Nicholas Gatrell Turns Sadness Into Smiles
We shared no words the first time we met, but no words were needed to communicate. His clothing was a conglomeration of tattered pieces of fabric wretchedly sewn together. His face bore the expression of deep, pensive sadness. And he walked with heavy shoulders, the weight of some sort of life circumstances boring deep in his soul.
Nicholas Gatrell was just old enough to have been able to legally drive, although his mother was his chauffeur on that day. She also was, and still is, his agent, manager, and biggest fan.
Now at age 20, Nicholas is often better known as his alter ego, Scraps the Clown, than himself. And he prefers it that way.
Completely self-taught and self-created, he is one of the few – if not the only – sad clowns in our region, perhaps even further out. He has an unbelievable gift to affect people, lift them up, give them courage, and empower them by his presence. (He also happens to be a gifted artist too and draws and paints clowns.)
Being Scraps the Clown is Nicholas’ passion and heart. It is now his full time job and one he hopes to pursue for a lifetime.
Please learn more about Nicholas below.
Lisa: How do people typically react to a sad clown?
Nicholas: It is very different from a happy clown that entertains with juggling, magic, balloons and other whimsy acts. As a sad character, I move slowly. People actually try to entertain ME instead. They want to make me happy. Kids are the most honest audience you can get. They will tell it like it is, and they will do everything in their power to make me a better person. They take my character so seriously and are so sold on everything I do. Most of the time, I can keep their interest for two to three hours.
When people see me as Scraps, it somehow helps them with their own insecurities. I am so much more relatable and more human than a happy clown.
In my entire seven year career, I have never broken character – although sometimes it is hard not to do, especially with a child that really takes to me.
Lisa: We’d love to hear about a story that has touched you from your performances.
Nicholas: I will never forget this little boy. It was about three years ago and I was performing as an ambassador of good will for a check company. I sat down with this boy, he was 7 or 8 at the time, and he was overjoyed by my attention and our playing with his hot wheels for about an hour. My mom took a photo of us, and when I showed it to his mother, she began crying. It turns out the little boy has autism and was not accepted by most of the world around them. Those kinds of moments and memories give me so much more than any paycheck I could receive.
Lisa: Where did your interest for clowning come from?
Nicholas: Art and creative expression is something that runs in my family. My father is a graphic designer/artist and has also done a lot of commercial talent work. People enjoyed entertaining on my mom’s side too.
I have always been fascinated with clowns. When I was 10, my mom took me to buy my first pair of clown shoes with money I made delivering papers. I was about 12 years old when my mother brought me a big picture of a sad clown and we hung it on my wall. I remember looking at it and looking at it, and being so perplexed. When you see a clown that is sad, you can’t help but ask, ‘Why?’.
I began drawing and researching clown artists. It just kind of evolved. When I drew the clowns on paper, I got a feeling of what the character would be like as a person; and so then began painting on my face and just developed Scraps the Clown. The first time I went out in 2009, it was with no coaching from anyone. I made my whole costume by hand.
When I was 16, I was getting paid to perform at birthday parties and I kept getting more and more calls. As an illustrator, I also draw clowns. I am currently working on a poster for the American Clown Academy.
Lisa: Tells us about someone who has been a positive impact in your life.
Nicholas: Definitely my mom. She has been and is my biggest supporter. She has worked so hard to make sure my brother and me have what we need, and would take the clothes off her back to make sure we succeeded. Mom was and will always be my example of what it means to be strong, confidant and giving. I carry her wisdom with me through everything I do. For Scraps the Clown, she is my agent, my driver, and my manager.
Lisa: What do you enjoy most about life?
Nicholas: Definitely performing, and making people laugh and smile. Being Scraps the Clown gives me a purpose that I wouldn’t have without it. It completes me. Everyone says they are put here with a purpose. I found my purpose when I was 13. I am extremely thankful for that.
Every time I go out there as Scraps, I am hopeful that something I do can make a difference in someone else’s life. I can’t think of anything else that I’d be happy doing the rest of my life.