We are counting down to our 2017 Summer, and this week we feature the clown act!
Countdown to 2017 Summer
10. A final thank you to our 2016 sponsors.
9. Our 2017 first show date announcement.
8. Fall in love with summer by watching a collection of 2016 Min-Aqua Bats footage.
7. Team Photos website collection!
6. 4th of July Shows Announcement
5. 2017 Alumni Show Announcement
4. What makes a Min-Aqua Bats’ clown? (this post)
3. Min-Aqua Bats’ 2017 Summer Calendar Set!
2. New Ski Nautique for 2017!
1. Meet Our Major 2017 Sponsors!
What Makes a Min-Aqua Bats’ Clown?
Over the years the clown act has changed here and there, but one concept spans the decades — the clown act is all about engaging with the audience and keeping the audience engaged with the ski show. As we all are fans of the show at one point or another in our lives, we each have our personal favorite clown acts, but why does a clown become a clown?
Some of the greatest clowns in Min-Aqua Bats’ history are amazing water skiers, so we went directly to the source and asked several former Min-Aqua Bats’ clowns about their own inspirations and memories.
A few historical notes before we get started on our trip down memory lane:
- Jane Wilcox may be the only female participant in the Min-Aqua Bats’ comedy act. She is the only name that came up in any of our interviews.
- Dalton Roth won Min-Aqua Bat of the Year a few years ago and his primary act was the clown act
- A few clowns have graced the cover of the Min-Aqua Bat program; two that I know of are Phil Smith and Drew Milkent.
Clips From a 2008 Clown Act
So let’s walk through the mindset of what makes a clown as we stroll down memory lane with some of our favorites. Feel free to let us know who was your favorite clown in the comments; with pictures if you have them! We have cut the stories from each clown into his own page (13 pages total) and this is the preferred reading setup, but you can read it all in one full page if you wish.
Min-Aqua Bats’ Clown Influence Tree (built from the responses)
Why did Billy become a clown?
I certainly was inspired by those who did it in the past. I really am not in the mold to be a comic, but with Lance doing all the funny stuff, all I had to do was dress like a girl, be shy and not say much. If I did talk, I just was short spoken with a high pitch squeak. Skiing was my forte and of all the acts, this took the most out of me, but certainly was a highlight of my time on the club.
I stepped into the act when Tim Donahoe had retired from the club to get serious with his summer/career pursuits. I was on a fairly young club and was happy to step in when Lance asked me to.
What was Billy’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
Basically the ones I followed with basically the same routine, but we each had our own twist. Tim Krolczyk and Mr Lee, Tim Donahoe and Lance Krolczyk; Tim Donahoe added the girl twist as the prior was two hillbilly like characters.
What was Billy’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
My favorite and the one we repeated over and over was where I was Wilamena. I dressed up as a girl, or more like a older lady, with full make-up and lipstick — the aquamaids had a field day doing my make-up. My character was avoiding her boyfriend Muskie Mike who was played by Lance Krolczyk. Lance was the front man, he did all the talking and searching the crowd for me. I would hide in the stands and move section to section throughout the show and eventually got to the dock to ask for help to escape. I would ski off to avoid the pursuit of my so called boyfriend. As I was out skiing, Lance would yuk it up and the favorite was him flopping around on the dock and when asked what was wrong, he would reply “He had a minnow in his ear”. We used the old bucket of water trick, and changed it to confetti when we went to the stands to throw, that trick always got people.
I would ski around, he would do the hitchhiker routine before falling off in the shallow end, and as he was drowning the announcer would tell him to stand up, and to his embarrassment discover he was in shallow water.
Once I slit the calf of the announcer so much so he needed 5 stitches
To fend him off I would stomp on him in the water as I skied by, and then put a ski on the dock as I whisked by. The announcer would skirt away from me, and tell the driver to get me out of here. Once I slit the calf of the announcer so much so he needed 5 stitches, but that was not until the show was over, as he was the show must go on kind of guy and never missed a beat.
As I hit the jump and frailed to a crash, Lance would need to rescue me. The antics continued until I gave him one last dump into the lake and the announcer concluded the act with “And the water skier wins again in a little act we call goofing off”
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Why did Phil become a clown (and his favorite that he was not apart of)?
…the first time I saw them do the “hitch hiker” I knew that I wanted to do that some day.
As a kid growing up watching the ski shows, I was always amazed by the skiing ability of the skiers but my favorite act was always the clown act. My favorite clown act that I didn’t participate in was watching “Musky Mike” (Lance Krolczyk) and “Betty Lo” (Tim Donahoe, and latter Billy Fried). They had a set act that really made the crowd laugh. Lance had a way of working the crowd that was always hilarious. His voice, facial expressions, and body language made even the most serious adult crack a smile. They incorporated a good amount of skiing, every once in a while Tim or Billy would make a one ski jump, but the first time I saw them do the “hitch hiker” I knew that I wanted to do that some day.
A great clown act cannot be great without a great announcer
I loved doing the clown act when Mr. W was announcing.
The thing that makes the difference between a clown act being good and being great was the announcer. I came to learn this myself when I started doing the act. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the best. Bruce Miller and Andy Teichmiller were great, but the best was Mr. W (Wollenberg). He had an amazing stage presence and a quick wit, I remember having some great shows with him. I understand that one of his grandsons has been announcing some of the shows, he has some really big shoes to fill, I loved doing the clown act when Mr. W was announcing.
What was Phil’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
There were so many clown acts that I participated in that I enjoyed, I just loved to make people laugh. I remember every once in awhile we would try something new, and you knew it was good when you were on the dock and you looked and would see that all the members were out of the clubhouse watching and laughing. At that point you knew you were really doing a good job.
Being the baby was a ton of fun.
I would have to say that the clown character that I was the most proud of was when I started to do the “baby”. I remember hanging out with Ryan Mallory down at the bowl one day, trying to think of new material, and he found a baby bonnet laying on the rocks, he picked it up and said something like “why don’t you be a giant baby”, and the baby was born. Being the baby was a ton of fun.
Why did Ted become a clown?
There was a void in the goof act when I jumped in. The act had actually been pulled from the show, and something was definitely missing. On a whim I said I would like to give it a go. Being Wilhelmina was somewhat of a fluke, because I just grabbed what I could find and I think Dan Weber was going to play the role of Butch. I ran out with a high pitched voice and my alter ego was born!
What was Ted’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
Watching Billy and Lance. Those guys inspired me and got my creative juices flowing!
What was Ted’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
I will always be Wilhelmina!
I thrived on the audience participation
That first time playing Wilhelmina I felt this energy from the crowd and it was simply amazing and addicting! I thrived on the audience participation, and found that tying the show together with humor was crucial to the team’s success. The goof act is a central part of any good ski show.
The best part of the act was doing the hitchhiker with a full grown adult baby in tow.
My most memorable shows are goofing off with Phil and Stephen Smith. I recall a show in which Phil, Steve and I played a family and Phil dressed up as a baby sporting a diaper and baby bonnet. Stephen of course played Butch, he had a vintage outfit, including his signature tight green pants. The best part of the act was doing the hitchhiker with a full grown adult baby in tow. The act was so hilarious we had the crowd rolling with laughter at the end.
The aftermath of Wilhelmina
Being a Min-Aqua Bat and developing the role of Wilhelmina has continued to inspire me in life. I have continued to perform throughout my life skiing the clown act at the National Show Ski Tournament for other Midwest show teams. Playing the role of Wilhelmina has also inspired me to develop other characters in my acting career and to develop businesses around entertainment.
What I have learned from my days as a Bat, going all the way back to my tryouts is that we need to Aspire to Inspire!
I was fortunate to receive acting credits while living in Hawaii in TV, film, and national commercials. As DRACO, my Halloween alter ego, for the past 9 years I have directed and produced Southern Minnesota’s largest haunted attraction FRIGHT at the FARM at Willow’s Keep Farm. My newest acquisition and venture is resurrecting the Olde Pine Theatre in Pine Island, MN. In this 1930’s theatre we stage live theatre, hold medical benefits, present vaudeville variety shows, and promote the arts through drama classes or camps. What I have learned from my days as a Bat, going all the way back to my tryouts is that we need to Aspire to Inspire! Keep inspiring the next generation of Min-Aqua Bats.
I hope to see you all on the water this summer!
Why did Stephen become a clown?
After I tried out for the club in 1998, the board had told me they would call me the next day to let me know if i’d made it or not, and nobody called. Two days went by and nobody called, I was pretty sure I didn’t make the club, but the next night there was a show I went down there just in case. I saw Jessie Smedberg at The Aqua Bowl before the show, and he said “hey congratulations on making the team”, I was confused and said “but nobody called me”, and he responded, “oh whoops, sorry about that, and hey you’re doing the clown act tonight.” I said, I’ve never done the clown act, and I don’t know how to do the clown act. He replied, “sure you do, you’re Phil Smith’s brother.” So that is how it all started!
Everything I learned about the clown act, I learned from my older brother, Phil, when I was growing up, and from Jessie Smedberg when I first joined the team.
What was Stephen’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
My brother used to do this hilarious act where he played the role of a baby. He would tie a white sheet up to look like a diaper, and he had one of those bottles they use to suckle baby cows and horses as his baby bottle. He’d walk across the dock with this baby waddle that was just too hilarious.
