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no laughing matter
they don't call them fright wigs for nothing
by jack bradley

This column is a revelation of something that until now, not many folks knew about me. My mother doesn’t know it and most of my friends are oblivious… but I think my sister suspects. She hasn’t mentioned it, though. Only a few close friends who have somehow needed to know are in on the secret. It’s something that I’m reluctant to discuss, even in this enlightened age… but here I go. (Brace yourself, Mom.)

I am afraid of clowns.

(Well…what did you think I was going to say?)

It’s a more common phobia than I first realized. As I researched some facts and information for this column, I was amazed at the number of websites devoted to folks who share my fear, sympathize with me in my trepidation, and in some cases make money off other folks who are coulrophobic. Yes. That’s the word for it. Coulrophobia.

It's been a few months since I actually had nightmares about a clown. Clown dreams only seem to bother me a little more than any other nightmares I have (which I have fairly often...I once knew a therapist who said that nightmares in general are the result of an overactive imagination coupled with worry or stress about something. I'm not sure that he's right in every case, because I've come to believe that maybe they can be caused by a lot of different individual circumstances, or some combination of those individual circumstances. Like eating vindaloo before bedtime.)

I used to have nasty clown dreams as a child (a fact that I hid from everyone, since I knew it was silly), but they've mostly stopped. I no longer wake up in a cold sweat from the vision of a snaggle-toothed, wild-eyed Bozo chasing me through tangled brush with a bouquet of poison, gas filled balloons. Gone are the days of screams muffled in my pillow as I awoke just in time to escape the milky, pupil-less eyes and grasping white gloves of yet another wild-haired lunatic who wanted to sink his grease-paint stained teeth into my neck.

I won’t even go into the underwater clowns that my impressionable mind concocted. My skin is crawling around on my bones right now just thinking about it.

These days the dream clowns are just somewhere behind me, half-glimpsed in the gloom of a circus tent or dark forest. The dreams are mostly just about this vague, scary creature with a hideous shrieking laugh… but even those dreams are pretty rare lately. Like I said...the dreams and nightmares aren't the big issue for me.

Real Clowns are the issue. Real clowns freak me right the fuck out. People who know me personally (and who have witnessed my abject terror) are puzzled by this because I'm generally referred to with adjectives like "fearless." (Brazen, confrontational, and intrusive are also popular.) I am the kind of person who has no problem yelling across a crowded room, or walking up to a complete stranger and speaking my opinion (popular or not). I’ll swing from high places and tickle tarantulas with my bare hands. "Afraid" of something is not in my (general) nature.

Until it comes to clowns. I can't stand being near them, and I can’t explain why. If you are wearing a clown get-up and you try to come near me, I will run. If you try to touch me in any way, I will remove the offending limb and fling the thing back at your hideous self as I wail in loathing at your freakish grin. Sneak up and try to scare me? Well, you might as well threaten to hurt one of my loved ones, because I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure your "clowning" days are over. I don't hand out "second chances" to demented people.

I refuse to attend a circus, and even watching Cirque de Soleil on TV the other night was impossible. I held out for a bit because I was amazed at the performance, but the distraction of all those ghostly white faces, midgets with exaggerated eyes, and the wild hair and expressions of the performers all distracted from the beautiful story…which is what Cirque de Soleil is all about. Inevitably I just turned it off. I simply could not get past the damn clowns.

But why am I afraid? Having never attended a circus in my life, there isn’t a bad experience from my childhood to which I can attach this fear. As far as I know, there are no "birthday-clown-drags-small-boy-into-the-closet-and-terrorizes-him" stories from my childhood...so I'd say that it must have some psychological aspect to it rather than being a fear based on some traumatic event. The fact that so many other folks share this fear leads me to the same conclusion.

Anecdotally, last summer I went to the Alumni reunion for my partner’s class at business school. Most of these folks are married with kids now, so the reunion organizers invited the families of the alumni instead of just a spouse or date to the event. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in midsummer, so they even acquired some children’s play equipment and, you guessed it, hired a clown.

