Johnathan Lee Iverson knows how to get the party started, or in this case, the circus.

Iverson, the ringmaster for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, admits he never thought of being a ringmaster until someone suggested he audition.

“He said why don’t you try out for ringmaster, and at the time I was young, I was single, so I thought, ‘This would be a great pickup line,'” Iverson said. “So that’s why I said, ‘Why not try it?’ And here I am 15 years later, married with two kids.”

In his time at Ringling Bros., Iverson crossed a huge milestone, becoming the first African-American ringleader for the show.

“I never really knew how to take it until I spoke to my grandparents about it,” he said. “They’re from Arkansas and they’re activists and very active in the movement.”

His grandparents had the chance to see him in the ring, and Iverson said his grandfather really put things in perspective for him.

“My grandfather looked at me and said, ‘There was a time when I couldn’t sit anywhere I wanted to. Now here I can sit where I want and my boy is in the middle of all of it,'” Iverson said. “So that perspective makes it really meaningful.”

Iverson also spreads his joy outside of the ring, getting involved in the community. He spent wednesday afternoon at the Jacksonville Public Library’s Main Branch downtown, reading to kids. Iverson said he loves working with kids and enjoys giving back.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is our clowns are missionaries of laughter,” he said.

Iverson said traveling with the circus is pretty cool, but the best job of all is putting smiles on children’s faces, making Ringling Bros. the greatest show on earth.

To purchase tickets to the circus, click here.

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