Class Clown

updated 04/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

THE LIGHTS GO DOWN, THE CURTAIN rises, the music begins. And here he comes—the inevitable late arrival, tripping over people in search of his seat, spilling popcorn, landing in laps. People begin to laugh. Who is this clown, anyway?

He's David Shiner, professional pest extraordinaire. A veteran of the sophisticated Cirque du Soleil, Shiner, 39, is now appearing with co-clown Bill Irwin in the Broadway sellout Fool Moon, a showcase for their unusual antics, which include, for instance, bringing people up onstage to perform in a miniature silent movie. "To put on a silly costume and act like a fool is wonderful," says Shiner. "But I like to be sweet and also to be aggressive, because we're all both those things."

The Boston native took to clowning at 25, while living in Boulder, Colo., where he saw two street mimes. "I was enchanted," he remembers. "The next day I was out there with a white face and a stupid little hat. I was terrible—people would walk by and say, 'This is the worst mime I ever saw.' "

One night, in a desperate effort to attract an audience, Shiner pulled over a police car, dragged out a good-natured cop and frisked him. When he looked up, a huge crowd had gathered. His trademark guerrilla street theater was born. Two years later he took his act to Paris and progressed to the biggest circuses in Europe.

Offstage, Shiner, who lives in Munich with professional equestrian Micaela Wengenroth, 36, comes across as subdued and thoughtful about his craft. "The clown," he says, "represents the most sensitive parts of the human soul—loneliness and sadness. He'll always be the fool, just never able to walk through the door right."

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