Are Clowns Actually Scary Anymore?

So, last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the local circus with my family. It is the   exact same circus you have probably attended, regardless of whether you reside in the middle of Chicago or in the potato fields of Idaho–you know, Barnum and Bailey.

Anyways, while I munched on a bag full of cotton candy, and enjoyed the spectacle of the Circus Extreme–a new show where the performers travel around the world, from the ocean to a cheap remake of the set of West Side Story–I started to notice something…the performing clowns were not frightening.

Yes, these clowns were far from terrifying; in fact, not a single image of Pennywise sprang once to my imagination as I watched them go about their silly acts. They broke chairs over one another’s heads. They failed to form a human ladder and crumpled to the floor in a pile of rubber noses and giant flapping clown shoes. They even came up to the row of seats behind ours, and started engaging a couple kids in lively conversation–that, and they straightened my flimsy hat, an accessory with the cotton candy.

How, I repeatedly asked myself, are these clowns not as scary as the clowns of my younger days?

Everyone remembers their first clown, unfortunately being one of those memories  you can never erase, like watching your first horror movie. If you were as young as me, maybe that clown shook the very circus peanuts from your jittering hands, maybe you had to take a quick trip to the bathroom…it happens, no one is judging.

See, the first time I saw a clown was not at a circus–rather, I had the pleasure of visiting a haunted house, in the deep woods, as a six-year old child.

Some details become fuzzier as I age, so no longer can I recall why we, a rag-tag team of parents and their children, had a family outing at a haunted house; but the moment of seeing that terrible clown has remained throughout these long years.

A foolishly ignorant child, I had wandered from the group of military parents escorting us youthful innocents through this wooded horror, completely clueless of my isolation, when there came an eager whispering out of the dark grove of trees to my left–glancing over to the voice, I immediately spotted the grinning clown in a black and red rubber suit with a frilly fan round his white neck hunched behind a tree, smiling and cackling and beckoning with a gloved finger; and then he began to lurch out on to the matted grass and growled, “We all float here, Georgie…”

Okay, I lied about that last part, but my point is is that perhaps it is not the age at which you see a clown, or if the actor behind those gleaming red lips and starched white face paint is suffering from depression or happens to be a truly pleasant clown; no, perhaps it is about your situational status. If you are in a haunted forest, in which the only sign of life is yourself and a freaky clown who likes to jump out screaming from behind every other tree, then that could end up being a recurring nightmare for weeks; however, if instead you are attending a funny circus show with your family, where those clowns perform the most hilarious tricks to make you spew sticky soda out your nostrils, then there you have a possible cherished memory for years–actually, interpret that one as you will.

Here’s a test to prove my point: the next time you watch your favorite horror movie, double points if it is your first, notice the atmosphere of the scariest scene–is the killer hanging himself on a noose in a graveyard, or is he rolling around in the ball pit at Chuck E’ Cheese’s? Not only will you likely burst out laughing, but you will, hopefully, understand why some clowns are not as scary as they were back then.