CNN Executive Clowns Around in New Orleans

Jeremy Cohen's Off-Hours Mission Is to Bring Smiles Back to a Saddened City

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When times get tough, send in the clowns.

Jeremy Cohen, by day a CNN promotions executive, after hours switches into uniform like his pals-Squeeky, Bunky, Fuddi Duddy, Bubba and Shoofly.
In his off-hours, Jeremy Cohen, CNN director of daily news and on-air promotions, performs as a clown with Red Nose Relief, a group affiliated with the Red Cross.
In his off-hours, Jeremy Cohen, CNN director of daily news and on-air promotions, performs as a clown with Red Nose Relief, a group affiliated with the Red Cross.

Those associates and Mr. Cohen, who answers to the name of Krispy, are clowns on a mission: Cheering up kids who really need it. Red Nose Relief, a nonprofit organization devoted to bringing smiles to children, is back from a New Orleans engagement.

"You can't imagine the feeling of seeing all of this destruction and then realizing in the middle of it sits a child. ... I am sure there is fear of what has occurred, but also the unknown. ... all I could think about was how courageous these kids were and are. ... I was inspired by each and every young face in the room. I think they ended up bringing us more joy than I could have ever imagined."

Mr. Cohen, 33, first "dressed up as a clown for a fifth grade play." He joined a Shriners troupe in 2004 after listening to the group's pitch: "To entertain kids in the community, bring smiles to children in pain at the Shriners Hospitals and, basically, to never grow up."

Krispy was "born" in a room filled with all things clown-oriented, floppy shoes, puppets, wigs; an old hand by the name of Tinker helped Mr. Cohen "create a face." Mindful clowns quickly noticed Krispy talked too much so challenged him to go silent. Mr. Cohen started mime classes with Michael Hickey, a student of Marcel Marceau, switched to 13-button black military pants and a black felt hat. A number of other touches readied Krispy for the spotlight.

Before the New Orleans outing, Krispy had visited kids in Shriners hospitals, done Shriners' Circuses and conventions, and headlined the Yaarab Shrine Fun Fest. He was named the Rookie Clown of the Year in 2004.

And while others may boast their children are doctors or lawyers, Mr. Cohen's dad likes to proudly say, "My son is a clown." Sure, dad could say, "My son is an exec for CNN," but he prefers trumping other parents' photos of kids in white coats with a picture of his son in a red nose and green wig.

It's impossible to go to New Orleans and not feel the impact, Mr. Cohen said. "Places like St. Bernard are still a mess ... that there is still so much to be done to help people recover from their losses, both physical/property and emotional."

Taking time out to talk to the kids, Mr. Cohen recalled one youngster's tale.

"When I met the student, she was with her mother. They talked of all of the devastation and how their lives had been turned upside down. The mother said in front of the girl that she had thought many times of suicide but had not done it because of the girl.

"All the child could do was sit, look over at her mother and smile. As the horrifying stories continued, [she] tried to comfort her mom, who would break into tears every other sentence. [The daughter] was courageous, strong, mature beyond her years.

"When I saw her again later in her classroom at the school ... [she] gave me one of the biggest hugs I have ever had. For the first time, I saw more than a smile, but laughter... and I almost cried. As she sat down, I waved to her and she gave me a huge smile. I knew she would be OK, and someone like her by her mother's side, they would both be OK as well."

Red Nose Relief passed out 2,000 red noses to the kids, teachers and guests at St. Bernard Unified School during their visit. "All I have ever wanted in my life is a red nose," said one teacher, whose face lit up after putting on her red nose.

Mr. Cohen said, "I received more thank you's than I can count, and just as many said: 'We needed this.' "

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Devoted to a worthy cause? Have a secret vacation holiday? Rabid about the World Cup? Ad Age is looking for interesting Off Hours stories from marketer world executives. If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an e-mail to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com.
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