The other clown would play the part of some poor mother that was actively trying to lose this 230lb beer bellied baby. I love the image of my brother, who probably weighed 80 pounds more than Ted Galaty, jumping onto him with his baby costume for hitch-hiker. I don’t remember Ted the Shred ever falling, he was pretty ripped.
I also love some of the classic pieces of the clown act, like the minnow in the ear. I incorporated those into my act, and I think my brother got those from Lance Krolczyk.
What was Stephen’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
I loved doing clown act when I first joined, I was in it with Jessie Smedberg and later with Jane Wilcox. In those days I was really into experimenting, and we’d come up with pretty much a whole new scenario every show, except for a longer stint of “the cheerleaders” with Jane.
I loved doing the clown act with Drew
For sure my favorite clown act was doing the pickle salesman with Drew Milkent. I loved doing the clown act with Drew because he was so damned enthusiastic about it. If I ever wanted to sit one out he’d have no part in it, but those were probably the best clown acts–the Eastern European accent, the pickles versus zebra cakes, and the velociraptor impression. The pickles were $1 a piece, or two for $5, and sometimes I would sell every last one of those pickles. A few times I sold some shots of pickle juice too!
The little things make memories across generations
The whole time I did the clown act I would wear a water polo helmet that my brother also used when he was a clown. That headgear must have a combined total of 20 years of shows, I love that helmet.
On watching the next generation
I think Dalton Roth is hilarious. Every time I see him out there, I lose it. I also find it absolutely ridiculously ironic and ridiculous that after all those years doing the clown act with a fake European accent, there is now a clown, [Jansci Smithing], who is actually from Eastern Europe.
It is a pretty amazing tradition and feeling that you are part of something greater than what is before your eyes.
I think it is a pretty awesome tradition. I grew up watching the clown act show after show during the summers, and for me it was a huge honor to follow in my brother’s footsteps. My brother, and all those guys down there were my heroes back in the day, then suddenly one day to be one of them was pretty powerful. On the flip side it has been very humbling to receive the same kind of reverence from the younger ones; Drew, then Peter, then Dalton. When they say things like how they loved watching my clown acts when they were growing up and how they thought I was the greatest, in my head I am thinking well they never saw the crazy dudes that came before me.
Why did Tristan become a clown?
What was Tristan’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
once a Bat, you are always a Bat
Favorite I’ve seen would be Wilhelmina and the baby. Phil Smith and Ted Galaty came back a few years after they had left the team and did their act again, it may not have been the best they had done together, but it was great for a different reason; it reminded all of us that once a Min-Aqua Bat, you are always a Min-Aqua Bat.
What was Tristan’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
Tyler Christopherson and I used flavorless jello to style our hair like Zoolander. We had the crowd doing blue steel. It was utter nonsense but the crowd got into it.
What inspired Conor to become a clown?
Growing up in Minocqua, Wisconsin I was able to go to the shows quite often. I learned the ins and outs of the show each year. The skiers continually did the same things, besides some shows when the waves where big and the skiers couldn’t perform at all. However, there was one aspect of the show, no matter the water conditions that seemed to bring a smile to my face and an element of surprise; this was the clown act. I learned early that the clown act was a valuable part of the show. So when I joined the club and in my junior member year when I couldn’t ski (seniority rules), I could still be a clown if no one else wanted and have a big impact on the show.
What was Conor’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
There was one act in particular that I enjoyed as a kid. This was performed by the infamous Stephen Smith. He would bring two chairs onto the dock and pretend to be a dinosaur. He showed me how to warm up the water with his pee, and get a minnow out of your ear after being under water. I got the was able to perform with Stephen on numerous occasions and each time it was a blast to watch him work.
What was Conor’s favorite clown act that he participated in?
Part of the fun was actually planning this from home and finding outfits in our garage
I was a senior member when my younger brother joined the club. Though he was in his junior member year and didn’t have the opportunity to ski, I was able to pull strings and do goof with him. My favorite was clown act was when my brother and I dressed up as duck hunters and had toy guns. This was due to the fact that there were always ducks lingering around the aqua bowl and we actually got an excuse to torment the ducks. Part of the fun was actually planning this from home and finding outfits in our garage.
Why did Charlie become a clown?
Growing up going to ski shows multiple times a summer, the clown act was one of the parts of the show that I always looked forward to because it was always new and different. I was always looking around the crowd for the first glimpse of the crazy people that would appear out of nowhere and try to get in the show and maybe steal your popcorn.
