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Spread the Clown Love! The Importance of Creepy and Non-Creepy Clowns

The IT remake signifies powerful marketing, but also a popular need to revisit the “creepy clown” phenomenon. As a BBC article reminds us, they’re here to stay.

Creepy clowns are an old phenomenon — ancient. There was Joseph Grimaldi’s clown “Joey” of the 19th Century, the Native American Booger Dance, and even some dark clowning in ancient Rome. In fact, who hasn’t heard of the Court Jester, who was allowed to make fun of everyone — even a King — and essentially hold a mirror up to society?

Certainly, some so-called “creepy clowns” have gone too far by actually being violent, or otherwise highly anti-social. In those cases, let’s just say there’s too much creepy and not enough clown. Okay?  Okay. Still, even the worst of clowns ultimately represent some aspects of the world in which we live. Why? As silly as it sounds, clowns are a major part of our cultural fabric. In fact, we apparently need them as much as they need us.

Laughing jester, unknown Early Netherlandish artist, circa 1500

Quite simply, clowns — whether good, evil or in between — have always been a serious creative force. One could mention Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 1892 opera “Pagliacc,” involving a clown who kills, but there are countless modern equivalents, too. Hell, one of the greatest pieces of dialogue in film deals with clown imagery: “…I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you?”

That, of course, is Tommy’s line from Goodfellas, flawlessly executed by Joe Pesci. He blends it with humor and malice. Though Tommy never donned a clown nose, he still essentially played the role of an evil clown. This leads to an interesting question: Do clowns require makeup? While we often perceive clowns as dressing up obnoxiously, with faces caked in paint and with bizarre wigs and massive shoes, it’s debatable whether that truly signifies clownhood. For example, who would say that the Three Stooges don’t fit the bill?

In addition to the standbys of Ronald McDonald, serial killer clown John Wayne Gacy, and (of course) Pennywise, there are countless other clowns around. Why you could say that clowns abound! Chances are, you’ve been touched by clowns yourself. Let me help you count the ways!

Just Some of the Clowns Who Have Touched Us:

1.  Horror Clowns

The Killer Klowns From Outer Space.

Horror-wise, you also have the Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Killjoy, Fear of Clowns, All Hallow’s Eve, We All Scream for Ice Cream, American Horror Story: Freak Show, Zeebo the clown (from Are You Afraid of the Dark) and the popular Captain Spaulding (House of 1000 Corpses). Then there is Eli Roth’s Clown, about a man whose clown costume fuses with his body (which, for the record, is quite similar to “The Clowning” episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). With my crazed imagination, I can imagine these clowns interacting — teaming up to fight normal humans, or each other. What a mess! Of course, as any horror fan knows, my list is not complete. Clowns permeate the horror landscape, either to feed or create our clown fears.

2.  Less Creepy Clowns

For less sinister clowns, you can choose Krusty the Clown, Charlie Chaplin, Emmett Kelly, Red Skelton, Bozo, Homey D. Clown (a severely underrated clown, if you ask me). There are even political activist clowns! There is the fantastically named Wavy Gravy, and how about Vermin Supreme? That’s right, there’s a clown-like character named Vermin Supreme.

While wearing a boot on his head and frequently tossing glitter about, Vermin has frequently run for public office while promising to legislate everyone to brush their teeth. He also wants to expand research into time travel, and promises to give everyone a pony!

Similarly, when Jello Biafra of the band Dead Kennedys ran for Mayor of San Francisco, his campaign slogan was “There’s always room for Jello.” His platform (jokingly) required businessmen to wear clown suits within city limits! Also, Jello’s supporters held signs saying things like “If he doesn’t win I’ll kill myself” and “What if he wins?”

3.  Musical Clowns

Gwar!

Music has frequently clowned around, too. An obvious example is the Insane Clown Posse (I.C.P.) — who, even though I’m not a huge fan, are surprisingly listenable (at least for what they are). Another clown-like band? GWAR! You can’t see bands dressed like Gwar and not find them ridiculous! Still, it’s never just a musical entity itself, but the image it conveys.

Practically any band with presence and an occasional twisted humor could be added to the list of musical creepy clowns. Am I being too broad? I wouldn’t say so. KISS deserves some recognition, as well as Alice Cooper. It’s also quite reasonable to mention Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and (to a lesser degree, because he usually comes off as serious) Marilyn Manson.

Last but not least, there’s Dr. Roxo, the rock ‘n roll party clown from the Metalocalypse cartoon. A parody of countless rock music frontmen, Dr. Roxo is always creating a scandal — partly because he insists on being paid in cocaine, and also because (supposedly) that’s rock ‘n roll, baby!

In Summation

Obviously, I could go on to include countless comedians, whether they wear makeup or not. Still, the point is simply that clowns are important to us. They are the good, the bad and the ugly. Alternately, they make us laugh and cringe, then laugh at our cringing, then cringe at our laughing. This being so, expect to see more clowns in the world, and don’t forget to laugh at them sometimes. They need it as much as we do.

About wadewainio

Wade is a wannabe artist and musician (operating under the moniker Grandpa Helicopter), and an occasional radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton. He is an occasional writer for Undead Walking, and also makes up various blogs of his own. He even has a few books in the works. Then again, doesn’t everyone?

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