fisherman’s Wharf and so I stopped in.
I do gorilla-grams. I tell people I’m from the Hair Club for Men.
When I was playing in the streets, I also charged people to take pictures with me. I lived a very bohemian lifestyle. I’d make money for a few hours and then go do other stuff for the rest of the day.
I also joined a band called the Klezmorim. We toured internationally, played two sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall, and were nominated for a Grammy. When I left the band after seven years, I didn’t want to go back to the streets. On sunny days, that gorilla suit is really hot. As you get older, it gets to be hard. The cops crack down on you sometimes, or you get in hassles with other street musicians over location. That’s when I started Pranks for the Memories.
Q: How many gorilla suits have you had? Are you still using the original one?
A: Actually, I’m on my third suit. I got this one on the Internet. The suit is spectacular, but it was made for a guy who is like five feet tall, so I had to have it altered.
Q: How long have you been a clown?
A: Nineteen years. But I do more than just clowning. I’ll dress up as a biker at a retirement party. I play practical jokes, like a pie in the face. I’ll dress up like a cowboy, etc.
You know Barney, right? I do Blarney. I go into an office singing, “I love you, you love me….” And it’s sometimes in poor taste, but there is a flap by the tail where I pull the Blarney stone out….
Q: How did you get the name Sparky?
A: That’s a funny story too. I was Brian the Clown, but I was thinking of famous clown names like Bozo or Chucko. I thought it would be funny to be Shmucko. Do you know what “shmuck” literally means? It means “penis” in Yiddish. I do shows for the Jewish community—they’d have a heart attack!
My agent was talking to this lady and she said, “What’s his name?” and my agent said, “Brian the Clown,” and she said, “No, what’s his clown name?” and my agent said, “That is his clown name.” She said, “Well, tell him to call himself Sparky when he comes.”
Sparky is basically a dog’s name, you know? It’s a humble name and I became endeared to it.
Q: Do you think you’ll do these kinds of things for the rest of your life?
A: When I’m sixty-five, I want to do something like: “Uncle Harry is coming to our house; he’s such a nice sweet old man,” and then I’ll show up and try to pick up the women there. I’d be called “the Obscenior Citizen.”
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