Matt Knight has been performing as Nutt the clown for 12 years, but his path began 50 years ago with the birth of his sister Mindy, who is severely disabled as a result of a breach birth that robbed her of oxygen. She has the mental ability of a 2-year-old and cannot walk or take care of herself. Matt has spent his life helping his parents look after her.
Nutt the Clown makes children of all ages laugh as a member of the Aladdin Shrine Circus. In his role, he poses for photos, paints faces, and trades good-natured jabs with all he meets, but he has a strong affinity for kids with special needs.
“If I see a child in a wheelchair or someone with Down syndrome, that’s where I spend my attention,” Knight says. “And that’s because I have my own history.”
Matt’s mother Garnet says, “When she was first born, they had her on all types of medication and she didn’t sleep at all. So when [husband Tom] would go to work, I would take [Matt and Mindy] to bed with me and Matt would entertain her so I could sleep.”
Says father Tom, “He always looked after his sister.”
When Mindy was ten years old, Matt found his calling. The Knights attended a special show of the circus just for special-needs children, and Matt was amazed at how the performers treated Mindy.
“They went overboard,” he said, “and even as a young kid, that impacted me.”
Although he has now been Nutt the Clown for over a decade, Matt knows that the career won’t last forever, because some day he will need to take on the role of primary caregiver for Mindy.
Tom and Mindy are in their seventies and soon will no longer be able to serve in that role. Mindy’s health is not what it once was; taking care of Mindy has taken a physical toll. Her back is weak and she can no longer lift her daughter. The Knight family is tightly-knit, however, with a dozen or more members showing up at Tom’s house every Sunday for home-cooked breakfast.
“[The Shriners] know that when something happens to my parents, I’m going to hang up the shoes,” he said, “because we’ll need to circle the wagons and make sure our family is taken care of.”
It’s somewhat ironic that the very person who inspired Tom to become a clown will eventually be the reason he retires, but Tom has no regrets. “I’ve always been a happy-go-lucky person,” he says, “and I’ve found this avenue to give back.”
We’d love to hear about someone close to you who would make a great circus clown!