Coulrophobia, a Fear of Clowns.

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The fear of clowns is something that has puzzled historians and psychologists alike and believe it or not, has actually been the focus of some serious research. So why is it that a character meant to bring  joy and laughter can strike fear into the hearts of children and adults? There are a few factors at hand that range from the fear of the unknown to clowns being portrayed as evil villains in films. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for this fear and what we as clowns can do to help diffuse this unfortunate phobia.

Looking at ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, early Roman theater or the mid evil court jester and street performers we see images of these impish folk who have woven their way into many cultures. They cause mischief, poke fun at the hierarchy of society and act like complete buffoons all to make us laugh, yet many of us fear them. If we look at some the early makeup of these clowns they tend to look a bit fiendish perhaps giving way to the idea of being a mischievous spirit. Inherently humans have a fear of the unknown and when an actor masks his or her true identity, especially with a unnatural looking make up design, this can pose a subconscious threat. Sheffield University in England conducted a study in 2008 on this phobia; 250 children from ages 4 to 16 years old were in this study, results found that most said they did not like clowns.  Somehow clowns are still popular at the circus, festivals and birthday parties despite the findings of studies like the one at Sheffield, it almost seems to be a love hate relationship. Could it be the horror movies which feature a deranged clown as the villain is the blame of everyone’s fear of clowns? Unfortunately this fear of clowns had been around longer than any movie using a clown as the bad guy, but they don’t necessarily help the cause either. I think combined with this natural fear of the unknown, the outrageous behavior and perhaps less than attractive makeup techniques of some clowns, we clowns generated this dislike for what should be a fun loving character. What is the answer to making people love clowns? Some people will just never overcome their fear of clowns but here are some tips to help you be the best clown you can be.

Tippy sporting a ProKnows.


Example of a professional clown look.

A friendly face. Ringling Brothers Circus has held events where patrons can watch the clowns put on their faces to show it really is just a person under all of that makeup.  So let’s take a look at the makeup situation. Using quality, professional makeup is a must, low grade or bargain make up can go on poorly delivering a less than desirable outcome. Apply your makeup in a professional manor, using quality makeup but having it applied poorly can look scary. Go with a clown face that compliments your own features, this will help in making your appearance more inviting to the eye and less like a creepy mask.

Suited for the job. Your wardrobe is very important, a well dressed clown will look more professional and inviting. Always keep your costume neat and clean, looking grungy is not a helpful look when trying to spread joy, unless of course you are a tramp. A cheap Halloween clown costume will only remind people of the scary guy in that horror flick.

Best behavior. Conduct is another huge factor in winning over your audience, it is true that clowns are generally silly and sometimes loud and clumsy, but know when this is appropriate. Being loud and over the top in your actions while working the center ring of the circus is very much the norm and usually expected but you wouldn’t behave the same way in a family’s home doing a birthday party show. Silly and goofy is good but you don’t talk at full volume two feet from someones face and bring the body English down to a slightly exaggerated level while in a smaller venue. If you see that  someone is afraid of you, especially a small child, don’t approach them, let them come to you.  Acting a bit shy and timid around someone who is afraid of you might just bring them out of their shell or give a friendly wave and go about your business with someone who is interested in the clown. By watching others enjoy your skills, the fearful person often overcomes their anxiety to realize clowns are safe and fun.

If you are unsure of your talents or appearance as a clown, find a well seasoned professional willing to share ideas or read the many articles on the Clown Antics website about clowning.


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