Here’s the thing. I hate clowns. I cannot remember ever not hating clowns, although, until quite recently, I never mentioned it much. In fact, as a boy, I never mentioned it at all. I suppose I feared that my peers and adults might think that there was something wrong with me for not liking clowns. Even worse, I worried that there might be something wrong with me because I didn’t like clowns or the circus, the place where one most often finds clowns. After all, a trip to New York’s Madison Square Garden to see the circus was supposed to be a treat, no? Therefore, I never refused a trip to the circus, because I thought that perhaps with repeated visits, I would eventually get to like the circus and even the clowns.
It never happened. I thought the circus, with its three rings, was too busy, too smelly, and not terribly entertaining. I couldn’t discern the attraction of many, if not all, of the acts that the circus featured. I questioned why some damned fool would willingly be shot from a cannon. I found myself wondering if the nutbar doing flips on the tightrope without a net really thought he had to do such reckless things for my benefit. It was the same with the “Flying Whomevers” doing a death-defying trapeze stunt (of course, without a net) that had never been done before. Why?
The animal acts also never moved me. As such, I never found it the least bit engaging to watch people dressed in sequined shirts making elephants do non-elephant things. In fact, a huge elephant being coaxed (or prodded) to stand with all four feet on a tiny platform and then spin around always seemed a little sad to me. Similarly, I could never understand what people saw in the obligatory “lion tamer” tormenting the lions with a chair (why a chair?), a whip and a blank pistol. Were the people in the audience waiting for the lions to finally become angry enough to eat their tormentor? Even though he probably would have had it coming, watching him become lion fodder was not something I wanted to see.
And there were the clowns.
While I simply could not understand the allure of human cannon balls, tightrope walkers, trapeze people, dancing elephants and lion tamers, it was different with the clowns. I really hated the clowns. I was not afraid of them; I just hated them. I never bothered to try to articulate the reasons for my clown animus even to myself, let alone trying to explain it to others.
Then, one day several years ago, I was eating lunch with several colleagues, and the topics of that day’s lunch conversation focused on the circus and clowns. I had not participated in the conversation. I was really only half paying attention. Then, and all of a sudden, it all came back lake a hammer blow. I looked up from my plate and said, “I f****** hate clowns.”
The conversation at the table immediately ceased, as all five of my lunch partners looked at me as if I had just stepped from an alien spacecraft. At least one person dropped his silverware. “What did you say?” one of my female colleagues asked.
“I f****** hate clowns,” I repeated. There it was. I said it not just once but twice. I wondered then why it took me several decades to say it, when saying it felt so good.
Everyone at the lunch table howled with laughter and insisted that I was joking. I assured them that I was not, and that I really did not like clowns. I was on a roll – no stopping me now.
“You gotta be kidding us. Everybody loves clowns. What could you possibly have against clowns?”
I don’t know where the answer came from; I can only assume that it had formulated itself deep within my subconscious and lay dormant there for decades, because without a single moment’s hesitation I responded, “Why would anyone like a garishly dressed adult, made up to appear to be deformed, acting erratically like some mentally deranged person?”
They howled some more, and by this time, I was laughing with them, thinking about what I had just said. “No, come on. Be serious. You really don’t like clowns?”
Still laughing, I said, “No, I don’t. I can’t stand them.”
“But why? They’re supposed to look funny. They’re clowns! It’s got to be more than that, they insisted.”
Now, for the first time in decades, I actually gave it a minute’s thought, and I responded, “I hate clowns because they feel that by virtue of being clowns they can invade your personal space with impunity. They can walk up to you and pretend they are going to throw a bucket of water on you, and the bucket turns out to be full of confetti. They can get in your face and f*** around with your tie, or mess your hair and you’re supposed to laugh and enjoy all that. If anyone other than a clown did that, you’d push him away and tell him ‘get the f*** out of my face, asshole’.” It felt so good to say these things, and they were all true.
Think about it. What is a small child’s first reaction to a clown? The child typically recoils in fear, which is completely understandable. To a child’s eyes, a clown with huge floppy feet, and a painted face is a horribly grotesque monster. Only when the parent assures the child that she will not be hurt by clowns and insists that clowns are actually funny, does the child’s perception change. You needn’t go to a circus to see this in action. You need only watch very young children’s first exposure to Santa Claus in a department store. They often scream with terror and cling to their mothers for dear life. I’m not suggesting that ol’ St. Nick is a clown, but you get the picture.
Since that day in the lunchroom, several things have happened. My colleagues take every opportunity to send me pictures of clowns and place little clown dolls on my desk. I can always count on receiving clown birthday cards, and newspaper clippings about things such as clown funerals, clown conventions (we actually had one this summer in Jersey) and clown weddings (you won’t believe this).
The good news is that I have since learned that I am not alone. There are lots of people who hate clowns. It turns out that each time I am asked (for humor’s sake) to relate my feelings about clowns, it produces the predictable incredulity and laughter. However, invariably there are at least one or two of the listeners who confess that they (or their children) don’t like clowns. Hell, there are even websites for those of us who don’t like clowns. Take a look at I Hate Clowns and Clownz.
So, if you are interested in going to a place where you are guaranteed not to run into me, I suggest the circus.
What about mimes, you ask? Don’t even get me started.