I don’t remember what she called herself (Goombah the Hideous comes to mind; not sure I can trust my memory here) but she had these ridiculous floppy red shoes, a green afro-style fright wig, and this obscene, garish makeup complete with giant spiky eyelashes. She was wearing at least a pound of lipstick and had drawn these very sinister black lines around her eyes to make them stand out. To me, she looked like a Walt Disney whore. Of the 20 or so kids there, about 4 or 5 of them were terrified of her, especially when she starting tooting a big brass bicycle horn and running around in circles like she'd contracted some debilitating Mad Clown Disease. I am not normally very good with children that I don’t know, but I grabbed those scared kids and ran for the building. We spent the next hour playing with Legos™ and trying not to look out the window until she was gone.

(All of the adults thought I was a compassionate and understanding spouse, just trying to help calm down the wimpy little children. In reality, I just wanted to get as far away from that madwoman as possible. I mean...what is funny about disguising yourself with poorly fitting clothes, exaggerated features, wild hair, and acting like you've been lobotomized with a weed-whacker? In front of children? I simply do not see the entertainment value.)

So. Now it's out in the open. My name is Jack, and I’m coulrophobic. (Hi, Jack!) I’m sure that there are those out there who won’t understand, or who will laugh and poke fun at the grown man who is afraid of clowns (and admits it to everyone)...but I don’t mind. Do your worst.

It still beats a day at the circus.


Born the son of a circus monkey, Jack had to overcome the stigma of having an address south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Struggling against all odds, he finally got his HS diploma from some guy on the corner, and proceeded to attend NC State University, where his records are now the "running joke" in the admissions office. In February of 2000, he moved to Sydney, Australia, to pursue a writing career full-time. Jack currently has a husband but no wife, no children, and a dog with great fashion sense.

more about jack bradley


a peek inside the sausage factory
by jack bradley
topic: humor
published: 5.19.01

culture shock
where women glow, men chunder, and the spiders can kill you
by jack bradley
topic: humor
published: 4.26.00


jack bradley
3.13.02 @ 6:08a

At the risk of breaking etiquette (the unspoken rule of commenting first on your own column), I just want to say that I'm not happy about the convergence of my column and today's tagline..."dude, your stock just totally plummeted, bro."

sandra thompson
3.13.02 @ 8:06a

While I love clowns and find them very funny usually, particularly the ones who come out of the little car at the circus, I respond with the same irrational fear to the idea that millions of people live in earthquake zones ON PURPOSE.Rrrrrrrr! I nearly died of apoplexy while getting all set to watch the World Series that year when everything started moving and shaking and the planet seemed to shudder. OMG, I thought, this is the day California sinks into the Pacific! I TOLD them not to move out there! Nobody ever takes my advice. (snork) Back to the point of this, namely Jack, that was a great column! It's good to know the people we love with all their phobic warts. Your fan, Snodra

sarah ficke
3.13.02 @ 9:22a

I'm not afraid of clowns in my waking life, but I vividly remember a nightmare I had when I was six of Ronald McDonald chasing me around his restaurant on rollerskates.

What really scares me, though, is carnival music.

mary fortuna
3.13.02 @ 9:37a

Um... Jack? That's not clowns you're afraid of, hon, that's either Tammy Faye Baker or Cher. And hell, who's NOT afraid of those two freakish harridans?

adam kraemer
3.13.02 @ 9:59a

How about mimes, Jack? Can you deal with mimes?

If it helps, there was a print ad for "Spin City" a few years ago that read something like: "Michael J. Fox - he'll make you laugh like a clown will make you scared."

mike julianelle
3.13.02 @ 10:36a

Maybe your fear stems from your lineage. "Born the son of a circus monkey..."

I think female clowns are freaky. Maybe not in a scary way, but in a "wrong" way.

heather millen
3.13.02 @ 10:39a

So not a big fan of the movie rendering of "IT," huh?
I can appreciate your fear here. While I don't think I'm quite as far gone, I just don't find them amusing. Creepy, yes.

adam kraemer
3.13.02 @ 10:42a

I was at a birthday party once for a friend of mine up in Boston, and they hired the scariest looking clown I've ever seen. Turned out that he was a really nice guy, but if I can give any aspiring clowns out there a piece of advice - before you put the greasepaint on, shave your stubble. That was just wrong.

jane powell
3.13.02 @ 11:58a

I can hardly forgive myself for taking my daughter to the circus for her second birthday. A clown approached her while she was beng held in the strong, comforting arms of her father.....and she literally reeeled in terror to get away from him. She hates clowns. But that's a good thing! At least I don't have to worry about her marrying one!

adam kraemer
3.13.02 @ 12:09p

Were the chances of your daughter marrying a clown weighing heavily on your mind before that incedent?

