Please don’t send in the clowns

Do you like clowns? Have you ever liked clowns? If so, why?

My earliest memory of clowns is this: I can distinctly remember being surprised, and filled with doubt, when an adult explained to me that they were humans in disguise. I had assumed, based on the evidence, that they were some separate species — like aliens, or some particularly bizarre-looking animal. Hey, I was a little kid. Until somebody told me they were people, I saw no reason to think so.

I wouldn’t say I have a complex about clowns, but I’ve never really warmed up to them, even after learning they were just people. And I find myself wondering how this clowning thing got started, and who it was who decided that they were a nonthreatening form of entertainment for children — something that seems highly unlikely.

A piece in The Guardian today gives a little history:

Nobody laughs at clowns anymore.

Maybe antiquated proto-clowns did make people smile. But the legendary Chinese jester Yu Sze and the imperial Roman stupidus would be unrecognizable to us today.

The first clown who fits our description – painted face, frilly collar – was Joseph Grimaldi, who entertained Londoners in the 19th century but had a decidedly dark side. “I am Grim-all-day,” he told people.

A young Charles Dickens ghost-wrote Grimaldi’s memoirs, a saga of abuse, addiction and agony. “A tale of unmitigated suffering, even when that suffering be mental, possesses but few attractions for the reader; but when, as in this case, a large portion of it is physical,” Dickens wrote, it “grows absolutely distasteful”.

Dickens recognized, even with the very first modern clown, that what fascinates us is not the exaggerated painted face, or the dull face of a man underneath. It’s the tension between the two. The dissonance between what is and what appears to be.

That conflict plucks at some ancient strand of human genetic code….

That’s in a piece that starts with the recent sightings in the Greenville area of threatening clowns.

It’s all very well and good for a newspaper in London to be bemused by these sightings — they’ve got a whole ocean between them and the threat.

Not that I’m worried, you understand. But I am kind of creeped out…


22 thoughts on “Please don’t send in the clowns

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Yup, me, too.
      My sister-in-law’s beloved grandmother was a Clown for Christ, one of the creepiest concepts ever devised. I had to bite my tongue about all the photos displayed around their house of Clown-Granny….

        1. Bryan Caskey

          Can you imagine doing a stop and frisk on a clown? Banana cream pies, bowling pins, seltzer bottles, 3 pounds of glitter and 87 colorful hankies tied together.

  1. Tommy DeVito

    You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little f—– up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to f—–‘ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?

  2. Doug Ross

    Didn’t anyone else watch Bozo the Clown as a youth? He and his sidekicks must have had an impact on me because I don’t have any fear of clowns.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I did not know Bozo the Clown. Ronald McDonald was the only clown I recall, and he’s not creepy when portrayed as a cartoon. Clowns IRL are creepy–the makeup….

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Now I’m imagining a cop shooting a clown and the #ClownLivesMatter folks protesting:

      COP: I stopped him, and after about twelve of his friends got out of that tiny car, one of them pointed something at me in a manner that just seemed….funny. I had to make a split-second decision! How was I supposed to know it was just a seltzer bottle! It could have been anything!

      1. Doug Ross

        And when they buried the victim, they had to have the extension on the casket for the clown shoes pointing up.

  3. bud

    These scary clowns were spotted in Cleveland back in July. Oh wait, that was the Republican convention. 🙂

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    In the breakfast room at our hotel, there is a glass case with Victorian-type dolls….also creepy, especially en masse

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