Face Your Fears: Clowns Of The World Unite!
By Karl Klockars in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 30, 2009 8:20PM
As the city prepares for Halloween on Saturday, there's one thing that almost everyone agrees is scary - clowns. But what do clowns around town feel about their lot in life? We spoke with a few to find out - All this week, learn more about our city's collection of mirth-spreaders and balloon-twisters. Monday: Twinkles Tuesday: Tricky Wednesday: Dimples Thursday: Kooky
Length of Clown Career: I've been exploring alternative clown performance for about 2 years, with my series "Clowns are People Too" and that was specifically in response to the rampant and irrational fear of clowns.
Clown College or Self Taught: Definitely self-taught. Like I [say], everyone has a clown inside of them, and you don't need a formal education to make people laugh. AKA, I can't afford clown college. [laughs]
Clown Skills: I can facepaint, I can do a couple balloon animals, I can do a little magic...my most famous magic trick is turning a balloon into a rainbow boa - but that's for adults only.
You started out in response to an anti-clown protest and pub crawl, correct?
I was already performing as a clown then, but that might have been one of the first protests was when I decided to be a clown activist as well as performer. We showed up at the "March Against Clowns" - and I think I did learn about it on Chicagoist - and I was really upset when I saw it.
We went to the pub crawl and we protested it and chanted and we had our signs. It ended up being really good - I think I forged a peace treaty between clowns and magicians, and they ended up being really cool. We ended up finishing the pub crawl with them and getting really drunk, so it was fun.
[But] people are unashamed of their fear of clowns. You have no idea how many times people tell me that they're afraid of me.
If they can come up to you and talk about their fear, they can't really be that scared of you, it seems. Which leads me to believe that people really aren't that afraid of clowns.
I think people are afraid because of the stereotypes created by the media as scary. The rest of it, I think, is just perpetuated by other people being afraid and it's become...sort of the norm. And there's the novel "IT" and the movie, where you've got the scary clown Pennywise who scared a lot of people when they were kids. I don't know why people are afraid of clowns. It makes me sad. Like I say in my rap, "These are the tears of a clown / But I won't stay down / Throwin' whip cream pies / Straight at your lies."
But I don't know - the reason why people feel so free to talk about it, I don't know. I can't figure that out. I can't think about any other people that you would go up to and be so...honest about being afraid of them? I opened for this one band whose bassist was anti-clown. I was told to stay far away from her and not make direct eye contact...It was bizarre trying to get dressed in the corner of the green room at the Empty Bottle keeping my eyes down and not to come close to her.
Halloween is an especially hard time for clowns, because you see scary clowns everywhere and it just adds to the stereotype.
It could be that people have a problem identifying an actual fear, so clowns are safe and socially acceptable to admit as a fear.
Yeah, I think it's socially acceptable because it's a common fear. It's kind of like a fear of spiders...except that there's a person behind the clown, so i don't think they realize how hurtful they can be. And this is what my whole performance is around. I'm really passionate about it, and if I can increase awareness of clown marginalization and make people realize that clowns are here at the end of the day to make people laugh, and aren't here to scare people.
In the process of your outreach, you probably have been in situations that other kinds of clowns haven't been in.
My performances are usually for adults so I think it's unique in that way. These are people who have had established fears for a long time, which I think is also important. If you can get those people to not be afraid of clowns, they're not going to pass it on to the next generation. Because I do things like burlesque, interpretive dance, spoken word, puppetry, and the direct actions like protests and creating spectacles.
And because I do non-traditional clown performances than traditional clowns that are geared towards kids - so I think that it's unique in that way, where I can reach a whole different audience.
Are people openly hostile towards you?
I don't think so. I think I'm doing a really good job of changing people's minds about clowns? Some people are disturbed but at the end of the day I think I make a lot of people laugh. I've been told that I changed people's minds about clowns. People have come up to me and said "I'm usually afraid of clowns, but you're the first person who made me appreciate clowns or make me laugh." Those are my proudest moments.
Somebody who was really afraid of clowns is now performing with me as a clown in a puppet show piece. I'm turning people out as the inner clown that everyone has inside them.