The days of Bozo -- big hair, big nose, big shoes -- are sooo out of style.
Less is more for today's jokesters gathering at the World Clown Association's annual convention this week in a Northbrook hotel.
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Nearly 250 clowns from around the world are meeting for six days to study clown fashion, makeup and comedy.
And if there's one lesson, take a page from Europe. Turns out the clowns from across the pond -- known for their subtle makeup and real hair -- are all the rage.
The Merrillville, Ind.-based World Clown Association, at the forefront of clowning, organizers say, has embraced that trend with "light makeup" contests.
Only a handful of contenders in a skit competition Thursday afternoon covered their faces with white makeup. Instead of the big red schnoz, clowns wore tiny red stickers at the end of their noses. One Asian performer strutted around in high heels, not those floppy, passe shoes.
These clowns welcome change in the spirt of competition.
"Clowns like to have fun," said John Joseph, an Arlington Heights clown for nearly three decades. "But if you look at all the people here, you will find that the majority of them are type-A personalities."
On Thursday, clowns only had five minutes to impress a panel of judges, all former winners.
At stake are shiny medallions and bragging rights awarded to the winners during a banquet Saturday night. But it's also a rare chance for clowns to learn from their international peers, said Diana McCurtain-Talbert, who tried to find a quiet place to ease last-minute jitters.
"It's always nice to win, but I want to get critiqued from these people," the San Antonio clown said.
Besides the rivalry, there's plenty of action offstage. Clowns can shop vendors selling racks of costumes, puppets and other trinkets. The apparel is not cheap. A custom-made pair of oversized clown shoes costs upward of $350.
Nearby is a room devoted to clown memorabilia, where the costume worn by James Stewart in the 1951 film "The Greatest Show on Earth" looms over a model circus.
Although they're in the business of making people laugh, clowns get serious talking about honing the craft. In just one of the convention's seminars, for example, Joseph outlined more than 100 tips for walking a parade route.
"It makes you a better clown," he said of the information exchange.
The convention continues 1:30 p.m. today with a contest on parade skills open to the public at the Crowne Plaza, 2875 N. Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook. For details, visit worldclown.com.