Sunday, April 30, 2006

Mixing it up: Children's entertainers do a lot more than clown around

By Liz Garone
Special to Sunday Jobs

Take a moment, and think back to your childhood. How many birthday parties can you actually remember? None, one, maybe two? Ron McGee and Jeffrey Wayne Hunter are trying to change that. You can, too, as a children's entertainer.

Making a party pretty hard to forget is easy for McGee, aka Python Ron. It isn't everyday that kids get to see the 18-foot Reticulated Python, Monitor lizards or anacondas he unveils during his shows.

For Hunter, aka Freddy the Freeloader of Bluefeather Entertainment, memories come in his transformation from an ex-Marine to a clown who gives an hour-long comedic performance that only on the rarest occasion doesn't get the kids (and usually the adults, too) up out of their seats, cheering and clapping.

The demand for children's entertainers is clearly there. McGee, aka Python Ron, says that business is so strong that he doesn't have to advertise anymore. "It's all word of mouth," he says.

At one point, demand for Hunter and his performance was so high that he had 40 people on his staff and they covered a wide swatch of territory that included Reno, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Sacramento and everywhere in between. They would arrive at the parties in an old Honda Civic wagon covered in polka dots.

Today, Hunter is a one-man show, but that's out of choice, he says. Still, if someone is looking for a 40-hour-a-week job, then they have come to the wrong place, he adds. Friday nights and weekends are busy, and so are the summers, but many entertainers supplement their incomes with part-time work in other fields or similar ones. Hunter used to own a music store in Modesto. Today, he moonlights as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

McGee couldn't get enough of kids; he used to work in daycare. Today, his Python Ron business is so brisk that he does it full time. In addition to appearing at private birthday parties, McGee also visits museums, schools, and brings his slithery friends to company picnics. "My shows are educational," he says. "I show what these animals are really like, not what we have been told that they do."

McGee and Hunter agree that you need to be someone who really likes kids to do this work. "A lot of the kids are afraid at first," Hunter says. "I kneel down so that I'm at their level."

"You have to be a kid at heart. You can't talk over their heads," McGee says. "Kids are not stupid. They can pick up on someone who is just there to make a buck."

Neither McGee nor Hunter received formal training in their chosen fields. Instead, their businesses grew out of hobbies into regular work. "I've taken something I really like and turned it into a business," McGee says.

Both Hunter and McGee recommend starting out small. Everyone has friends with kids who need to be entertained. That's how Hunter got his start. He was in the Marine Corps, stationed at Pearl Harbor. He signed up to become a lifeguard but instead found himself babysitting the officers' kids and doing crafts and games with them. "The Major's wife said to me, 'Why don't you do our kid's birthday party?'" So, he did, and business took off from there. "I started liking it," he says. "There's nothing better than competing against myself. My favorite part is the end of the show when I know that I nailed it."

The pay scale for children's entertainers varies greatly. Much of it depends on the venue - whether it's a small birthday party or a large corporation putting on a big event.

In the past, Hunter has hired apprentices and paid them anywhere from $15 a show to $60, depending on their level of interest and participation. On average, the pay is $20 to $25 per show for an apprentice. For anyone considering becoming a clown, Hunter is always on the lookout for eager apprentices. McGee ( is not hiring at this time.

<< back