His job is no joke
As a professional clown, Mr Edmund Khong takes comedy quite seriously.
The 35-year-old, who performs for children as the clowns Captain Dazzle and Bubbles the Magical Clown, tells The New Paper on Sunday that he puts a lot of thought into each performance.
"I have to know my audience, practise my tricks, and carefully plan how to respond to them," he says with a laugh as his clown make-up accentuates every expression.
"It's no child's play!"
Most of the time, Mr Khong knows how he will start and end his shows, which last for an hour on average. He decides which tricks to perform according to the audience's reaction.
Mr Khong, who has been performing for 12 years, says: "It's important to adapt. If I see someone who is scared, I'll keep my distance first. Once they get comfortable, I'll go closer."
He worked as a part-time magician's assistant during national service, and discovered that he enjoyed performing.
Much of his time in university was spent learning and practising tricks. He also joined his school's juggling club and performed at small events.
But being a magician was not enough for him. Mr Khong wanted to stand out and interact more with his audience, which spurred him into picking up clowning for children.
"I liked how immediate the children's responses were, and how receptive they could be to my performance," says Mr Khong.
Upon graduation, he made the decision to pursue clowning full-time.
"It was a very different career path for someone with a history degree, but I really wanted to do it," he says.
"I'm quite lucky - my parents supported this choice. I'm very grateful."
Currently, Mr Khong runs Star Dazzle Concepts, an entertainment company that organises performances for family events.
He has five entertainers working for him, and his wife manages the scheduling. All of his clown costumes are tailor-made and shipped in from the United States.
His pair of clown shoes, for example, cost around $1,000.
Mr Khong regularly goes overseas to attend clowning courses to improve his skills.
He cheekily admits to using a mix of professional clown make-up and commercial ones available in shops such as Sephora.
He says: "When I buy make-up, I drag my wife along because it looks weird if I go alone. It's funny how she ends up being the one who gets bored when I take too long."
When asked how hectic his schedule can get, Mr Khong says: "It's busy but that's good. I'm usually booked for most weekends in advance. On weekdays, I go to schools to teach."
With creepy clowns taking to the streets and the screens, he says it is understandable that some children would be afraid of him when he is performing.
"I ask the children, not the adults who hire me, for permission before entering. It makes them feel in control, and therefore more comfortable around me," he says, as his gloved hands instinctively do a knocking gesture.
But Mr Khong acknowledges that opinions about clowns can be divisive, which is why he has two clown personas. Captain Dazzle wears just the costume and is a "comedy magician", while Bubbles is a "magical clown" complete with make-up and a wig.
Mr Khong says: "It's important to give my customers options. They know the audience best, so I can adjust my look and routine accordingly as either of the two."
When TNPS took Mr Khong to a crowded coffee shop during lunchtime, it was clear that people still find clowns entertaining.
Dressed as Bubbles, he waved to curious onlookers who stopped eating to observe him.
After a few minutes, Bubbles proved to be a hit. A small crowd formed, all waiting to snap pictures with him as he pulled tricks from his bag.
"See, some people just don't realise how fun clowns can be," says Mr Khong, flashing a wide, ear-to-ear smile only a clown could pull off.