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This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the May 21, 2003
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Bello the Circus Clown Shows His Serious Side
There are the elephants. There are the tigers. There
are the astounding acrobats. And there is Bello.
Bello risks his life five or six times a day, most days of the week.
He does it willingly — and joyfully — as a clown in Ringling
Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus. The famous circus comes to the
Bank Arena in Trenton for eight shows, Thursday, May 29, to Sunday,
The circus follows a long traditional but Bello is not your
clown. "I guess you could call me a comic daredevil," says
Bello, whose official name is actually Bello Nock. During a recent
phone interview prior to his Trenton shows, Bello spoke about his
blend of comedy and breathtaking acrobatic feats has won him the
"America’s Best Clown" by Time Magazine.
"That was terrific, and I certainly don’t mind the acclaim,"
says Bello. "But I feel like the luckiest guy in the world because
I love what I do, with or without acclaim."
Bello’s Swiss entertainment roots run wide and deep, with seven
of the family in some form of the business like no other. His own
parents were circus performers — his dad was, in fact, one of
the first circus performers to perform a sway-pole act, literally
swaying back and forth on a 90-foot-high, tube-like pole as audiences
gasped. Dad appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on a rather momentous
night: it was the same evening the Beatles made their first
By the time he was seven, Bello, whose present trademark is his
bright red flat-top hair style, was on Broadway as Michael Darling
in "Peter Pan," a no-big-deal thing in a family in which show
business was routine. Bello simply remembers a "terrific time"
on the Great White Way.
But he was trained, from childhood on, in the circus arts, and has
never looked back. Bello jokes that the circus was a free choice for
him. No pressure at all from dad. "He just ordered me to try it
— for 30 or 40 years."
As it turns out, Bello truly didn’t need much convincing. "I grew
up seeing the twinkle in every kid’s eyes, and I knew that this was
what I was meant to do," he says. "This circus is older than
baseball and Coke. It’s just such a privilege to be part of it."
A privilege — and a huge daily challenge. What Bello
does may make people laugh — but it also makes them gasp. And
it takes enormous skill. "The hard part is blending the two so
that you get the chuckles — and the intensity and relief when
it’s over and you’ve won against the odds."
"He is an incredible acrobat," raved America’s gifted
artist and clown Bill Irwin in Time Magazine’s America’s Best series.
"His work fits the circus ring, and he loves the crowd."
The crowd loves him back — and most kids want to know about that
hair, which is Bello’s own. "What you see is what you get —
no wig. Just weird hair!"
From what Irwin, a long-time fan, called Bello’s "world-class
trampoline work" to his high-wire tricks performed as his pants
fall off, Bello offers some of the best circus artistry of this or
any other era.
The clown himself is modest. "I don’t want the drum roll, but
I admit it — I’m an extremist. I ride a bicycle that’s literally
four inches by six inches on a high wire, and I work without a net
because to me, having a net takes away the adventure. But it’s not
something I take lightly, and I’m always prepared."
Without greasepaint or baggy pants (Bello prefers a slightly oversized
tuxedo, in keeping with the European tradition of formal circus
this circus performer still delights audiences with his antics, even
as he astonishes them with his skill.
"I make them forget their headaches and heartaches," he says
with profound understatement. When he’s performing, the crowd turns
tense and silent — until the laughter begins. Even Bello admits
that it’s an odd combination.
"You do this because you love it," says Bello. "You do
it as part of a traveling village, and you have to accept the minuses
with the pluses. But for me," says the man with his own
hair, "those pluses always win."
Still, the last holdouts for Bello are his own kids. Married to his
high school sweetheart, Bello has three children, all still
who do not perform in the circus.
Recently, when the circus landed in New York City, Bello was asked
to do a stunt that left audiences breathless. He was hanging from
a helicopter over the Statue of Liberty.
"I later learned that my son was playing Nintendo, and one of
my daughters went inside because she was cold. I guess dad just
impress them very much."
Bello is philosophical about the rebuff. "Nintendo wins out every
time," he quips.
Still, there’s a serious underside to all that clowning around. Bello
knows no other way of life. "The circus is like one huge melting
pot. You learn not from books but from amazing, endless experiences,
and you never stop learning," he says. "I definitely have
the best job on the planet."
— Sally Friedman
Arena , at Route 129, Trenton, 609-520-8383. "The Greatest Show
on Earth" features Bello the Clown, animal trainer Mark Oliver
Gebel, with acrobats, elephants, lions, and more. $10 to $30.
May 29, 7 p.m.; Friday, May 30, 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday, May
31, 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 1, 1:30 and 5:30 p.m.
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