Professor Kno-Y revels in mission

Published 9:40 am Friday, April 9, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

Lions and tigers and … clowns. Oh, my!
All these and more are expected with the arrival of the Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars in Washington for shows April 19-20.
Earlier this week, Professor Kno-Y paid a goodwill visit to Washington, and he dropped by the Washington Daily News office to chat about the circus and life as a clown.
“I’ve been a clown about 18 years, and this is my seventh year with the Cole Brothers,” said the “Professor,” who in real life goes by Roy Dietrich. “I get to tell everybody all the exciting things going on with the show.”
Dietrich, as Professor Kno-Y, often visits day care centers, nursing homes, schools and businesses to talk about circus life and all the excitement taking place under the Big Top.
The clown sees his job as a kind of ministry.
“I was going to go into foreign missionary work, and then we had a couple at our church who saw a clown at a fair. So, that was a different kind of missionary work,” Dietrich recalled. “When I got the job with Cole Brothers, I asked if I could still do ministry as a clown, and they said I could.”
In addition to his duties with the circus, Dietrich has done missionary work in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica and Israel.
“I got this job with the circus through a friend who’s a clown, and this lets me tell people about the gospel,” Dietrich said.
While most clowns no longer officially register their faces and makeup designs, Dietrich said, it’s considered common courtesy not to copy another clown’s look. His makeup remains pretty much the same for each appearance, and his signature piece of clothing is a white lab coat, its pockets bulging with colored markers for signing autographs and balloons for making animals and flowers. He also sports oversized clown shoes marked “left” and “right,” and, of course, he wears each shoe on the wrong foot.
The circus has been in Myrtle Beach and Wilmington this week, and its scheduled stops in North Carolina include Wilson, Halifax and Jacksonville before arriving in Beaufort County, according to Bill Dundee, the marketing director who accompanied Professor Kno-Y to Washington. Dundee is almost as excited about his job with the circus as the clown is.
“To me, the animal acts are always real good because people have to take the time to teach them,” Dundee said. “This show is very hilarious, very funny.”
The lineup features elephants, lions, tigers, ponies, camels and zebras, along with human performances that include a high-wire act, balancing act, aerial ballet, free-style motor show and clowns’ escapades.
This year marks the 126th year of the Cole Brothers Circus, according to Dietrich.
“We’re the oldest tented circus in America, and the largest circus under the Big Top in the world,” he said.
John Pugh, president and chief executive officer of Cole Brothers, was inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame earlier this year in Sarasota, Fla. He’s also been recognized with the Ringling Museum’s Power Behind the Scenes award and the United Kingdom’s World’s Fair Association International Award.
The circus promises something for everyone, Dietrich added.
“It starts with a roar — the tigers — and ends with a bang — the human cannonball,” he said with a laugh.
Tickets for the Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars are available at Paradise Sounds &Music, Washington Square Mall. They also may be purchased at or by calling 1-888-332-5200.