With his foot-high strawberry blond hair, loose-fitting tuxedo, white gloves and spats, 42-year-old clown Bello Nock is easy to recognize.
The Big Apple Circus made him a star and from there, he went to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he was a headliner for four tours. Ringling Bros. thought so highly of the performer that for the first time in its 140-year history, it named a show after one person — Bello.
Ringling Bros. Circus Producer Kenneth Feld called Bello “a once in a lifetime performer,” while Time magazine named him “America’s best clown.”
Now, the famous clown is coming back to Queens, as the Big Apple Circus presents “Bello is Back!” in Fresh Meadows’ Cunningham Park for performances beginning Saturday and running through June 6.
Heady stuff for someone whose livelihood depends upon making people laugh under a big tent. But then again, Bello can ride a motorcycle on wire 65 feet above the audience, perform acrobatic feats atop a steel sway pole at up to 80 feet in the air, juggle, perform on the trampoline and wow fans with death-defying feats in a motorcycle globe and a giant wheel of steel.
But his talents don’t end there. Bello also plays 12 instruments and speaks five languages.
In a recent telephone interview, the likeable performer said he’s not the typical clown. “I’m a mix of Jackie Chan and Jim Carrey,” he said.
Bello described modern circuses as “ever changing and never changing.” He believes the big top is relevant and innovative, but said that people still want to see traditional acts. “It’s a balance,” he added. “You have to learn that to be in a circus.” The performer still practices to make his skills look easy, but as a daredevil, he never works with a net. “I have safety measures, but no devices,” he said.
Sawdust is unquestionably in Bello’s blood. He’s a seventh generation circus performer, whose father’s family started the Circus Nock in Switzerland in the 1700s and whose mother comes from a family of Italian circus stars. He’s married to his high school sweetheart and is the father of three children, all of whom travel with him on the road.
Bello’s parents married in Sarasota, Fla., where he continues to maintain his home. One of four brothers, Bello said his family has close connections to Flushing. His brother was born there while his parents were performing in the circus at the 1964 World’s Fair. “All the rest of us were born in Florida, so when we see a replica souvenir of the Unisphere, we always get it for him,” he said.
His parents have another historic connection to the area. They performed as an opening act for the Beatles when the mop-tops played at Shea Stadium in 1965. “Flushing is near and dear to my heart,” Bello said.
Now about the hair. Bello said he grew his hair long as a kid because otherwise his scalp got sunburned when he waterskied. “I have very straight hair and I wanted to be the Fonz,” he said.
Keeping to family tradition, Bello’s children, ages 14 to 20, have learned some of their father’s skills. “I never wanted them to feel obligated to be in the circus,” he said. “But they gravitated toward it. All can ride the unicycle, walk the wire and juggle.”
“I was taught at a young age that nothing is impossible,” Bello added. “I absolutely taught my children the same. You have to methodically break things down — first you crawl, then walk, then run.”
Bello’s son is the oldest and prefers working backstage on lights and cooking. He calls his middle child, a daughter, a leader who keeps him on schedule. “She’s my personal assistant and with the Big Apple is assistant head of wardrobe.”
However it is his youngest daughter who is most likely to follow him into the ring. “She loves the spotlight and practices three hours a day doing aerials and handstands,” he said. “She has the drive.”
Bello’s wife of 22 years is his manager and helps write his comedy routines. She also homeschools their children in one of the family’s three custom RVs.
Bello started performing at the age of three, playing the baby in the burning house clown routine. Three years later, he was performing as Michael Darling in a touring version of “Peter Pan” with gymnast Cathy Rigby.
Not one to remain in any place too long, Bello said he will stay with the Big Apple Circus for just one season. He has a five-year plan that could include starring in Las Vegas. “I believe I could do it well, but everything has to line up,” he said.
Bello’s dream is to perform on television. “That’s my next medium,” Bello said. “I have a pilot in development, but I won’t leave live entertainment.”
‘Bello is Back!’
When: May 22-June 6, every day except May 24 and June 4, various times.
Where: Cunningham Park, 196-22 Union Turnpike.
Tickets: Range in price from $15- $45