HOLLYWOOD -- Coming from as far away as Australia and Arkansas, dozens of men and women trying to be funny competed in Tinseltown earlier this week to help fill one of the world's great shortages:
There is an urgent need for more "Bozo the Clowns."
"We have to have more Bozos right away," explained Larry Harmon, who created the television clown in 1950. "We franchised a human being and I need many more Bozos to help me. Bozomania is sweeping the world."
The resurgence in the Bozo business led more than a hundred people -- doctors, lawyers, dentists, undertakers, teachers, military men, magicians, boxers and professional clowns -- to attend the first-ever Bozo tryout, held in a drafty church gymnasium a few blocks from the legendary intersection of Hollywood and Vine.
Many were like Ken Colombo, a high school teacher and part-time truck driver from New Jersey, who came in clown garb and hoped to realize a life's ambition.
"I believe it's my destiny to be Bozo," Colombo said during the five-minute tryout in which aspiring Bozos had to put on a show and lip-sync the TV program's theme song.
For more than two decades, Bozo has been a fading figure of American television folklore. When the character was most popular in the 1960s, there were 183 of "your ol' pal" Bozos hired by Harmon on local stations around the country. But as cartoons replaced Bozo shows, many of the Bozos retired, and only a handful of the characters remain.
Now with the increase in cable television programs and some creative marketing by Harmon, Bozo is making a comeback.
Tickets for the Bozo show in Chicago are unavailable until the year 2000. At least a half-dozen new Bozo shows are in the works. Harmon-trained Bozos entertain throughout Europe.
Harmon wants to hire at least 20 Bozos in the next month. Within three years, he envisions creating more than 200 new Bozos, including the first female characters.
It's not all for laughs. Starting Bozos in small television markets can make $20,000 a year and big-time Bozos can gross in the six-figure range.
Those in Tuesday's tryouts were chosen from 500 applicants. While Harmon said he was mostly looking for charisma, judges from his production company graded the Bozo hopefuls on appearance, energy, personality, costume and originality.But for those who will never make it into Bozodom, Harmon had some advice.
"Just remember what your ol' pal Bozo says: Just keep laughing."