I am willing to bet a not-insignificant amount of money that most of us remember the weird clown pranks that happened in 2016. There was a lot going on in 2016, granted, but several isolated incidents of creepy clowns appearing to menace people (and then several incidents of people orchestrating clown attacks for internet clout) was pretty hard to miss.
Since then, apart from the most recent adaptation of Stephen King’s It and a few more clown sightings in 2020, I’m sure most people have stopped thinking about clowns frequently if they think about clowns at all.
I, personally, cannot relate. I think about clowns every day. I think about how fun their makeup is, all the types of clowns there are, how charming it is that their whole deal is just being silly and making people laugh – I like clowns, is the thing. I like them a lot.
I do not understand what people mean when they say clowns are scary. Well, okay, I understand how popular types of clown makeup that emphasize facial features can be seen as grotesque. But that is what makes it interesting. Clown comedy is a hyperbole that parodies human folly with overblown physical gags. The hyper-exaggeration of facial features coupled with the often comically ill-fitting clothing is part of that.
The comedy of clowning is not just about falling over and landing face first onto a cream pie. Part of the joke is the garish dress and the whimsical patterns. Eye-catching, frequently grotesque buffoonery is the point! Perhaps knowing that is not enough to make clowns less scary to you, but there is comfort and delight, to me, in knowing that the look of clowns are meant to be laughed at.
There are so many types of clowns. White-face and auguste clowns are probably the most well-known, and as a duo, the white-face clown is frequently the goofy planner to the auguste clown’s absolute idiot. Lesser known is the tramp clown, who, with his painted-on stubble and patch-work clothing is a caricature of the migratory workers on America’s Great Depression, and is most commonly a variety act. There are character clowns, which are clowns that dress up as a certain profession for the express purpose of overplaying that profession. There are also rodeo clowns, mimes, Pierrots, jesters, so many different clowning traditions that all share the same general purpose of entertainment.
I will acknowledge that clowns are a diverse group of people, and on an individual level, there are probably some clowns I would hate. The 2016 “Clown Lives Matter” protestors come to mind as a group of clowns I would not get along with. But as a concept? As an art form? People getting made-up and dressed ridiculously for the purpose of spreading joy? I think that rules. Clowns rule.