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What is the difference between broccoli and boogers? Kids don’t eat broccoli.
That’s one of Danny Kollaja’s favorite ice breakers. But, many may know Danny better as Lanky the Clown. You may not imagine that underneath the big red painted grin and oversized tie is a soft-spoken man with a most genuine laugh and genuine cause.
Kollaja started in the clown business 35 years ago. “My first time ‘in clown’ was in 1976 when I had to be a clown for a high school theater production. An individual spoke to me after one of the shows and invited me to a clown meeting,” Kollaja recalls. And that was the beginning. He says, quite simply, that a person just has to have the desire and interest in clowning. There is no accredited program that officially certifies someone as a clown. There are, however, some programs recognized in the industry as excelling in quality clown education.
Inspiration came from the clowns in the local clown club, says Kollaja. “The ladies were so warm and welcoming. They had such enthusiasm and excitement about clowning. Since then, I have met some awesome clowns around the world that keep me intrigued and motivated.”
Lanky’s “look” took years to refine. “My changes and refinements came from me entering competitions and using the critiques to consider changes. I have a fantastic costume designer in Minnesota,” he says. He’ll submit sketches, and then she embellishes the ideas and turns them into reality.
Costume in tow, Lanky goes all around the country and all around the world! “My business has sort of grown on its own through word of mouth. And that is sort of what made that ‘aha’ moment for me. I couldn’t keep saying ‘no’.” The majority of Kollaja’s work is performing at fairs and festivals around the nation.
But sometimes, clowning around turns more serious. Kollaja knows that bringing laughter to places that need it most is how he can bring some relief. “I do enjoy the foreign travel and mission trips clowning in third world, war-torn countries. I love bringing my style of smiles and laughs to people who could use an escape from their daily struggles.” His many different “characters” have traveled the world to bring cheer to over 10 different countries.
Much of what Kollaja does nearer to home is visiting hospitals. He used to be a regular at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in the oncology department. “I attended the regular peer support meetings for parents. While they were in their sessions, I would teach the children various skills that related to clowning. My visits were with groups of patients, and each session showcased a different focus depending on their treatments.” Although Kollaja hasn’t had the chance to clown at Driscoll in a number of years (as his contracts keep him on the road most of the time), he does have several locations that plan for him to make hospital visits when in their cities.
As tremendously philanthropic as many of his jobs are, some are much lighter in nature. Kollaja’s business, Lanky's Corner, has the most energetic and colorful ground entertainment for any event. As Lanky, Kollaja offers a large variety of services that make his company a source of comedy entertainment for all sorts of amusement venues.
On top of it all, he also teaches clowning, which began through the local clown club. “Our goal and purpose is to promote the art of clowning. We had offered a variety of clown education programs in south Texas. As I continued my experience and knowledge of the art, I became the lead instructor locally,” Kollaja is proud to say. Local teaching and national conventions provided the springboard for him to expand into other cities such as San Antonio and Houston.
“I feel I am always learning and developing my clowning skills and having fun doing it too. I wish I had one popular joke or act. Each audience is different, and I always must determine what material is best suited for the situation and event.”
Clowns are like aspirin, only they work twice as fast.