January 27, 2016 Arts » Cover story

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Martin "The Clown" Barry forgets the circus tricks 

Shares thoughts on Charlotte Roller Girls, coulrophobia and more

There are no squirting flowers or balloon tricks up Martin Barry's sleeve when he transforms into "The Clown." Appearing as an angry clown, he sports purple, black, white and silver makeup and attire with purple hair to match. His powdered face is covered with squiggly black lines — some running like tear drops under eyes which have been altered with creepy couture contact lenses and yellow jaundice-like rings around them.

Martin ‘The Clown’ Barry (Photo by Justin Kates)
  • Martin ‘The Clown’ Barry (Photo by Justin Kates)

Though this description may leave him sounding a bit scary, he's actually one of the friendliest clowns you'll ever meet in Charlotte. But don't go thinking he fits in with Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus (which happens to be in town at Time Warner Cable Arena from Jan. 27-31). Unlike typical circus clowns that have a knack for merrily mischievous tactics that leave children traumatized into adulthood, he doesn't play tricks.

"Those guys [circus clowns] are stuntmen. The thing is, when they do the deceptive stuff, that's the stuff that turns people off to clowns," Barry says. "Like, you get those clowns that come up with the fire extinguisher thing and they turn it one way and it blows air on you and then they turn it another way and it blows water on you. That's deceptive and they look all happy about it. The Harlem Globetrotters do the thing with the bucket where it's confetti and the next time it's water. That's deceptive, but you don't see Harlem Globetrotter phobias. But when it happens at the circus to the right people, they're afraid of clowns for the rest of their lives. I think it's kind of funny."

Part of the reason why Barry was drawn to clowns and created his "evil clown" costume was because of interest in coulrophobia, fear of clowns.

"Phobias are just irrational fears anyways, but coulrophobia has always been ridiculous and fascinating to me because how can anyone be afraid of a clown?" Barry says. "What I did was adapt my makeup so that it looks mean instead of looking happy and being deceptive. You know you're not getting a twisted balloon animal from someone who looks like me."

Since moving to Charlotte 11 years ago, Barry has been the announcer for Charlotte Roller Girls who hold home bouts at Grady Cole Center. But this is his tenth and final year with them. For 2016, the Charlotte Roller Girls have six scheduled home bouts — kicking off on March 5 and culminating on Oct. 29 — before Barry retires from the league, partly to focus more on his children.

"I'm the last one standing from that first organizational meeting. Some of the others had been there for a long time, but they're gone now. I want a strong finish with Charlotte Roller Girls, because I love that organization and I hope they're around for another 20 [years] at least. I've seen the league refresh itself like four times already and from starting to the point they are at now and in between they've just been fascinating," Barry says. "It's a whole different breed of people. They can't sit at home and crochet, they have to go out and hit somebody. It's cool and it's been lots and lots of fun."

But that doesn't mean you won't be seeing him clowning around the Q.C. Barry, who organizes Charlotte's annual Evil Clown Crawl each August, will continue to paint his face (and other brave folks who join in for the crawl) and dress up for the event, now in its seventh year. The fundraiser helps to generate school supplies while providing folks in the community with the chance to parade around Plaza Midwood as an "evil" clown. Face painting goes down at Common Market on the day of the crawl.

Barry gives crawl participants different makeup styles depending on what he sees in their faces. "Everybody looks a little bit angry," he says. "Every once in a while we get people that are Insane Clown Posse followers and want me to do their makeup like that. I'm like 'Alright. I'm not a huge fan, but if it makes you happy.'"

Barry learned how to do makeup as a longtime member of Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta, where he lived before moving to Charlotte. He credits his makeup skills to Roy Wooley of Netherworld. He also perfected his ability to scare haunted house patrons at the Netherworld attraction.

"There's the four 'P's.' If you can make them pass out, puke, pee or poop, then you've done your job right. I've made people pass out, puke, pee and poop," Barry says.

Having worked with Charlotte's now-defunct Nightmare on Independence and NC Fright Factory in the past, Barry recalls moments when he's frightened Panthers players with kids. "I remember hearing one say, 'Man, I don't know what that is, but I'm not messing with it,'" he says. "You see these big dudes that are like fearless on a football field and they see this and they're like 'Nah, nah, nah.'"

Barry hopes to organize something new and different for Halloween in 2016. He'll also be emceeing more for Mandy Kimrey of Mandyland Entertainment, which hosts fetish-focused and themed nightlife events in Charlotte. During those events Barry adapts his style for The Clown.

For Mandyland's The Mystics Ball: No Place Like Rome, a toga-themed party held back in May, he wore a Roman-style toga with wrist guards and sandals. For the next Mandyland party (on Feb. 27 at Visulite Theatre), which sports a Steampunk Society theme, he'll be adding metal to his costume.

"Every once in a while you'll see new little details to what I'm wearing and the right people get it," Barry says. "Working at Netherworld last year, I had a Crossed Keys pin from Grand Budapest Hotel on my tie and some people noticed it. I like to throw little details in there and I keep adding to it too, so that there's a little something for everybody to notice. I like tiny details that you have to be close to notice because that takes the people with the aversion and draws them in to you."

But Barry isn't always met with friendliness while he's in his clown gear. In 2011, he was an announcer for Team Sweden at the inaugural Roller Derby World Cup in Toronto, Canada, but in 2014 when he applied to be an announcer in Austin, Texas, he was rejected.

"I've gotten pushed out of tournaments because people are afraid of clowns. For some reason someone from the upper part of the organization was afraid of clowns and they said 'no' based on the fact that I look like a clown," Barry says.

I have applied for other division playoffs and championships and got rejected for the same reason. I know some people that are running the selection thing really well and have announced with them before and they were like 'How do you feel like toning down The Clown?' and I was like 'What's that mean?' and they said 'How's no make up and no wig sound?' I said, 'Why would I call myself 'The Clown'?"

Though clowns are notorious in horror movies, including Stephen King's It, Barry was always attracted to them. He lists off Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Vincent Price and H.P. Lovecraft as influences, as well as horror show hosts like the Q.C.'s Philip Morris of Dr. Evil, Svengoolie and Elvira. He says the clown doll from Poltergeist is one of the scariest clown scenes he can remember and looks forward to Rob Zombie's 31, which features a bunch of murderous circus clowns with chainsaws and axes.

Credit: Jessi Brookshire
  • Credit: Jessi Brookshire

"To me, my clown is more honest than anything else," Barry says. "Surprisingly, the little kids that come to derby are always the ones who want me to sign there program or get a sticker and stuff like that. They love me. Their parents are the ones that shy away."

"It's like being a little kid and liking Gene Simmons and your parents freak out about that. When I was a little kid I loved Kiss and I loved David Bowie, too. My mom and dad were like 'What?!'"

Barry believes part of the reason children gravitate toward him is due to his laid-back, honest persona. Most of his encounters, including those outside of derby bouts, are positive, though within the Charlotte clown community he walks alone.

He recalls a time when he photo-bombed a picture being taken of the Carolina Clowns during the Thanksgiving Day parade in Uptown Charlotte.

"They are really nice, great people, but a lot of them have this attitude towards me that's like 'You give clowns a bad name' and I'm like 'No, I don't. You're the deceptive ones, not me.'"

Barry, who also gives relationship and parenting advice for a column in My City Magazine, isn't reluctant to offer suggestions on the best way to conquer a fear of clowns. His solution? "Hug one," he chuckles.

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