Why do clowns scare people?

Matthew, Guru of All Worth Knowing:

I have a question that I'm sure most people in this sunny region are wondering themselves. Why do clowns scare the hell out of people? Any folklore or myths where clowns kill and kill and kill thousands of people and get away with it?

— Dickie, downtown

From personal experience, the closest the Alices have come was a run-in with a grouchy Balboa Park face-painter with a bad case of hemorrhoids or something. Scared the wits out of the elves and actually got a clown-etiquette lecture from Grandma Alice. She ignored Grandma and spent her time fishing through the tip jar to make sure we didn't stiff her. This is a true story.

And Grandma would have had a word or two for John Wayne Gacy -- Pogo the Clown by day, Midwest serial killer by night. And of course you've got your homicidal Hollywood clowns: It, Poltergeist, Shakes the Clown, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Killer Clowns from Clownhouse. And everybody's favorites, Homey and Krusty, more cranky than blood-crazed, actually. But clownophobes don't get the yips because they've seen dopey movies or read Stephen King. Your myth/folktale theory's backwards.

When you hear the whap-whap-whap of those big floppy shoes, you get the willies because inside those shoes you imagine big floppy feet. Then there's the pasty white face, red glob of a nose, black-ringed eyes blown like a tweaker on a two-week run, lipsticked mouth spread from ear to ear, hair like a cheap shag rug. Human characteristics exaggerated into something eerily non-human. And what's the baggy-pantsed being thinking?You can't read a clown's facial expression behind the painted-on friendliness. Worse yet, some of them are silent, like big polkadotted mimes. In short, all our usual people-reading cues are useless. So if we don't know who clowns really are or what they're thinking, then anything is possible. The usual rules don't apply. Some people interpret this as fun, others get the screaming meemies. Little kids, who have only a shaky notion of reality and fantasy to begin with, can be particularly vulnerable. More than one tot visiting the Happiest Place on Earth has been accosted by a five-foot-tall Mickey Mouse and thrown up on his shoes.

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