Uncle Chris the Clown Seriously

Laid off trucker Chris Wlodarczyk never expected the clown business would support him and his family

The key to success as a clown - never go out of character.

Chris Wlodarczyk says he has never forgotten that in more than 12 years of clowning about for kids and adults at parties and corporate events around Kamloops and B.C.'s Interior.

Wlodarczyk, better known as Uncle Chris the Clown, learned the lesson many years ago while watching a different clown perform. After the show, the fellow left the stage but not the sight of the audience. He watched as the man started chatting with a friend, ignoring the audience, seemingly unconcerned he was showing his act was just that, an act. He wasn't real.

"I thought, 'Hey you can't do that. You're out of character.' And that's when I knew I could do it better," he said.

When he puts on his red nose and oversized yellow glasses, Wlodarczyk said he is Uncle Chris - always - no matter where he might be. No one will ever see him being anything but Uncle Chris when dressed as Uncle Chris.

It's easy for him, he said, because the nose and glasses allow him to express parts of his personality in ways he likely could not without the costume.

"My persona and voice changes a bit but my character, it's genuine. It's who I am. I'm everybody's friend, and I'm friends with everybody," he said. "I love kids, I'm a big kid myself."

Wlodarczyk was living near Logan Lake in 1999. He'd been laid off from a job as a truck driver and took a Community Futures program designed to help people start their own business.

He chose clown.

He concedes he didn't expect his idea would work, but to his surprise his business took off.

Today Uncle Chris is a full-time job, a growing endeavour that supports him and his family.

Since he started he has become a kind of Kamloops icon. Most people will recognize him, having seen him somewhere, especially at the B.C. Wildlife Park, which has been an important venue since he started.

He entertains anywhere and everywhere, from birthday parties (for kids and adults) to community and corporate events. And he's doing more and more appearances for grown-ups all the time.

Just last week he was called at the last minute to make an appearance at the Fresh Inc. offices in Kamloops, to surprise business owner Aleece Laird, who was soon celebrating her birthday.

In the office, over the course of 15 minutes or so, he had the staff busting as he put Laird at the centre of attention. He tied her a balloon animal hat, worked her through a card trick and finished with a sight gag.
Through it all he ad-libbed jokes at rapid pace. His act is clever. It is not rehearsed, nor does it feel staged. Most importantly, perhaps, everyone laughs.

"I never go too far," he said, meaning he never wants to embarrass or humiliate those who are the centre of attention. "I try to entertain everybody."

When he is out of costume few people recognize him, he said, something he likes but that always surprises him since his costume involves no makeup. He wears only a big floppy hat, the glasses and nose - and colourful clothes.

"Kids never recognize me," he said. "Sometimes adults think there is something familiar about me but most people don't know me."

Wlodarczyk, 49, said people sometimes ask him how long he thinks he can keep clowning, suggesting the work must be difficult or tedious.

"A lot of people say you can't do this forever. I say, no, I can. And I will. I get to have fun. I get paid. It's always different," he said. "I love it."

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