Steve “TJ Tatters” Smith

Steve "TJ Tatters" Smith

Steve Smith as TJ Tatters

Happy birthday and a ceremonial pie in the face to Steve Smith, former director of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Clown College.

I’m not sure how old he is now chronologically, but I think that nearly everyone that knows him would say that he’s got the energy of a 20 year old, and the sense of humor of a 5 year old.  And I mean that in the best possible way.  (I can hear Steve now adding “6 years old, at least!”)

I like to say that I’m one of  the most educated clowns in America, barring certain elected officials.  Steve was my first clown teacher, and perhaps my best.  It’s not so much the content of what he taught (although that was great) it’s the way in which he taught it.  As the director of Clown College, Steve was directly responsible for producing new clowns for Ringling.  But he didn’t just take that as his mission.  He really tried to find the clown inside of each student, and even if they weren’t Ringling material (such as myself), he continued to work with them to allow them to become funnier, more creative, and more true to themselves.

Steve is an irrepressible well of joy in the world, and I’m sure I’m not alone in smiling when I think of him, or see a photo, or somebody says, “Hey, do you know Steve Smith?”

Here’s the recommendation I made on his linked in profile,which I repeat here because he deserves a wider recommendation:

TJ Tatters as "Steve Smith"

“Steve Smith is one of the finest clown teachers there is. Yes he has an encyclopedic knowledge of clowning; yes, his years of experience in front of (and behind) audiences gives him a great sense of what is funny and what will work. But most importantly, Steve is someone who believes in his students– he can detect the merest whisper of a glow inside a person and fan that glow into a blazing fire. I recommend Steve Smith unconditionally as a teacher and as a person. Any one lucky enough to study or be directed by Steve will end up a far better clown for the experience.”

So if you ever have the chance to work with Steve, jump at it.  You will be a far better clown (and perhaps even a better person) for it.

Steve is featured fairly extensively in the PBS mini-series about the Big Apple Circus called CIRCUS . (currently available on

Excerpts of Steve from that video

Video of Steve performing the classic routine Dead or Alive


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