I owe a lot of credit for me becoming a clown to Drew Milkent. He convinced me as a young Junior Member to get out of the clubhouse, wear funky looking and smelling clothes, and make a fool out of myself in front of hundreds of people. I am so glad he convinced me, because it allowed me to get out of my comfort zone, and definitely helped me learn that it’s important to not take yourself or life too seriously.
Being a clown was really a fun way to bring a unique twist to every single show
Breaking the monotony of the announcer to crowd relationship is one of the key parts of the clown act that makes a Min-Aqua Bat show successful, in that it keeps the crowd engaged. Other shows just tell jokes that are pre-written and feel forced, while our version gives the crowd the opportunity to interact and become part of it. Being a clown was really a fun way to bring a unique twist to every single show, and I’m thankful that I got to put my mark on so many.
What was Charlie’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
My favorite clown act that I remember would have to be the blind date with Ted Galaty as Wilhelmina. It was just amazing to see him embrace that character, and keep it fresh and funny every time. Not to mention that seeing a large bald man dress up and talk like a woman is hard not to laugh at.
What was Charlie’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
It’s very hard to nail down an all time favorite clown act after 5+ full summers of them. However, I think my favorite would have to be the pickle salesman versus the zebra cakes salesman (a Stephen Smith idea). The bit was such a random premise that we could get away with saying and doing almost anything in the crowd, and it worked!
Stephen [Smith] stole the show every time.
The act of selling something and competing with the other clown was the perfect way to interact with the crowd and announcer. It was a premise to build upon and improvise from, which is great to have when you’re trying to stay creative, but need a new idea three times a week. It also helped that Stephen had a knack for making stuff up on the fly that was just genuinely hilarious. He stole the show every time. The pickle salesman versus zebra cakes salesman ended up being the act that I probably did the most in my career.
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Why did Mitch become a clown?
The kids in the crowd inspired me to be a clown, they love the act.
What was Mitch’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
My favorite clown act of all time is definitely Stephen Smith and Drew Milkent selling pickles and zebra cakes.
What was Mitch’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
My favorite clown act to perform was modeling with Peter Wahman.
Why did Jansci become a clown?
Peter and the pickle selling inspired me to become a goof clown. My favorite act as a kid was the pickle man and zebra cake goof. I even have a picture of Peter Wahman as the zebra cake guy, and me as a little kid!
Plus the act looked super fun, it was unusual, the goof act stood out from the rest of the show.
What was Jansci’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
My favorite goof act as a kid was the pickle salesman, [Stephen Smith], versus the zebra cake salesman, [Peter Wahman].
What was Jansci’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
I don’t know. I have so many favorites. Recreating the zebra cake versus pickle salesman one is a classic. The prom skit is also good, and thumb wrestling is always very fun.
Seeing hundreds of kids faces light up when two clowns are running around is really something else, and it is something I will never forget.
Why did Dalton become a clown?
I would have to say watching Stephen Smith run around in ridiculous outfits growing up played a huge part because it really looked fun. Seeing hundreds of kids faces light up when two clowns are running around is really something else, and it is something I will never forget.
What was Dalton’s favorite clown act that he remembers but did not participate in?
Definitely when Stephen Smith sold pickles and zebra cakes.
What was Dalton’s favorite clown act that the he participated in?
When Jancsi was a zookeeper and I wore the squirrel suit. It was quite an experience running around in that thing, because I could not see, and it was about a bazillion degrees out!
So what makes a clown?
After going through all those stories, it should be clear that a clown is often inspired by another clown, driven by the need to engage the crowd, and is inspired to make the Min-Aqua Bats’ water ski show the best version of itself. As for a memorable clown act, through many our clowns’ stories, they intimated that a truly memorable clown act has three participants: the clowns, the announcer, and the crowd!
Thank you to contributors
We want to give a special thanks to all the Min-Aqua Bats’ clowns that shared their stories. Our clowns are truly special, and continue to provide enjoyment and inspiration to every crowd. Several clowns provided pictures with their stories, but we also found several from Danny Smylie. Danny is a long time Min-Aqua Bat who always found time to take a million pictures every summer; thanks Danny.
Want to sit with a clown?
Drew Milkent, mentioned in several of our stories, inspired a generation of skiers and Min-Aqua Bats’ clowns to ski their best every show and give the crowd the greatest show. Although he passed five years ago, he continues to inspire all Min-Aqua Bats. A couple years ago, a bench was installed in his honor on the East (Boathouse) side of the seating area of The Aqua Bowl; sit with him, enjoy the view, and enjoy the show because the Min-Aqua Bats ski shows were his (and is our) summer love!
Who was your favorite clown?
We covered a lot of clowns, which was your favorite? Or maybe we missed your favorite? Feel free to leave comments about your favorite Min-Aqua Bats’ clown (or pictures if you have them)!