My English Teacher is a Clown

“No, really. He’s a clown.”


Courtesy of Jonathan Holmes

Tyrone high school alum and current sophomore English teacher Jonathan Holmes alter-ego for the past eight years is Darby the Jaffa Calliope Clown. Here he is seen at a recent parade in Tyrone.

Most days Tyrone alum and current TAHS teacher Jonathon Holmes presents as your typical high school English teacher. His students describe him as intelligent, funny, and helpful.

But several times a year Holmes becomes hilarious. Because he’s a clown.

Literally, Mr. Holmes is a clown.

Holmes has been a Jaffa Shriner for nearly 10 years, and a member of the Jaffa Calliope Clowns for the past eight years.

His clown name is Darby, so if you see him this weekend at the annual Jaffa Shrine Circus, be sure to address him properly, because he will only respond to Darby.

Darby the clown in Tyrone
Darby in Tyrone at a recent parade. (Courtesy of Jonathan Holmes)

Holmes said that as a child he would dream of running away to join the circus as a trapeze artist.

“But as I grew up and realized how unathletic I was, that dream changed. When I decided to join the Jaffa Shriners, I knew at once that I wanted to join the clown unit,” said Holmes.

His clown name was inspired both by his own Irish heritage and the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People, one of his favorite childhood films. Holmes thought of the leprechauns because of their mischievous nature in the tales and folklore.

Holmes has performed as Darby at events and parades across the region, and circuses in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Altoona.

“The best moments are when you hear and see the kids getting excited to see you each time, remembering who you are, finding you in a parade or circus to get their picture taken with you each year,” said Holmes.

The thing Holmes enjoys the most about being Darby the Clown is the joy that he can bring to children and adults alike.

“Each smile on the face of a child, or anyone really, each laugh is a memory that reminds me why I do what I do – to help people to forget, even momentarily, all the unpleasantness in their lives. Our world is sad enough. We need more moments where we can smile and laugh, and if Darby can lend a hand to make that happen more often, it’s a good thing that he has two hands.”

According to Holmes, there are a few things to learn before becoming a clown but there isn’t much to it if you are generally an outgoing person.

“To be an everyday sort of clown, you just need a smile and a desire to make kids and people happy,” said Holmes.

Of course, to be a clown you must look like a clown, so the costume is a big part of it.

“Clown costumes can be extremely expensive,” said Holmes, “A typical pair of clown shoes can cost anywhere from $150 to over $600. A custom-made outfit, you’re looking anywhere from $120 to $300.”

So Holmes took a different approach.

He said most of Darby’s clothes came from Goodwill and the Salvation Army. With a little help from his wife, Kim, the costume came together quickly.

In addition to her help with the costume, his wife and family have been very supportive of his alter-ego.

Each smile on the face of a child, or anyone really, each laugh is a memory that reminds me why I do what I do – to help people to forget, even momentarily, all the unpleasantness in their lives. Our world is sad enough.

“Mrs. Holmes will tell you that I’ve always been a clown, even before Darby. Her only reservation, in the beginning, was the cost of the costume and makeup. She’s my biggest supporter,” said Holmes.

His two boys love it too.

“At least once a year, my sons’ lives are literally a circus, and they look forward to it every single year. They can’t wait to go to the Jaffa and see the other clowns. They know all of the clowns’ names, they can twist balloons, and they wait up to hear about the parades, shows, and other events we do. It’s quite an adventure for the whole family,” said Holmes.

The annual Jaffa Shrine Circus is happening today through Sunday at the Jaffa Shrine in Altoona.

Holmes and the Calliope Clowns will perform two skits during the circus, and sign autographs in the circus program before the show and during intermission.

The circus supports the local Jaffa Shriners and Shriners International, an organization that provides state-of-the-art orthopedic, spine, burn, and other specialty care to children ages birth to 18, regardless of the family’s ability to pay.

“We’re a true non-profit, so everything we earn is put back into maintaining and upkeeping the building,” said Holmes.

Before COVID, the Jaffa had planned to update the air conditioning system and renovate its historic auditorium. When COVID hit, they had to cancel all events, which meant no income.

“We had to liquidate all of the funds we had allocated for these improvements just to keep the doors open and be able to support our Philadelphia and Erie hospitals. We need the community and financial support, and these larger events like the circus, the Outdoors Show, and Sportsman Raffle are the largest incomes to keep our facility running,” said Holmes.

For more information and performance times for the circus, click the link below: