"Shortly thereafter, I was notified that I had a contract."
The circus put him in a training program and assigned him to one of the three touring shows. He started working almost immediately.
The boss clown told him, "I'm putting you in the show tomorrow because I can fit your skinny butt in anywhere."
Anywhere turned out to be the clown car.
Hicks said these days he's a sort of all-purpose clown, though he does have his specialties. In the show, he rappels from the ceiling, rides a unicycle and juggles.
"There's a lot of juggling during the free show," he said.
Juggling is one of Hicks's favorite things. He taught himself and swears he can teach anybody.
Before he ran off to join the circus, Hicks attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a boarding school. His senior year, he was a resident assistant in the dormitory and part of his duties included leading community-building activities with the other residents of his hall.
"The school really pushed that," he said. "And I was like, well, I love to juggle. I'll teach everyone to juggle."
So, he did. Hicks said he taught 30 people to juggle in about a week.
"The thing about juggling is that it's really addictive. Once you get started, you're juggling all the time."
Pretty soon, Hicks said, the other kids were stopping by his room, showing him the tricks they'd learned.
Hicks has been with Ringling Bros. for almost three years now. In the beginning, he thought he'd stick with clowning for a few years and then return to school, become a veterinarian. Now, that seems farther away all the time.
"I love the circus," he said. "I'm taking it a year at a time, but right now I don't see myself doing anything else. It's a career."
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.