The Weird Truth About Why Clowns Terrify Us
It’s time we dive into something that gives us goosebumps and makes us want to hide under the covers: clowns! Surprised? I mean, who doesn’t love red-nosed, white-faced, goofy-haired performers who juggle and make balloon animals for a living, right? Well, apparently, a lot of people don’t, and there’s a weird reason behind it.
Have you ever heard of coulrophobia [coul·ro·pho·bi·a]? It’s the scientific name for the fear of clowns! People who suffer from coulrophobia experience intense fear and anxiety in the presence of clowns, sometimes to the point where they can’t even look at a picture of one without feeling sick. But why are clowns so scary?
According to science, it has to do with several factors. Let’s start with the makeup, which is usually extremely exaggerated. This can be unsettling because it hides the clown’s true identity and makes them look like someone else entirely. Scientists believe we find clowns scary sometimes because we can’t seem to figure out what’s going on behind those big fake smiles. Or what their true intentions are.
The big shoes don’t help either. They are several sizes too big, which makes clowns look clumsy and uncoordinated. We’re unable to predict their movements, which can give us the heebie-jeebies. Our fear of them also has to do with the way they behave. Clowns are known for being erratic and mischievous. We don’t always know what they’re going to do next, and that unpredictability can be scary, too. Some of us have also only heard stories about creepy clowns.
Take Pennywise, the creepy clown from Stephen King’s novel “It.” Now, this guy might look like a friendly clown at first, but don’t be fooled! He’s actually a shape-shifting creature that likes to harm people. Yikes! Elsewhere, on the list is the Joker, the infamous villain that was always fighting Batman. All these stories didn’t do any good to the honest clown name, that’s for sure.
Where did clowns come from in the first place, though? Let’s look at their history, shall we? But let’s get one thing straight: clowns are not just funny people in big shoes and with red noses. They are like the superheroes of the circus world. They bring joy and laughter to the masses, and they do it all while wearing a silly outfit.
According to history and mythology, they have been around for a long time. In ancient civilizations, from Egypt or Rome, there were people who would perform comedic acts to entertain people. These performers were known as “fools” or “jesters,” and they were highly respected in their communities.
Fast-forward to the Middle Ages, and things started to get a little more serious. Some authorities didn’t like the idea of people making jokes and having fun, so they banned comedic performances altogether. People weren’t going to take this lying down. They found a way to keep the laughter alive by creating secret societies of clowns.
These clowns would perform in the streets and at private parties, wearing masks and costumes to hide their true identities. Eventually, the ban was lifted, and clowns were free to perform openly once again. And boy, did they ever! They became a staple of the circus world, with their silly antics and ridiculous costumes. Some even became famous, like the great Charlie Chaplin.
How about the “King of Clowns,” have you ever heard of him? Well, let me tell you the story of Joseph “Joe” Grimaldi, also known as the Clerkenwell King of Clowns! (Yes, my tongue certainly got twisted on that one). Joec was an absolute legend in his field of work. Born way back in 1778, before smartphones and TikTok took over the world, Joe Grimaldi was a total superstar from the get-go.
He had a kind of clowning style that was totally unique for that time. His costume was unsettling because it made him look like a strange nightmare. His flamboyant colors and spangled attire competed with the Harlequins for visual pop. But the most shocking thing of all was his entirely white makeup that covered every visible inch of skin, including his ears, lips, and nostrils. His antics were so hilarious that he quickly became a household name in London.
Joe had this incredible ability to make people laugh without ever saying a word. One of Joe’s most famous characters was called “Joey the Clown.” It was this lovable, bumbling clown who just couldn’t seem to get anything right. He was always falling over, tripping on things, and generally making a fool of himself.
But that’s what made him so great — people loved him for his goofiness. Joe’s life wasn’t all laughs and giggles, though. He had some pretty tough times, too. For one thing, he suffered from many health issues. But even in his darkest moments, Joe never lost his sense of humor. He always found a way to make people smile, even when he was struggling himself.
Not all clowns were known for being outlandish and cheerful. On that note, let me tell you a story about a different type of clown, Emmett Kelly. He was born in 1898 in Kansas. Emmett didn’t have an easy childhood — his family was pretty poor, and his parents split up when he was young. But Emmett was a resilient guy, and he used his sense of humor to get through the tough times.
When Emmett was a young man, he joined the circus. He started out as a trapeze artist, swinging through the air on a big, suspended contraption. But he quickly realized that his true talent was in making people laugh. So he became a clown, and he was a natural at it. That’s because he also had a lot of other talents that made him stand out.
For one thing, he was an amazing pantomime artist. That means he could tell a whole story just by using his body and facial expressions. He could make you laugh, cry, or feel scared, all without saying a single word. Emmett also had a talent for improvisation. He could come up with funny things to do or say on the spot, without planning ahead. One of his most famous routines was called “Weary Willie.” It was a sad-sack clown who always seemed to be down on his luck. But even though he was sad, he was also funny. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for him and laugh at the same time.
A similarly famous clown was Grock, whose real name was Charles Adrien Wettach [wet·uck]. He was a Swiss clown who rose to fame in the early 20th century. Grock was a master of physical comedy. He could juggle anything from balls to eggs to plates (and even a razor-sharp meat cleaver — can you believe it?). And he didn’t just juggle them. He would balance them on his nose, his forehead, and even on the tip of his finger while standing on one leg!
But it wasn’t just his juggling that made Grock a hit. He was also a fantastic musician. He played everything from the accordion to the violin to the piano. And he didn’t just play these instruments — he played them in the most absurd ways possible. Picture this: he would play the piano while standing on his head! Believe it or not, Grock was also a bit of a philosopher. He once said, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” And you know what? He was right! Because every time you watch one of his performances, I bet you can’t help but smile.
Despite mixed reviews, there are still a lot of clowns performing professionally all over the world. Most of the time, they are actors or comedians who aim to genuinely bring laughter. You’ll find them in various settings like circuses, amusement parks, schools, malls, and even hospitals.
The estimated number of professional clowns worldwide ranges from 50,000 to 100,000! And that’s without counting amateurs also practicing the art. If you’re interested in becoming one, you might need to consider that 95 percent of clowns work part-time and have other occupations to supplement their incomes. And with that, I’ll stop clowning around.