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locker room humor: The boys of June see and are amazed.

Happy Nude Year

The Naked Clown calendar raises laughs and money for a serious cause

By David Templeton

Balloon sculptures are a staple of any well-trained clown's toolkit, and any clown worth his or her salt can make a balloon sculpture hat--but when have you ever seen a clown clad proudly in balloon-sculpture briefs or balloon-sculpture bra and panties? Other than an after-hours party at the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus, there's really only one place to see clowns adorned only in multicolored latex balloons--or feathers, flowers and suggestive accordions--and that is inside the Naked Clown Calendar, a fundraising effort of the Clown Conservatory at San Francisco's Circus Center, class of 2008. Devised as a project to benefit the Judy Finelli Fund, which works with the Florida-based Multiple Sclerosis Foundation assisting people with MS to accomplish dreams of all kinds, they aim to raise $1 million in 2009.

The Judy Finelli Fund was created to honor the center's co-founder, whose diagnosis of MS in 1989 has rendered Finelli a quadraplegic, halting her ability to perform her legendary juggling but hardly dampening her ability to inspire her students.

One of those students is LaRena Iocco, born and raised in Sebastopol, who graduated in June from the Clown Conservatory and is now actively applying for a position as a working clown in dozens of traveling circuses around the country. Her talents are currently on display in the new Naked Clown Calendar--which is exactly what it sounds like: photos of clowns baring lots of skin, but in entertaining, clown-based ways, arranged into a 16-month calendar, with 21 clowns participating.

"I am August," says Iocco. "Well, my clown partner Lindsey and I are both August." In the photo, which conjures recollections of old 1960s folk music albums, Iocco--in full clown makeup--is perched naked on a park bench, her more sensitive areas tastefully covered by the guitar she is playing, as Lindsey B. Jones, reclining on the grass, plays a small ukulele. The rest of the calendar is a playful array of poses and postures, all of them clever, some of them ingenious, most of them celebrating some acrobatic or introspective aspect of the fine art of clowning.

"It all started with a lot of us sitting around after our acrobatics class one morning," Iocco says, "talking about how great we all felt, and how we all seemed to be in much better shape, physically, then when we'd started school there. It's a very physically rigorous program at the school. And someone jokingly said, 'Now's our chance to shoot a nude calendar to celebrate our new bodies!' The idea took off from there."

With Chad Benjamin Potter, one of the students, taking on the project as organizer, the clowns soon decided to make the calendar a fundraiser for Finelli's fund. "Judy is one of our most amazing mentors from school," Iocco says. "She teaches the weekly Circus Skills class at the clown conservatory, with an assistant. She can't perform the skills anymore, but she has an encyclopedic breadth of mental knowledge, so she gives the lecture and somebody else does the physical demonstrations. We all love Judy."

Fae Kievman, who grew up in Petaluma and who is featured in the month of May, has been enrolled at the school for the last two years, and as a tattooed-contortionist-clown-in-development similarly prizes the time he's spent with Finelli as a mentor.

"Judy has been such an incredible inspiration to me," Kievman says. "Knowing her has been an incredible blessing. Because of her, I've gained a lot of confidence in developing myself as a clown, and preparing to take my act out into the world."In his photo, Kievman is posed on a rocky beach, looking all serious and Poseidon-like, wearing little more than a starfish.

"What I like about the calendar," he says, "is that there are all kinds of different clowns in it, big and small, short and tall, skinny, not skinny--and I'm in the not-skinny category. I'm the 'big clown,' which is great in the picture, because it has this stoic quality. I'm this giant clown, preparing to take over the world."

Asked what he'll remember most about his day of shooting on the beach, Kievman laughs.

"Well, I was basically naked, for an hour or more," he says. "What I remember most is that it was cold!"

To purchase the Naked Clown Calendar or to get more information, visit the website at Calendars are also available for purchase at the Circus Center, 755 Frederick St., San Francisco.

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