My favorite part about my job is creating smiles and laughter where they don’t exist.
Tommy The Clown
For three decades, American dancer Thomas Johnson aka Tommy the Clown has been inspiring inner-city youth and bringing his own unique brand of entertainment to audiences everywhere. Known as the creator of the clown-based dance style called “krumping”, Tommy turned his hip hop birthday party act into a movement that has led to local and national acclaim. He has performed for numerous celebrities including Madonna, Pamela Anderson and Snoop Dogg. He also received international attention when he became the focus of David LaChapelle’s award-winning documentary, RIZE.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Tommy was raised in South Central Los Angeles, California. Growing up, he, as did many of his friends and neighbors in the community, often found himself falling in and out of trouble. After spending five years in jail, he realized that his lifestyle needed a significant change. He acquired a job as a typist clerk until 1992 when he received his first opportunity to perform; a co-worker asked him to be a clown at her child's birthday celebration because of his entertaining personality. He accepted the job, thus creating his Tommy the Clown persona. Soon after, Tommy the Clown developed “krumping” as a way for himself and others in his community to express their emotions through dance following the 1992 Rodney King riots.
Since the very beginning, Tommy has always encouraged children to get up and dance with him. He has used every opportunity to give youth the chance to take an interest in dancing rather than drugs or gang activity. Many of these kids ended up joining his dance crew called the Hip Hop Clowns, a group that continues to perform with him at parties. His only rules for his crew are as follows: "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."
By 2000, there were over 60 clown crews in Los Angeles. To avoid a clashing of these different groups, Tommy took it upon himself to hold weekly dance battles at his Tommy the Clown Academy, where audiences selected the very best performers. The popularity of these contests flourished, and Tommy created and hosted the Battle Zone event—an official dance battle featuring community dancers and celebrity guests. This event actually led to David LaChappelle’s desire to direct RIZE.
In the years since the release of the movie, Tommy the Clown and the Hip Hop Clowns have been traveling the globe performing and making appearances to spread his inspirational message. Tommy has also appeared at numerous schools and colleges across the United States. He has partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide an in-school Clowning and Krumping workshop based on the California Education Standards.
Recently, Tommy’s made his mark across social media as his huge legion of fans look forward to the release of his unbelievable weekly dance battles, videos that have been watched by tens of millions. Tommy is focused now, more than ever, on using the power of dance to bring a positive message to his community and others who want to be entertained and inspired.