It's just Cornflake clowning around
A honk from his horn and Cornflake the Clown bursts through the doorway in an explosion of colour.
An excited buzz flutters through the young crowd at the Papakura East Presbyterian Church. They've been waiting patiently for his arrival.
"The clown is here," some whisper. Others get to their feet and start to bob up and down excitedly on the spot.
Without delay, Cornflake gets down to the business of making them laugh with his jokes, gags, pranks and magic tricks.
At his disposal is a suitcase filled to the brim with essential clowning items – balloons, foam balls, magic wands, hankies, and a rubber chicken.
For an hour the sound of children's laughter bounces off the church walls. Even parents and older siblings sitting on wooden seats lining the walls can't stifle the giggles or keep the smiles from their faces.
"What I love the most is that no matter what a person's week was like, whether it was rubbish or whatever, I can crack them up," Cornflake says.
"I also like being part of a kid's life for an hour. I make them laugh and stuff but also, hopefully, I have a bit of a positive influence on them too."
Underneath Cornflake's makeup and costume is 23-year-old Justin Lane from Papakura, an energetic young man who is making a living from his childhood passion – clowning.
It's astounding to learn he's been entertaining audiences for 10 years and has performed more than 3500 shows.
Ever since his first paid gig as a 13-year-old, his career has steadily progressed from small private birthday parties to large corporate gigs. He even performed at the Sky Tower on Christmas Day when he was 15.
"The first show I did I knew they'd love all of my tricks – I was quite confident really. Looking back it was a bad, bad show," he says laughing. "But I thought it was good at the time."
Justin hit upon the name Cornflake after searching through his pantry for inspiration one day – naming yourself after food is apparently a common practice in the clowning world.
He gets a lot of enjoyment out of his work but it does require a lot of practice and patience.
It's a common misconception that clowns turn up to jobs and just start being funny but that couldn't be further from the truth.
You have to suss out the crowd's humour and their level of energy straight away, he says.
"If the crowd's not the excitable type but would much rather sit back it's no use trying to get them to wave their arms about or to sing along with you. In that case I'd act more like a friend who just popped in to do a few magic tricks.
"A lot of psychology goes into the shows and it's really about engaging with the crowd on their level."
That includes dealing with children, and some adults, who suffer from coulrophobia – an extreme fear of clowns.
It's a situation Justin's dealt with many times and he believes it occurs because clowns are generally "so far-removed from a person's reality", especially if they're young.
Movies like It and Killer Klowns from Outer Space probably don't help much either.
"When I meet someone who is afraid I will generally keep my distance or try to ease them in slowly if I can. If there's a kid who's scared and I'm able to bring them round that really makes my day."
From humble beginnings – putting up posters in supermarkets and video stores as a 13-year-old – Justin's business Kids Entertainment has now grown so much he employs a troupe of other clowns.
And he's very proud of the friends he's brought into the business over the past couple of years who all put their heart and soul into entertaining kids and adults alike.
The future is looking great but eventually he plans to retire Cornflake.
"I definitely don't want to turn into an old clown, I'd be too self-conscious about looking creepy.But I'll always be into entertainment and magic. So one day I might fade into an old magician which isn't as bad."
See www.kidsentertainment.co.nz for information about Cornflake the Clown and Kids Entertainment.