A History of Evil Clowns

I have a thing about Evil Clowns. I find them so absurdely fascinating that I will probably die at the hands of one - I'll be so overcome by how freakin' cool the clown it is that I won't realise that it IS actually evil and it will hack me to death.

Now clowns weren’t always evil – Their origins can be taken back years and years to the times of old court Jesters in medieval courts entertaining the kings and queens. There was talk that there was a court clown called YuSze back in ancient imperial China, and even a Pygmy clown who performed for Egyptian pharaohs 1. Like everything they evolved over time into black and white artists performing pantomimes or oversized comics ringed in gaslight at the classic vaudeville style circus.

They were performers and all they wanted to do was to make the world a better place through the power of laughter – and if we have learnt anything from Disney Pixar’s Monsters Inc it’s that laughter is ten times more powerful then fear is. In fact, Bozo, the most famous clown in the world in the 1960’s, travelled to the wilds of Papua New Guinea to prove that “clowning around” crossed all cultural borders.

He was told that in his white face paint and oversized shoes he wouldn’t make it out alive. But he did, and Bozo’s alter ego Larry Harmon later wrote about his experience in meeting a cannibal tribe and making friends with them without any form of oral communication.

So how did clowns go from making friends to cannibals (if that isn’t sinister enough) to stabbing people in their sleep? Well the change occurred in 1980 when the infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy was arrested for the murders of at least 33 teenage boys and young men. The killings occurred over six years and the sinister stereotype started here because Gacy was actually a child’s party performer, acting as “Pogo the Clown” during the killing sprees. The headlines of newspapers went nuts with the tag line of “Killer Clown” and it was highlighted that Gacy had so much access to the young men he killed due to his disguise. 2

Six years later, Gacy was essentially immortalised when he was dubbed the inspiration for one of Stephen King’s most notorious works of fiction – Pennywise the Clown in the novel IT. Stephen King’s novel centered on a small town in Maine that is terrorised when a demonic entity takes on the form of some of the kids in the town’s worse nightmares. However, after all of the forms that IT takes, IT always ended up back as Pennywise the Clown. The novel was chilling, and Stephen King took a big risk taking on a then much-loved figure and turning it evil. The result was so sinister that it burned the image of an evil clown into the minds of coulrophobia sufferers everywhere – including terrifying Stephen King himself!

IT has been defined as one of the most notable of evil clowns and was made into a mini-series, a successful movie starring Tim Curry, and then an equally terrifying reboot that came out last year starring acting royalty Bill Skarsgard. There have been heaps of other movies, TV shows and books that have all since played on the evil clown pandemic including Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Supernatural, Stitches, Zombieland, American Horror Story, Clown, Amusement, and even the Joker from Batman. People began developing serious cases of coulrophobia (fear of clowns) and couldn’t even look at Ronald McDonald without freaking out.

Photo by Koat

In 2016, the evil clown pandemic bled from screens into real life. It started with a sighting of a clown holding black balloons in the state of Wisconsin, USA. Then there were reports of a clown trying to lure some kids into the woods a few weeks sale in South Carolina. A gang of clowns robbed a takeaway joint in Phoenix, and then suddenly an evil clown was spotted standing outside someone’s home in the UK. People dressed as evil clowns took to the streets at night all over Western countries like America, Australia and the UK, and then it stopped just as suddenly as it started.

With the rise of popularity from the IT reboot starring Skarsgard, the evil clown pandemic shot back into the news in 2017. People were more aware of the nature of the sightings so it became a viral video shoot instead. People were filmed being scared out of their wits in darkened carparks by evil clowns, and a radio show in Australia hit backlash after they did their own evil clown stunt. The overall effect was scary – especially to those being scared in the videos – but the underlying fear factor was gone because nobody got hurt. It was just another stunt, like having evil clowns scare cinema goers watching the new IT film (which happened to me when I saw it for the second time in Kiama and DAMN WAS THAT AMAZING! Like I said, probably going to die via evil clown) and because the danger factor was gone, the fight was gone.

Who knows what will come next in evil clown history, but the likelihood of people preying on the scare factor of an evil clown will likely resurface again in 2019 when IT: Chapter 2 returns to cinemas. Until then, clowns will continue to terrifying on screens and in the imagination, proving that even something written in the 19th century by a French literary critic can still ring true today:

“The clown’s art is now rather terrifying and full of anxiety and apprehension… their frenzied mimicry reminding one of the courtyard of a lunatic asylum”

So are you likely to run away and join the circus now?

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