By Brenda Pittsley
It’s 10 a.m. on a cold gray day. But Jolene Jang, a “fun specialist,” arrives for her interview dressed in a colorful joker hat and vivid yellow vest to match. She’s friendly and upbeat and is soon creating a balloon sculpture that, when worn on the head, looks like a smiling child perched on parental shoulders.
Watching Jolene deftly twist slender balloons into a cartoon character—chattering all the while and popping forward suddenly to snatch a head measurement—this writer, dressed all in black and one cup short of being fully caffeinated, feels as drab as a schoolmarm next to Tinkerbell.
But it’s hard to resist Jolene’s effervescence. Even a roomful of stodgy lawyers from a conservative Seattle law firm succumbed, first smiling tentatively, then giving in to outright guffaws during her ice-breaking and team-building exercises.
Jolene, who has a business degree with an emphasis in marketing, became self-employed as a fun specialist six years ago. When she’s not entertaining at parties, working the crowd at events, stepping to the podium as a motivational speaker or helping corporations hone their team spirit, she’s busy promoting herself, taking classes and “researching fun.” Clients include some of the Northwest’s best-known companies, among them Microsoft, Nordstrom, Boeing and Safeco.
Numerous testimonials attest to Jolene’s rare ability to help work groups improve their problem solving, leadership, teamwork, negotiating and other corporate skills, while still having fun. But her most remarkable talent is making things out of balloons. We’re not talking little wiener doggies here. She understands the “properties of balloons,” she says, and is able to work out the engineering for balloon sculptures that range from a 9-foot dragon constructed of 1,000 green and blue balloons to simpler but still elaborate umbrellas, Pippi Longstocking braids, gift baskets and more.
She has won numerous prizes for her full-body costumes worn at special events such as Seafair. So has her boyfriend, Vinh Chung, who gamely dresses up as, for instance, the Grinch in a billowing balloon costume to accompany her Cindy Lou Who in an equally bulbous outfit. For Halloween 2001 they were Snidely Whiplash (in all black balloons) and Nell Fenwick (all pink balloons, complete with a hair bow, granny shawl and décolletage) from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.
Naturally it takes more than just a college degree to be a balloon master (a skill first explored while she was at UPS) and fun specialist. No amount of training can make someone a fun specialist if they aren’t born to it. Jolene admits it’s in her personality. Her Web site explains that she’s been working toward this job since she was a rambunctious child, and later in junior high and high school, where she was always a joiner and busy with extracurricular activities. However, she polishes her repertoire with regular courses in theater, singing, dancing and public speaking. She also attends balloon conferences and laughter workshops, where she learned how to laugh with a deep, booming, health-inducing, soul-cleansing HA-HA-HA. When you hear it, you can’t help but smile.