Steve Smith calls himself the clown sandwich between two ministers. Both his father and his son preach. Early in life, Smith set off down that same road, working as a chaplain in a children’s hospital. But he quickly began transforming from a minister into a clown. He painted his face, learned to be a ventriloquist and make balloons. The new act, heavier on laughter than it was on God, helped the kids open up and heal. Smith now resides in Oklahoma where he entertains and educates as a cast of characters including Professor B Looney and Benjamin Franklin.
Steve Smith: My name is Steve Smith. But I like to go by the name of Professor B. Loony. Because I like be loony with the b-loonies.
A long time ago, I was a chaplain in a children’s hospital. And as a chaplain I’m often called in for emergency situations, which means that the situation is pretty much over by the time I get there. But there’s always someone awake in a children’s hospital. And so I found kids and we would goof off with the balloons. Sometimes I use the puppet back in my old days, I used my little ventriloquism frog, Fritz Ribbit is his name. And there is a young man who came into our hospital. The only problem is I never saw a parent there. So he’s a very angry young man. He had a curvature of the bones in his legs. The process of fixing that in those days was in essence to break the bones and rotate them and make them grow straight. I had heard that the operation hadn’t gone well and there was an abscess that formed in the leg. A little bit of dead skin, a hole, just a mess. And so when he woke up after surgery, I expected all sorts of angry words and everything like that. And came in; I decide to have my frog with me to be safe. The frog said, you know, “What are you in for armed robbery?” You know, the kid said, “No. I’m in here because there’s this blankety-blank-blank hole in my blankety-blank-blank leg.” And I was thinking, “Well, what am I going to say?” The problem with ventriloquism is sometimes words pop out of your subconscious. They come through the frog. So, the frog goes, you know, “Well, what are you going to do with it?” And the kid goes, “Do with what?” And I then said, “What are you going to do with that hole in your leg?” Well, he said that he could put an 8-track in his leg. And the joke was, well, he’s got the 8-track in his legs and he’s got batteries in his pockets and speakers in his socks. And it’s just a game to the frog and I and the kid played together.
Eventually there was a lot more damage to his leg than was then things just weren’t going well. And so he lost his leg from the knee down. And when I found out about that I went in expecting The Exorcist, you know. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But when I walked in he showed me the little brochure. And I said, “Yeah. Yeah, I know about that.” And he said, “Well, look at it.” And I said, “Okay. Yeah, I’ve seen it.” I opened up the brochure and, you know, it had the aluminium bars and all the foam cut outs and everything like that to show what the leg looked like. And I go, “Okay. Yeah.” And he goes, “Look, we can put the speakers in the leg.” Now, how does that work? You know, I don’t know whether this is God talking through a frog. It wasn’t my idea but there’s a part of me that thinks that somehow by looking into, “What else can you do with it?” He came up with an answer of how he could deal with his problems.