PETALING JAYA: The children’s entertainment business isn’t paying as much as it used to, says clown trainer and promoter Uncle Allan the Watermelon.
There are just too many new clowns crowding the stage and seeking the spotlight. It’s really no laughing matter.
Malaysia’s much-loved children’s entertainer, real name Allan Yong, says everybody’s getting in on the act these days, and bookings for his own roster of quality, professional rib-ticklers are down, even during the traditionally lucrative Christmas season.
FMT visited him and his wife, Veronica, at their studios in Ampang and talked about the business of making children laugh while slipping in valuable life lessons for them.
He says that although the demand for children’s entertainers has actually grown, so has the supply of showbiz wannabes, thanks to growing numbers of tutoring videos on the Internet.
“I think in the past, the demand was big because it was such a small base. It’s hard to learn, so there were few entertainers.
“People can actually learn more things faster now. There is a bigger supply of talent,” he says
“Whether they are good or mediocre doesn’t matter because sometimes clients just want someone cheap.”
In his Uncle Allan persona, he built a reputable business entertaining both kids and adults for almost 25 years.
His life in a red nose began on the streets of San Francisco, California in 1995.
He had just attended a clown conference in the city, representing his new children’s entertainment studio, Allan and Friends.
“I was wearing my costume and make-up in a tram going to Fisherman’s Wharf,” he says.
He recalls how passengers stared at him in fascination as he twisted balloons into animal shapes.
People were amused. He got laughs. He became inspired.
However, his work with youngsters had begun nearly a decade earlier when at 26 he resigned from his job as an accountant to become a full time Christian youth worker.
“I worked with young people and children because I wanted to help them create a better future for themselves.”
He taught himself puppeteering, ventriloquism, and children’s comedy as a means of engaging kids during his leadership programmes.
“I did it to catch their attention. I used to bring a puppet, just to break the ice with them.”
After being interviewed by a national daily, he gained more recognition and people started asking him to do shows for parties.
“Once I started actively performing, other people and agents saw, and they enjoyed my work,” Uncle Allan says.
From then on, word-of-mouth ensured he was recognised far and wide as one of the best in a niche national market.
“Young people who saw my shows came up to me after, asking if they could learn from me. That’s how I started to train people to do what I do.”
He began to help his protégés market their shows and that became his business.
Over the years, his studio has trained 70 entertainers in skills from clowning to magic and ventriloquism. But now his business faces challenges with newer magicians and jugglers leaping out of the wings and jostling to claim the spotlight.
The faltering economy is also affecting entertainers. “I am seeing fewer bookings this year,” he says.
But he’s pressing on because he still believes that children can benefit from live, engaging entertainment.
“In terms of communicating moral values, entertainment is very powerful. If you communicate with them in an entertaining way, the children will receive it.”
Being a children’s entertainer may not seem like the most vital of professions, but to Allan Yong it’s important in raising children with good moral values.
Now, even at 60, Uncle Allan still performs, albeit selectively. It’s all part of his mission to teach children about God and religion.
He still does magic tricks, and ventriloquism with his favourite old dummies, but the red nose has been retired.
“I normally do church performances. I even do clowning, just without the make-up,” laughs Uncle Allan the Watermelon as some of his more mischievous dummies call him.