Clowning Around

Roger Rust really knows how to work the room.

Looking back at nearly three decades as a part-time party entertainer-for-hire, clown/magician Roger Rust realized he has been fulfilling a prophecy of sorts. The prophet was Sister Adolpha, his third-grade teacher at Ascension grade school in north Minneapolis. “One day, she said, ‘You're nothing but a clown.’ ”

A long-time White Bear resident, Rust took the criticism with good humor and stored it away for future reference. Rusty the Clown, who turned 67 in February, finds that rubbing elbows with kids and their parents helps him maintain a youthful outlook.
His first career was as a cook and ice carver at the Minneapolis Club for over 32 years. Rust was about 40 when he did his first clown gig, for his son’s sixth birthday party. “I made up my own costume and thought up my own face,” buying red and white greasepaint, balloons and a few off-the-shelf magic tricks at Twin Cities Magic and Costume Co. in St. Paul.

Rust mimed his first performance, with his sister, Terry Rust, narrating. Overcoming the expected initial nervousness, he found out he had the knack. “My sister said, ‘You’re good at this, you could make some money doing this.’ ” The mime performance was “a one-time deal. I decided I’d have to talk to do this. But it came pretty natural to me,” says Rust.

His first paying gig was a birthday party for a neighbor’s child. He also connected with a couple of local face painting/party entertainment companies, which led to more work, and his website, (He's also worked as a Metro Transit bus driver for the past ten years.)

Rust notes that magic and clowning share a similar skill set, especially the ability to “work a room” and hold the audience's attention. He doesn’t find it difficult to keep up a steady line of patter. “I ad-lib it. Kids try to heckle you a little bit, like, ‘I know that trick.’ I pick out the kids that are most annoying,” he says. “If they are trying to bother me, I use them. They are the most outgoing ones and are going to react” to tricks. “You can't let the audience bother you.”

He's got a few sure-fire audience-pleasers, like the magic coloring book in which pages appear to change from blank to black-and-white outlines to color and back again. The funnel trick is also a standby. He asks a kid to drink water and brings them up a few minutes later to “get rid of that water." He holds the funnel under one arm and asks another kid to pump the other arm, like a pump handle. Water comes out of the previously “empty” trick funnel.

Rust performs at many types of events, from Cub Scout dinners to Christmas parties for Medtronic and company picnics for Corvelle. He also donates his talents for charitable events.

Rust’s two adult daughters, Sarah and Nicole, also work part-time as clowns, under the names Pumpkin and Dotsy.

Deborah DeBellis, owner of All About Fun for Kids, calls Rust “very multi-talented. I think he was born a clown because he is quick-witted and always joking around even when he isn’t working as a clown.”

And he's building a legacy; some of the kids Rust entertained in the past are now bringing their own kids to see him. “I’ve got the best seat in town,” he says. “I get to see the audience’s reactions.”