As I'm walking to the Rally to Restore Sanity, I'm getting a lesson in clowning from Micael Bogar, who is wearing a pink wig, pink spandex pants, face paint, a jacket with tails, and a top hat.
"You have to be whatever you are to the nth degree," she says. "Make eye contact. People aren't sure if they want to enjoy you."
As if on cue, a carload of dudebros honks at the group of 15 of us. Bogar pulls out her baton and shakes it at them, playfully. They drive away. We've had our picture taken at least a hundred times already, and we're not even halfway to the Mall, and no one can drive by without beeping, or walk by without gawking. We are the Sane Clown Posse.
Bogar, who is an occasional professional clown (she appeared in the show Separated at Birth, which I wrote about in August), is our ringleader. Inspired by the Insane Clown Posse's recent turn to evangelical Christianity, for which they sing about God's miracles with lyrics like "Fuckin' magnets, how do they work?" Bogar felt that the Sane Clown Posse – which presents the perfectly rational scientific explanation for magnets on their signs – would be the best response. Also, they have a sign with a drawing of two magnets, fucking.
We gathered at Bogar's apartment at 9:30 that morning for coffee, bagels and cream cheese, and makeup. While some of the clowns had decided to wear lab coats to further the science theme, those without a planned costume just wore something colorful. And so I showed up in a rainbow-colored sweater and purple tights, ready to embed with the clown posse. Red noses were provided.
Bogar's longtime boyfriend, Dan (he requested that his last name stay out of the story for his job), has never dressed as a clown before, and she was excited that he decided to play along. She says she had all of these cute ideas of clowns they could be together, but he turned them all down because he wanted to be Violent J from the Insane Clown Posse. Mark Rudolph decided to be Shaggy 2 Dope. Neal Shah kept up the science theme with an ICP-inspired Einstein clown. And all of the girls, including me, wore the traditional white face with rosy cheeks, and a red nose.
"Oh, that stings," says Bogar. She's gluing her red nose to her real nose with eyelash glue.
"Is this cream cheese or clown makeup?" says Shah, only half-joking.
"What do juggalos drink?" asks Shah. "Faygo," replies Dan. Bogar is trying to hustle everyone out the door. Faced with all of the clowns, her two-month-old kitten is bouncing off the walls.
Once the gang assembles, it's clear that we're going to turn heads. Aside from Bogar and the ICP-inspired clowns, there's also a David Bowie clown (Alison Hanold) and a sad clown (Abby Walker). There are two Canadian clowns (Chanda Prescod Weinstein and Ryan Morris, who are wearing signs that say, "Fear our new Canadian overlords" and "Maple syrup 4 president," respectively). Kira Wiesniewski is wearing a pink tutu and an afro wig. Ashley Snell is a gypsy clown.
Our signs, too, are eye-catching. Aside from the giant Sane Clown Posse banner, Bogar has constructed a series of nonsensical signs. "Puppies: I love 'em!" "We clown in peace." "The rent is 2 damn high." "Rainbows are light refractions, not miracles." "Magic everywhere up in this bitch." Tragically, someone has left the "There's a perfectly rational explanation for magnets" sign behind.
As we walk to the mall, the clowns engage with all of the curious onlookers. Arnie Vandebrake, who carries the puppy sign, pets every dog she encounters. A guy dressed in a banana suit briefly joins us. People try to hand us promotional signs.
"I wish I had made a sign that says, 'No thanks, I already have a sign,'" says Snell.
We stop to let tourists take photos of us at the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and nearly 20 of them line up to snap away. But when we reach the Mall, it's so crowded that we nearly get separated. Bogar finds a spot on the Mall for us near the Natural History Museum, and lays out a blanket.
"This will be home base," she says. "If you want to go further into that hellhole, go ahead." She motions to the crowd. We can't see a damn thing. The Roots begin to play.
"I wish I had a sign that says, 'Roots: Please stop playing, you're not very good,'" says Zach Schwartz, a white faced clown who has taken on the role of the group's official photographer.
Vandebrake chases down another rallier with an "I heart kittens" sign to form a pet accord, where they agree after some debate that all pets are awesome. She gets separated, along with Shah, Wiesniewski and Hanold, and and won't be seen or heard from for another hour. No one can hear, and the clowns are getting cranky. TV screens have just indicated that we are to laugh politely.
"Oh seriously? Is this going to be the rally?" says Prescod Weinstein. The crowd begins to chant, "LOUDER!" In response, some members of the crowd begin to chant, "CHOWDER!"
The members of the Sane Clown Posse, even after sitting on each other's shoulders for better views, and moving closer to the speakers, reach the consensus that the rally totally sucks. They decide to abandon ship 30 minutes in.
"The Sane Clown Posse says, go watch it at a bar!" Bogar announces to the crowd. "We're not hardcore, but we are sane."
"I wonder if they'll even call this a success," says Katharine Eaton, one of the clowns.
As we retreat, a woman says to me, "You guys scare me the most."
"We're friendly clowns," I reply.
"They always say that."
We gather in front of the National Gallery, by the pyramids, and are swept into another photo session. We accidentally scare a small child. We're also approached by a man calling himself Jesus Christ of Wall Street, camera crew in tow, who is promoting a website called hitthebid.com. He claims to be afraid of clowns.
"Jesus Christ of Wall Street is saving you," he says.
"This is the first guy today that's weirder than me," says Bogar.
And now the Sane Clown Posse is ready for beer. But first, a detour towards the Dragon People, who are throwing a pretty raucous party on Pennsylvania Avenue. Bogar wants to go on stage and dance with them. A man dressed as a samurai lets us in and we run up the stairs, inside their dragon car. Clowns mix with samurai and everyone bounces to the music. The whole dragon is so rickety that it feels as though it's going to fall apart.
"We've gotta get out of here," says Bogar. "Clowns: RETREAT."
Along with pretty much everyone else, the Sane Clown Posse heads towards Chinatown, mobbed for photos all the way. A reporter for the German television network N24 grabs Bogar's hand and leads her to his camera for an interview.
"Do you like the tea party?" he asks. He is taking this whole thing way too seriously.
"You're making me nervous," she says.
We soldier on. A photographer follows us for five whole blocks. Crossing 9th Street at H, a Vitamin Water truck sees us and screeches to a halt in the middle of the street. The driver bounds out.
"I have GOT to get your picture," he says. "Do you want some free Vitamin Water?" He makes us mug for the camera with the bottles. The Sane Clown Posse is so thirsty that they don't care. Every restaurant we've tried so far can't reasonably accommodate a group of 15 people dressed like clowns.
The Sane Clown Posse is able to find a table at Lalibela, an Ethiopian restaurant on 14th Street. There, they wolf down inerja and lentils, and go over the day's events through Schwartz's photos. The makeup is starting to slide off of everyone's faces from being in the sun. Bogar has pulled off her red nose, but glue is still stuck to her real nose. When she gets home, she'll remove it with a lemon and salt scrub. I ask her if she'll redo her clown makeup for Halloween that night.
No, she says. "We're going as belly dancers."