Here's why people are really afraid of clowns

Originally published at: Here's why people are really afraid of clowns | Boing Boing


pennywise it 2017 GIF


Regarding the pop culture thing, I can’t really think of any famous clowns that were depicted in a positive light since Bozo. You have countless examples in the negative side (The Joker, Pennywise, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, etc.) and a handful of “clowns as tragic figures for adult entertainment” examples (Krusty, Puddles, etc.) but not much else. Ronald McDonald, maybe? But even he doesn’t get much time on TV these days.


That’s been the case in mass media even further back than that. The clowns in Dumbo were definitely intimidating.

Hell, this famous opera from the 1880’s featured a clown that commits a double-murder:


a fear of clowns stems from not being able to see their facial expressions due to their make-up

The blood red makeup around the lips doesn’t help much either.



So it wasn’t because of that movie “Killer Clowns From Outer Space” after all.


And that was preceded by:


Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.” Doctor says “HOLY SHIT” and runs out of the office to call 911.


Anyone who enjoys horror, gore, and cinematic violence (you weirdos!) should search “rackaracka ronald mcdonald” on YouTube… anyone who doesn’t enjoy such things, best that you don’t.

Speaking of Rackaracka, they just got a distribution deal with A24 for their feature film “Talk to Me”. Looks kind of weird and good.


Emmett Kelly seemed to take away some of the scariness of clowns with a slightly more “natural” appearance and also generally appearing sad so as to evoke more sympathy than fear. Oh yeah, and he stepped up heroically when needed.

Maybe that’s why he even felt safe when surrounded by clowns.


My jstor link had nearly the same joke:

In his own 1887 memoir, theater critic Thomas Goodwin recounted how Grimaldi visited a famed surgeon to find a cure for his melancholy. The doctor suggested he pursue “relaxation and amusement… perhaps sometimes at the theater;—go and see Grimaldi.’ ‘Alas!’ replied the patient, ‘that is of no avail to me; I am Grimaldi.’”


Humans are hard-wired to recognize faces. (hence Pareidolia etc) So anything which covers or distorts the face is suspect and overtly so is scary. That is, it’s not just clowns, it’s likely everything face hiding to a some degree (e.g. ghost of christmas future). Of course clowns making a bright colored distorted mess of it adds to the “in your face” aspect.

(Fezzik: Why do you wear a mask? Were you burned by acid, or something like that?
Man in Black: Oh no, it’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future)


Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.


Personally, clown makeup does nothing for me, good or bad. I’m also bad at recognizing faces and often have to rely on other personal identifiers like hair, physical build, clothing, etc, so I’ve long been curious about a possible link between coulrophobia and facial recognition.

Speaking of facial recognition, Mr. Rogers’ mask makes me think of Tucker Carlson in clown makeup.



I mean war paint is meant to be intimidating.


Uncanny! I was wondering why I found the Mr. Rogers mask so upsetting.
ETA: I think that any makeup Tucker Carlson wears automatically qualifies as clown makeup.


Face Blindness?


Y’all scaredy-cats gonna make Smokey cry.


My current favorite clown is Puddles, we met him right before covid, he’s quite the clown and talented.

I grew up with this one. Bimbo is a little scary.

In Detroit we had a couple beloved clowns. Oopsy was fun.

Milky the Clown was a bit freaky. He was the spokesclown for Twin Pines Dairy.

Party Time ended for Cummings in 1964, when he needed to devote more time to his full-time paint salesman job at DuPont. Cummings close friend, talented magician and emcee Karrell Fox, donned the familiar pointed hat and white makeup until the show’s demise in 1967. Cummings retired from DuPont in 1971, though he still made occasional personal appearances. In 1969 Milky appeared on the same bill with Joe Cocker, Iggy and the Stooges, Grand Funk Railroad and the MC-5 at the “Cosmic Circus” rock festival in Richmond, MI. Cummings farewell performance as Milky was in 1992 at the Oakland Mall in Troy, MI.

And of course the Shrine Circus founded in Detroit had many beloved clowns. That was an annual thing, go to the circus and get their autographs. I wish I still had those programs with the autographs.

Homey Don’t Play That. He’s kind of scary.