We had the good fortune of connecting with Dune Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Dune, what principle do you value most?
I provide family entertainment services (I’m a magician, juggler, game show host, and more), but the principle that I drives me, and my business, is that my true commodity is actually joy. Joy seems so unattainable, but the standard definition of Joy is simply, a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. It’s easy to see that I’m in the business of Joy, but isn’t just about every other business in that same pursuit as well? Don’t new cars bring great pleasure and happiness? When your pipes are broken, don’t you feel great pleasure and happiness when the plumber fixes the problem? When we leave the grocery store, we may not feel real joy, only exhaustion, but as we feed our families throughout the week, doesn’t that food bring with it the possibility of joy?

The times that business don’t bring joy is when they somehow shoot themselves in the foot by disappointing their customers. But apart from those times, whatever you make, sell, or do; try to remember that our customer’s pleasure and happiness is where the true value lies.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
This is an excerpt from my memoir, THE TIMING OF CHICKEN FEATHERS: Priceless Tales from my 35 years as a Purveyor of Joy. It’s a common question, and part of the American cultural experience. When you meet someone new, eventually they will ask, “What do you do for a living”. I always have a hard time answering that question. For many years I was a full-time professional clown, but you should have seen the reactions to that answer. Now, I usually say something like, “I’m a variety entertainer—magician, juggler, stilt walker, clown; that kind of thing.” I still get weird responses, though. People don’t know how to react. Most people say, “That must be fun,” and they probably mean it. But I’m always surprised at how few questions I get—after that. I think that most people just can’t compartmentalize what I do as a way to make a living, so their brains just, ‘short out’ a bit.

I’ve learned to accept it. I just don’t take the time in social settings to help them understand. It’s not that I am ashamed or that I don’t want to share my experience, it’s just that most people aren’t willing to listen long enough to understand. I was one of the Ronald McDonald’s of the world for over 20 years, and that answer would have inspired questions . . . but that was a secret at the time, so I never used to talk about it. I could say, “I am a fun-facilitator,” or that, “I specialize in creating moments of joy, professionally.” That’s really more to the point. The truth is that I have learned a variety of skills that enable me to bring joy filled-experiences to children and their families, almost on a daily basis; and for my time and energy, I get paid. I’ve raised five children, paid for two marriages followed eventually by two divorces, trained hundreds of others to make a living doing what I do, and been privy to millions of joyful experiences.

Fun is my main commodity, but so are happiness, celebration, magic, spirituality, bliss, and unity. In truth, I am still a full-time professional clown; I just don’t wear the same costume and makeup anymore. The art of clowning is about expressing the very best of the human experience, and sharing that with others. When you think of a clown, you should think of a colorful person who is; fun, funny, silly, zany, happy, caring, loving, talented, magical, helpful, energetic, etc. You shouldn’t think of a scary person who is; angry, hurtful, abusive, resentful, dishonest, or cruel.

There has been a big shift in cultural experience around clowns since the late eighties or so. Movies like “It”, or “The Dark Knight Rises”, or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”; rock bands like “Kiss”, or “Insane Clown Posse”; these things have somehow changed the cultural image of clowns to be something that is frightening, menacing, or insane. But clowns have been a loving and powerful influence for thousands and thousands of years. Dooney the Clown was once working an event that wasn’t very busy, so I was just wandering around juggling and connecting with people (In my family, we jokingly call it, “walk-around nothing”).

I came across a two year old holding on to the leg of his mom. When he saw me, he was immediately frightened as many two-year olds are. I was still about ten feet away, and his mom was lost in her conversation so she didn’t even notice the child react to me. One of the techniques clowns use with frightened children is called ‘mirroring’; or in other words, you do what the child is doing. So, I backed up, got down on my knees, and acted like I was afraid. I was still juggling, and I acted like I wasn’t even looking at the little boy (another technique I use—to take the energy away from direct contact). I just concentrated on my juggling. Finally, I ‘accidently’ dropped one of the balls, and it rolled right over to the little boy’s feet. I acted like I was worried, and I didn’t know what to do.

After a moment, the young boy reached down, picked up my ball, and rolled it back to me—really. Even though he was barely able to stand, most kids know how to throw a ball to someone (isn’t that one of the very first things we humans learn?). His mother never even noticed. But in just a few minutes, he and I were playing catch by rolling my juggling ball back and forth from about ten feet away. We had fun. Finally, after a while, our moment was over. I waved goodbye and went on my way, and he waved back to me. I’ll never know his name, and no one else would have ever known about our interaction (until now), but that moment was important for both of us. This was early in my career, and I learned about the value of this kind of connection. There was no fanfare, there was no ‘entertainment’ that I could say that I was getting paid for; there was only a very interesting kind of transitional moment. That little boy changed, and I changed too. He moved from fear, to curiosity, to wonder, to connection, all through a joyful (fun) experience. I somehow intuitively knew that if I could just stay away from making the experience more frightening, and if I could just make the experience nonthreatening (even sweet), then this child would have better experiences with clowns in the future.

Imagine if I had walked over to him and towered above him—in full colorful costume and wig—smiling insanely and trying to force him to like me. Instead, we had a wonderful and special moment. I believe that he probably had better experiences with people in general because of that one moment of sweetness. This is a perfect example of the little ways that I affect the whole world. Now, I intentionally try to create these transitional moments every day. They are known as ’liminal’ moments.

Liminal moments are that ‘in the middle’ point, where you are changing attitudes, perceptions, or realities. That time where your old beliefs are no longer valid, where the ‘rules’ of existence no longer apply and you are just about ready to move into a new understanding about the truth. My goal is to bring people to that state through fun, magic, and joy—because I believe that a lighter state of being results; and this is a very valuable thing. If I were a horror film director I could use clowning to bring people to the state of fear, and possibly create new states of understanding terror, but that’s not what I want to do. I want to bring people to a more loving reality, and I do that every single day.

For instance, I once learned how to make gigantic bubbles. It doesn’t take a lot of skill, it just takes the right bubble solution, and some specialized equipment. There is something about huge bubbles that is awe inspiring, and immediately—gripping. They catch your attention, no matter how old you are. A five foot diameter bubble is ‘alive’. It moves, and wiggles. There are thousands of colors, multiple states of being, and it only lasts for a few moments. Bubbles ‘touch’ people. There’s the same kind of audience reaction as to fireworks; “Ooohs”, “Ahs”, and “Wows.” The first time I saw one, I was changed. I immediately put together the equipment and added huge bubbles to my repertoire. I am always looking to find things that touch people in a positive way, and then bring them along with me.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in San Diego, California, and this is one of the tourist spots for all of southern California. First, we’d visit the San Diego Zoo. No matter how old you are, our zoo is amazing, and a wonderful day out. We’d plan some beach time at La Jolla Shores, followed by some amazing Ice Cream at Scoops of La Jolla. And then, we might visit Sea World or go to a Padres game. I’d suggest driving over the bridge to Coronado Island, for a meal, then a quick ferry ride across the bay for a short walk to Petco Park – it’s a wonderful way to see our beautiful city and take in the game.

We’d plan day trips to Disneyland, Universal Studios, the Magic Castle, or anywhere my guest might want to visit in the Los Angles area. I’d also suggest a trip to Mexico for either Tijuana, Rosarito, or Ensenada, depending on their interests. We’d also plan a trip into the mountains for a visit In Julian and a quiet walk around their quaint town. We’d also plan some family game time, and quiet meals together, because the most amazing thing to see when visiting anywhere are the people that we love.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have been a full-time clown, juggler, magician, balloon man, face painter, game-show host, and all around entertainer since I was 16 years old (1976). There have been many people along the way who have given me so much of their time, talent, and knowledge, that it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to one person. Elaine Burnette and her son Jack (Jack-O) introduced me into clowning, and the business of family entertainment. Aye Jaye taught me so many things about how to work professionally in the world of corporate entertainment (with McDonalds), Lisa Richards and Chuck Perrin gave me the opportunity to train so many others and give them the opportunity to apprentice with me, which taught me more about my self and my business that I can possibly explain.

However, the one person who changed the course of my life was a man named Chris Wedes. Chris was JP Patches the Clown, and the star of a show in Seattle, Wa. called the JP Patches show. His show was a staple of children’s television in the northwest states for over 24 years. When I was 19, had 3 years experience working as a clown, but just starting out with my own business, brand new to Seattle, Chris invited me to appear on his show, to help me with some exposure. He didn’t know me at all, but he invited me on anyway. My appearance went well, and he told me that I had done a great job, but it was shortly after that day, when Chris changed my life. He called me and asked me if I would be interested in working as Ronald McDonald? As a young, hippie kid, I wasn’t sure, but I told him I’d take the meeting anyway.

The short version of the story is that Chris had been doing appearances as Ronald in Alaska for two years (while still doing his show), and he couldn’t do it anymore, so he recommended me for the job. Little did I know that Ronald McDonald would change my life, all thanks to Chris. I did my first appearance in Shelton Washington, in 1980, and worked as Ronald McDonald for over 20 years.

Aye Jaye, was the head of the field Ronald program at that time, and he taught me everything I know about the value of joy, and how productive Joy can be – commercially. He taught me about hard work, dedication, perseverance; and he also made sure that I worked with the very best family entertainers in the world, to learn my craft. None of that would have happened if Chris hadn’t given a skinny young kid a moment to shine on his show, followed by an invaluable introduction. I’ll always be grateful for his kindness and generosity. His good will literally changed the course of my life.

Website: looneydooney.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dune1961/?hl=en
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dune-johnson-3b538613/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/looneydooneypro
Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/looney-dooney-productions-san-diego
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTmEK8dz58vwRukt5hLgrug?view_as=subscriber
Other: THE TIMING OF CHICKEN FEATHERS on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Timing-Chicken-Feathers-Priceless-purveyor-ebook/dp/B08943NKVR/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8 My Blog https://www.looneydooney.com/blog/

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