5 February 2008

Send in the Clowns...

"What are you afraid of?"

Ask someone that question and I bet spiders or clowns make the top three (in reality for us men it's vaginas and being caught masturbating, but we'll never admit to either of them). For me, hands down, it's clowns. They freak me out. About the only thing scarier than a clown would be a giant spider in a clown suit, and even then it's a toss up.

The official term for my phobia is coulrophobia. Luckily, I didn't get one of the weird ones like arachibutyrophobia (peanut butter), kolpophobia (genitals), or lutraphobia (otters).

Why are clowns so creepy? It's ironic and sad that a profession epitomising selflessness, devoted to making people laugh at its own expense, could inspire such dread in its audience. Once, when I was five, I went to the circus with my family. A clown was capering aroundthe ring like a bumbling grease-paint dervish and happened to fall down right in front of me. Of course, being a small boy, I pointed and laughed at his misfortune. The clown leapt up, grabbed my legs and started dragging me over the barricade. I was terrified! I dropped my popcorn, spilled my coke, and pissed my pants. I screamed at my parents to help me, but they just laughed. The whole tent was staring, gawking, laughing at me. My pants ripped, my legs bled and I honestly thought I was being dragged to my death. But then, as suddenly as it had started, the nightmare was over. The clown let go and bumbled off to torment some other fragile eggshell mind.

I was hysterical. I cried and demanded we leave, earning me the scorn of my entire family for years.

What goes on in the mind of a man who wears make up? Apologies to the sisterhood, but in my bigoted ignorance (bignorance?) I've never encountered a female clown. In fairness, not all my childhood clownish encounters were bad, but that one horrible incident was enough to sour the whole thing from that point on. One bad egg, perhaps?

Before the days of photography , clowns would paint their face makeup onto eggs as a form of copyright. One such egg bears the face of Joseph Grimaldi, the so-called "Father of Modern Clowning", held to be the progenitor of circus clowns. As with many early clowns, Grimaldi's life was full of misery, in stark contrast to his merry public persona. Clowns are obliged to make us laugh, even when fettered with the misery accompanying any human life. Grimaldi's sadistic eccentric father died when Grimaldi was ten. His son died at thirty from a mental breakdown and alcoholism, and his second wife from a long illness. Grimaldi himself was rendered crippled from poor health and the exertions of his craft and conducted the last of his performances from a chair. Could the tragic life of this "Michaelangelo of buffoonery" have laid some taint upon the lives of his successors? Is his the one bad egg that spoiled the whole bunch? Did the pathos of Grimaldi's life trigger some karmic bozo backlash that has soured the image of clowns ever since?

Here's a joke for you: "My girlfriend wanted me to f*ck her silly. So I wore a clown suit." Now, I'm a funny guy (ask any of my sycophantic friends) but I just don't find that funny. And anyone who does is either a clown or a sicko. Either way I don't want to know you.

* Originally published in argus, Issue 10, www.argusonline.com.au

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