Are clowns scary? Ha ha aaaargh

Mark Holden, an Australian TV personality and singer, appeared as a clown on Channel 7’s Dancing with the Stars. His allegedly “bizarre behaviour” sparked furious discussion and complaints against the network. This demonstrates the problematic nature of the clown today.

Clowns have a rich history, from the court clowns in ancient Egypt and China to the trickster figures in Native American cultures.

A number of clowns gained international fame due to the popularity and success of vaudeville and circus. These included Swiss clown Grock and American Emmett Kelly. The Jandaschevsky brothers toured Australia in vaudeville and circus from 1900 to 1940.

In the late 20th century, the decline of touring shows and vaudeville lowered the visibility of clowns. Clowns are still found in circuses and theatres, but they’re more common in community, therapeutic, and children’s entertainment.

Three types of clowns have become the most dominant.

  • Whiteface clowns are agile and talented.
  • The whiteface plays pranks on the auguste with his red nose, wig, and oversized clothing.
  • Charlie Chaplin, the modern-day embodiment of this “character” clown with tattered clothing, is often referred to as a tramp.

Professional clowning contests adhere to strict rules about the types of clowns.

The term “clown,” unlike most other stage characters, is used to describe both the role and the person who plays it. There is a feeling of otherness surrounding the clown’s offstage self, as if the anarchic being onstage was always shadowing them. It’s the awareness that there is a self offstage that creates a lot of our unease around this figure.

Joseph Grimaldi, a British clown who was born in 1818, made the clown the star of British pantomime. He suffered personal tragedies and chronic pain. He also represented the “sad” clown, the clown who is divided between his comical onstage persona and his melancholic self offstage.

As Grimaldi’s biographer Andrew McConnell Stott notes:

When the onstage jovial figure, whose existence seems to be designed to make us smile, is revealed as a depressed alcohol (Grimaldi), rage-driven murderer (France’s Jean-Gaspard Deburau), convicted sex offender (Australia’s Jack Perry, “Zig”, of Zig and Zag), or convicted sexual offender (France’s Jean-Gaspard Deburau).

The most famous of these cases is undoubtedly that of John Wayne Gacy. An amateur clown, he was convicted in Illinois of killing 33 young boys and men in the 1970s.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the fear of clowns increased. In 1981, when it was reported in Boston that clowns tried to lure children in vans, the Public Schools District sent a memo to all principals, urging them to “advise their students to stay away from strangers and especially those dressed as clowns.”

It’s the world of popular culture where “killer” clowns have increased, and coulrophobia – the fear of clowns – has been cultivated.

Stephen King’s It (1996), which was filmed in 1990 and starred Tim Curry as the murderous supernatural creature who takes human form as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown.”

The “dark clown’ trope has become a staple of modern comedy. For example, the Seinfeld episode The Opera and Krusty, the Clown in The Simpsons, who is a depressive with addiction issues.

Holden’s Dancing With the Stars performance had one moment of real emotion when Adam Garcia asked if the dance was an homage to King’s It. Holden corrected him angrily – it was “Bobo the Clown,” a character from his childhood.

Holden, who grew up in a family that ran a circus and whose parents were clowns, uses an old-fashioned understanding of a clown as a figure of delight for children. Garcia, who is 20 years older, was taught to see the clown as a figure of horror for children.

The difference between Holden’s assumed aims and the actual effects of the piece reveals the complexity of the clown’s current meanings.

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