We should learn to laugh at clowns again

We should learn to laugh at clowns again

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com

If you step into my father’s closet, behind the button-down shirts and striped ties, you’ll find a ratty old suit with oversized shoes, a bowler hat covered with stickers and a daisy sticking out of the top, and a bag filled with balloons, magic tricks and makeup. If you step into my apartment, behind the mountain of unwashed laundry and unread textbooks, you’ll find a unicycle, a set of juggling pins and yet another bowler hat/makeup bag. If you step out onto the street dressed as a clown, you’ll find children screaming as their moms shuffle them away…and these days, you might get stabbed.

For several years, clowning has been a huge part of my life. Many of my earliest memories include “Peanuts” (my dad’s clown persona) performing magic tricks or making balloon animals at birthday parties and fall festivals. But in addition to my dad, my childhood was filled with positive clown figures, from Bozo [Bozo’s Super Sunday Show] and Loonette [The Big Comfy Couch] to Marcel Marceau and Charlie Chaplin; I always found comfort in red noses and painted smiles. Thus, the natural progression for me was to follow in their oversized footsteps and try to bring joy to others’ lives the same way they did to mine. So I have. I’ve taught myself how to juggle, unicycle and make balloon animals, and I’ve taken classes at the University in make-up and physical comedy. I’ve worked hard to hone my craft always with the intention of using it to bright people’s day. And the fact that all of this work and dedication is turning me into something the world considers a menace is no laughing matter.

I’ve always known people were afraid of, or at least uncomfortable around, clowns. But we’re now in a society where people are forming “clown-hunting parties” and stabbing 16 year old’s dressed as clowns. Admittedly, there is something inherently unsettling about anyone using a mask or makeup to conceal their face, but what concerns me is the way this fear is being focused towards clowns specifically. I maintain that coulrophobia (fear of clowns) is an unwarranted fear based on the media's portrayal of fake clowns. Whether it was fictional characters like Pennywise [Steven King’s It] or “Twisty the Clown” [American Horror Story: Freak Show], or real people like the Insane Clown Posse and or the wooded figures in South Carolina, everyone seems to have had a negative experience with a clown…second hand. But have you ever had a negative experience with a clown yourself? Do you know someone who has? Do you have any real basis for prejudice?

The truth is, clowning is an art-form, not a costume. The red-nosed people dressed in blood stained frills and wielding a knife that you see at haunted houses are no more clowns than the people next to them dressed in scrubs and wielding a bloody chainsaw are doctors. And people who use a clown’s costume to lure children into the woods are no different than people who dress up as police officers to do the same. Real clowns, trained clowns, want only to make people smile, and they work very hard to do so. Their primary goal is (according to the CAI’s “clown commandments”) is “to provide others, principally children, with clean clown comedy entertainment.” We shouldn’t let some wackos who steal their style impede them in that mission.

Despite my passion, I’m not trying to tell you how you should feel about the profession that I hold so dearly, and I’m not saying that you should necessarily embrace every clown you see with open arms. There are bad people out there who are dressed as clowns, and you have a perfectly valid right to be afraid of those people. I just ask that the spirit of trust and acceptance that we as a generation and as a country have worked so hard to perpetuate be extended to our face painted friends as well. Charlie Chaplin, perhaps the world’s most beloved clown, once said “A day without laughter is a day wasted,” so let’s learn to laugh at clowns again instead of running from them; there’s no need to waste any more days in fear.

Luke Haynes is a senior majoring in electrical engineering and theatre. 

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