Street performer Andrew So Chun-chau is no ordinary clown. While he sets out to make people laugh in the thoroughfares of Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, he has a more serious purpose: encouraging the city to make space for impromptu entertainers like himself. As 'Mr Funny', he makes his audiences smile and laugh - but others frown at his antics, including shopkeepers and the police. As one of the first full-time street performers in Hong Kong, he has been prosecuted for busking in the busy streets of Mong Kok and has been threatened by half a dozen shopkeepers for 'blocking their customers'. Every weekend in Sai Yeung Choi Street South and Times Square, crowds in the hundreds gather around Mr Funny as the clown in a black hat and a large pair of black-framed glasses juggles, spins plates and twirls hula hoops. 'An international metropolis needs some artistic air. Busking is free entertainment, which adds variation to our highly consumerist society,' he said. Contrary to the belief that art and commercialism cannot co-exist, So said encouraging busking was a wise investment. 'People who have never been to theatres might be drawn by our free street performances and they might ultimately buy a ticket to support us.' So said that was how he got into the arts. Originally a goldsmith, he went to see a mime show in City Hall in 1985 and fell in love with the art form. 'I am never good at speaking eloquently and would rather express myself through actions,' he said. As Hong Kong's secondary tier of industry declined in the early 1990s, So left his factory job to become a clown at Ocean Park in 1993. But he soon realised that he was not content with just juggling skills and having his picture taken with tourists - he wanted a stage. 'Just as all singers aim for the Hong Kong Coliseum, I aimed for a real stage where audiences would sit back and enjoy my show,' he said. So he left the park to become a freelance entertainer and in 2005 started busking in the pedestrian areas of Mong Kok. 'During Sars the government was desperate to find new tourist attractions. Busking costs almost nothing but can certainly draw a lot of people, so I started,' he said. But not everyone in Mong Kok welcomed the new addition to the neighbourhood. So was once threatened by five well-built staff from an electronics shop. 'The boss was complaining that I blocked his entrance, I felt threatened and called the police,' he said. 'But even before police arrived, the audience already helped me by scolding them.' He was once prosecuted in 2006 for busking, but after working hours, a policeman came up to him and said, 'You know, I personally love watching your performances.' He said the situation had improved in recent years as Hongkongers became more aware of the issue of public space. So looks forward to the day when Hong Kong will boast an 'art street' in each of the 18 districts, where buskers and other artists can share a stage. The busker has performed in Macau, Singapore and Japan, among other places, but says the audiences in Hong Kong are the best. 'The Japanese did not enjoy clown performances, they preferred bands,' he said. 'The Singaporeans lack curiosity. In Macau, there seemed to be less freedom and some policemen came to interfere.' Looking at the future of busking, So is not too optimistic. He said it was 'rather difficult' to pass the torch. 'Chinese people still have the mentality that busking is begging. They feel a loss of face,' he said. 'Even professors and lecturers in art schools look down upon busking. They never realise it is a stepping stone for future stars.' Mr Funny is elated when he sees his audience laughing. 'Busking is just a role-playing exercise,' he said. 'Clowns bring happiness to crowds. 'Whenever I step onto the stage, I become a different person.'