Thomas “Tommy the Clown” Johnson was born in Detroit and moved to Los Angeles when he was an early teen. Like many of his friends and neighbors, Tommy found himself in and out of trouble while trying to survive. After living a troubled lifestyle for a while, he realized that this lifestyle was not for him and needed to make a drastic change. Determined to never go back to his old ways, Thomas rejoined society and got an honest job as a typist clerk. But in 1992, Thomas’ life changed in a way he could have never predicted. One of his co-workers asked him to be a clown for her child’s birthday and because of his upbeat personality and sense of humor, she thought he’d be perfect for the job. Up for the challenge, he took the job and Tommy the Clown was born. Tommy the Clown has since become the pioneer of an inspirational dance movement known as “Clowning” and “Krumping” and turned a popular form of birthday party entertainment into a worldwide phenomenon.
Tommy’s shows involved the latest music and dancing and he would engage the kids to get up and dance with him. At the parties, he saw how the kids would light up when they would dance and Tommy quickly developed a loyal following all over LA. Tommy soon realized he was not only a party entertainer, but also a role model and leader.
Tommy realized that he could give the youth a unique opportunity to get into dancing instead of drugs or gangs by creating a dance crew called the Hip Hop Clowns that he would hire to perform with him at the parties. Tommy’s rules were simple: No gangs, No drugs, Do well in school (grades, attendance and behavior) and Be a role model by living a positive lifestyle at all times. Once they met those requirements, Tommy took the dancers and their raw talents and trained them to be a performance crew while always encouraging them to tap into their own creativity.
As time went on, more and more kids wanted to be part of the Hip Hop Clowns. However, it was impossible for Tommy to accommodate everyone, so he encouraged them to form their own dance crews. By 2002, there were over 60 clown crews in Los Angeles. Naturally, many of the crews claimed to be the best and Tommy knew this conflict could potentially lead to trouble. Tommy acknowledged it was his responsibility to do something to give these crews a positive way to solve their differences so he started having weekly dance battles at his former Tommy the Clown Academy where the word “krump” was first used to describe the intensity of the dance moves. At these weekly battles, Tommy invited crews to challenge each other and let the audience judge who is best. As popularity of the battles grew, he then created the Battle Zone event, starting from a modest 1,000 capacity venue and moved to the Los Angeles Forum where he has since hosted four successful battle events. His most recent Battle Zone was held in December 2005 and featured over 250 community dancers and celebrity guests.
Tommy’s dance craze caught the attention of award-winning director and photographer, David LaChapelle – who was compelled to film this amazing movement. LaChapelle directed the documentary feature, Rize, which was released in summer of 2005 through Lions Gate Films.
Tommy the Clown and the Hip Hop Clowns have since been asked to entertain for celebrities such as Madonna, Pamela Anderson and Cedric the Entertainer. They have also traveled all over the world including London, Japan, Germany and Hong Kong making various appearances and performances, inspiring people all over the world to keep spreading the movement. Tommy has also appeared at various schools and colleges across the United States and recently formed a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide an in-school workshop on Clowning and Krumping based on the California Education Standards. His immediate goal is to establish the Battle Zone League in middle and high schools where the students wanting to try out need to have a teacher recommendation and also must maintain good behavior, attendance record, and grade point average at all times.
Tommy’s ultimate dream is to re-establish the Tommy the Clown Academy in LA and open Academies in other cities where kids can come after school and get homework tutoring, take dance and performance lessons and train to be Hip Hop Clowns that perform at local birthday parties, functions and events.
Tommy is also acknowledged as the inspiration for new freestyle dance forms emerging from other cities including Hyphy – originating out of Northern California. Tommy remains intent to spread the freestyle movement and encourage people to creatively express themselves while being living proof that there is another alternative.