NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Unemployment hit 8.5 percent and jobs are disappearing across the country but at least one industry is looking for new talent -- the circus.
About two dozen hopefuls sporting big noses, brightly colored hair, baggy pants and oversized shoes did their best to fulfill a childhood ambition when they auditioned to become a clown with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
"It's been a life-long dream," said Kyle Barker, a 27-year-old from Chicago who already looked the part with a curly wig and painted face.
He's had several jobs, including being a customer service representative, but Barker said nothing could compare to being a clown.
Brooklyn-born Julius Carallo, 62, agrees.
He's been a clown for 15 years in smaller circuses but was hoping to make it into the big time at the audition.
"This is an opportunity to work with the greatest show on earth," he said.
After performing comedy routines with each other and veteran circus clowns, each hopeful was given a three-minute solo routine to prove they had what it takes.
"It's very hard to find good clowns," according to Tim Holst, a 35-year veteran of the circus who has worked as a clown and ringmaster and now selects new talent.
He summed up the qualifications in one word - funny. A clown is someone who can react to different situations, who is magnetic and can communicate with the audience in the huge arena of a circus.
"It's like finding a diamond in the rough," he explained. "There is something instinctive that comes out. You can see it right away."
Holst was on his way to getting a master's degree in speech therapy when he was recruited into the circus while performing in summer theater. He has never looked back.
"I love what I do. I have a passion for it."
For 22-year-old Dustin Portillo, who has been a clown with Ringling Brothers for four years, there was never a question of doing anything else since he saw his first circus as a young boy in Missouri.
"Clowns are born," he said, adding that it takes five to 10 years to be a good clown and 10 to 20 to be a great one.
After everyone had their turn in the spotlight, Holst and fellow talent scout David Kaiser picked six finalists to vie for jobs in one of three national-touring units of Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey where they will learn the skills and art of clowning.
Anthony Hoang, 19, who impressed the judges with a routine that included an amazing bag of tricks, was among them.
"I didn't think I would get picked," said Hoang, a disc jockey, filmmaker and martial arts demonstrator who traveled from Boston to New York for the tryout.
"Clowning is every talent I can think of merged into one pot."