Cappy the Clown

The Power of Laughter

By Denise Milanese     Photography by Christian Lee

Cappy the Clown

The Power of Laughter


Over 30 years ago a young woman in Massachusetts struggled with the lingering challenges of a violent abusive childhood. A friend gave her a panda costume informing her he was getting out of the “panda-gram” business. Three-dozen costumes later, she found herself running a successful singing telegram business. Little did she know that it would all lead to a career as a professional clown. Like so many comedic talents before her, she saw a way to take her pain and turn it into joy for her audience.

 Cappy journeyed to clown school in Hollywood, Florida to learn the tricks of the trade, ending up being mentored by the renowned Ringling Brothers’ clown face painter Johnny Mia. Cappy chose a white-face-empathetic model for her performance persona, and greets and entertains the world as a clown, but that’s just a delivery vehicle for her dearest goal, which is to mentor children.

Cappy loves inspiring and giving hope to every child she meets. She teaches them her belief that everyone brings unique talents and abilities to lift up the world. Her job as she sees it is to show them their potential and encourage them to find and support the aspirations of others. She teaches them that it’s OK to make a mistake because that’s how you learn. Cappy has a crew she calls her Clownettes, who help her entertain the throngs of children every Tuesday night at Shelter Cove Marina’s Harbourfest. The children jockey for a moment of her attention to have their faces painted with her unique 3-D face paint or to have their picture taken with Cappy in the giant red camp chair.

Cappy travels up and down the Atlantic Seaboard from Massachusetts to Florida, and as far west as Ohio, in her RV with her dog, Eddie, during Hilton Head’s low season. Cappy the Clown’s Traveling Road Show visits sick and special children at every stop. Some she learns about from postings on her Facebook page (Cappy the Clown) and some she arranges with children’s hospitals along her route. When she heard from the mother of one of her Clownettes that her daughter was battling an illness, Cappy jumped on the “Clown Highway” traveling all the way to Ohio to attend the little girl’s birthday party.

She wanted to bring her special brand of joy and to remind her team member that she could do anything, just as she’d learned as a Clownette. Best of all she brought her renewed hope. When teaching tolerance to her charges she explains it this way: “Just because I broke my leg and you only broke your finger, it doesn’t mean that your finger doesn’t hurt.” Everyone has a challenge, some are obvious to see and others are not, but it doesn’t mean that theirs has any less meaning to them than yours does to you.

The Clownettes range in age from 10 to 16. Many are veterans who return every year. I spoke with an 11-year-old boy who waited patiently on a bench outside Cappy’s storefront office at Shelter Cove for us to finish our interview. He sat with the resigned expression of a child who was frequently told to wait quietly for the adults to have time for him. His face lit up when I asked him about why he loved being a Clownette. He smiled and proclaimed proudly, “This my second year. I know what to do now so I can really help her, especially when it’s crowded!” I asked what he liked most about helping Cappy?

“Cappy showed me last year how to make a dog out of a balloon. I didn’t know I could do that but she showed me and then I just did it. I was surprised that I could do it. I made a hat, too, that had balloons braided together. I didn’t think I knew how to braid either… I can make lots of different kinds of balloon stuff now and the kids always want me to make them a hat. Some times a balloon will break but Cappy says that’s OK. She says, ‘Everyone still has all their fingers and toes and that’s all that matters. We have plenty more balloons!’ She’s really cool!”

Retired Clownettes now bring their children to Cappy to learn the lessons of empathy, kindness and the magic of their own unlimited potential from a woman whose life’s mission has been spreading the word of hope and the healing powers of laughter to everyone she meets.

Up Close:

Now that’s talent: Cappy can create over 200 different balloon figures and objects.
Early Indications: Found her entertainment chops doing neighborhood plays and variety shows with her friends as a kid.
She’s a Star: Starred in “Cappy and The Can-Do Crew,” a local children’s television show in the mid 1990s.
Adopted a Special Needs Dog: Edison—Eddie for short—is named after Thomas Edison, because like his famous namesake, Eddie never gives up regardless of the challenges he faces.
Serious Business: Cappy was named 1991 Entrepreneur of the Year by Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce.
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