Send In The Clown

In retrospect, it makes sense that 2016 was the year clowns stopped being funny. Things were simpler last year, when an orange-hued man first appeared on the political scene, brandishing raw steaks at press conferences and handing out goofy nicknames like Lyin’ Ted and Pocahontas. It seemed like a circus act. Then, in August, South Carolina residents began spotting menacing-looking clowns in the woods. By the first Presidential debate, in late September, the country was in the grips of “creepy clown” hysteria. Clowns were seen loitering by a laundry room in Florida and chasing people down cww0piqvqaaexs9-jpg-largethe street in Idaho. In October, Donald Trump’s groping video leaked, making him creepy even to Republicans. Senator Mark Kirk, of Illinois, urged him to drop out of the race, calling him “a malignant clown.” Clown backlash was in full effect: college students organized “clown hunts,” and birthday-party clowns took to travelling in groups for safety. McDonald’s announced that it was giving Ronald McDonald a sabbatical until things calmed down.

In search of an explanation, a concerned citizen went to speak with Christopher Bayes, who teaches clowning at the Yale School of Drama when he’s not directing.

During a break, Bayes sat down to eat a sandwich. He sighed when he was asked to weigh in on creepy clowns. “It’s such an American thing,” he said. “In Europe, they don’t have creepy clowns.” He blamed Stephen King. “We have It”—King’s creepy-clown book, from 1986. “The thing that makes creepy clowns creepy is: the nose is a mask, and when you wear a mask, if you don’t play the mask, then you’re just hiding behind something.” He went on, “You have to stay playful in a true way. If I were just to put it on and walk around, it would be weird.”

Asked about people calling Trump a clown, he said, “I think they’re right. My gosh, look at that wig.” He thought for a minute, and added, “He’s definitely a creepy clown, because I think there’s something poison there. It feels malignant, and it freaks us out, even though there’s a dynamic that’s attractive to some people. There’s an illness inside that we feel is dangerous.”

He said that Trump is a bit of a commedia-dell’arte figure. “Commedia characters are, God forbid, what you get if clowns ever grew up.”

Bayes returned to what makes Trump a creepy clown: “It’s all illness and artifice,” he said. “Trump is the guy standing out in the woods trying to get the kids to freak out. That’s the same guy.”

Lizzie Widdicombe

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4 Responses to “Send In The Clown”


  1. 1 sally January 1, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    This column gave me icy chills. We all often wear masks — mostly defensive ones — not a creepy (read “evil”) clown cover. I worry our Clown-elect is truly a creep. Still love the song — some inherent sadness in it reaches me… Happy New Year??

  2. 3 nancy a January 2, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    “no sane person would hire an angry, inexperienced clown to fix their plumbing, so why would any sane person think of hiring an angry, inexperienced clown to run the country?” – Moby


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