Anyone have any idea how much a Ringling Bros. clown makes per year? I'm just curious.

matt morin
3.13.02 @ 12:24p

Check out www.sfcircus.org. They're here in San Francisco and you can take classes on everything from whip cracking to the flying trapeeze.

Talk about awesome.

tracey kelley
3.13.02 @ 1:59p

Mike - I was thinking the EXACT same thing!

Pennywise the Clown. That's all I'm sayin'. Heather nailed it.

Jack - I've emailed this column to a friend who feels the same. You're not alone.

I would, however, do the trapeze thing in an instant. An instant.


russ carr
3.13.02 @ 2:13p

Likewise on the whip crackin'.

matt morin
3.13.02 @ 2:52p

They even have clown classes. Face your fears, Jack. Face them!

Yeah, Tracey, the trapeze thing is the best.

jael mchenry
3.13.02 @ 3:07p

Ooh, whipcrackin'.

BTW, Jack, the tag is unrelated to the column. I overheard this line a couple months ago on the street (in Dupont Circle, to be exact). It stuck with me.

shirley denatale
3.13.02 @ 3:16p

Aha! That explains everything. Jack hangs out with us for a sort of reverse aversion therapy.

juli mccarthy
3.13.02 @ 3:45p

I'm here for you, Jack. All the way.

And as much as I really loved the book "IT" (see, I told you those friggin' clowns were evil!) it made me nuts that through the whole book, this monster was a dreaded clown, and then it turned into a SPIDER of all things. Great way to send two phobias a-whirling at once. I still pee with the bathroom door open, just in case.....

tracey kelley
3.13.02 @ 3:52p

OH! Spoiler!

Juuuust kidding.

And although I love Tim Curry (and chicken curry, too) I thought the movie was awful. Just awful. At least with the book, you could admire the writing style, but to get to the end (and in the movie, it was so badly depicted) and have it be a spider....I really thought -no, wanted - it to be the spirit of Hell. Not some Muppet arachnid. I expected Frank Oz at any moment.

Because, seriously, I don't understand fearing spiders. How many of your deepest, darkest fears can you just squoosh underfoot? The shear reality of that action alone should be enough empowerment.


adam kraemer
3.13.02 @ 3:54p

I think my favorite part of "IT" was the idea that Seth Green was going to grow up to be Harry Anderson.

juli mccarthy
3.13.02 @ 3:56p

Good gravy, woman! Spiders are horrible little eight-legged manifestations of outright evil and if you try to squash one and you miss, your name and description are entered into the ELHEDB (Eight-Legged Horrors Enemy Data Base) and all spiders throughout the world are given access to your basement with orders for revenge. EVERYONE knows THAT.

jael mchenry
3.13.02 @ 4:09p

I thought killing a spider made it rain. Or should I not be learning my superstititious lore from songs by Barenaked Ladies?

juli mccarthy
3.13.02 @ 4:13p

Jael, as typos go, "superstititious" is my new favorite. Lessee how long it takes one of our single guys to come up with a good pun on that.

jack bradley
3.13.02 @ 4:15p

Mary: I love the fact that you use "freakish harridans" in everyday conversation.

Adam:Mimes are worse, if anything.

Heather:The movie It actually makes me feel somehow vindicated that I was right all this time. But it is still a scary movie to me. Like Juli said...clowns and spiders, in one movie! (Although I'm not arachnaphobic. Or at least, I wasn't until I read about the ELHEDB.)

Oh, and all you Intrepidites out there? Having to read or write posts like this one is another good reason to join Intrepid Premium. The message board format alone is worth the price of admission.

jael mchenry
3.13.02 @ 4:19p

Juli, now I can't go back and edit it because I, too, am waiting for a GlibMaster to swoop down. Let's see...

russ carr
3.13.02 @ 4:24p

It's the embedded tit adjacent to a Barenaked Ladies reference that makes it funny in a Freudian way. Makes me wonder if Jael's in a libididinous mood.

But hey, I'm just the warm-up act. Boys?

tracey kelley
3.13.02 @ 4:26p

Juli - HAHAHAHA!!! :)

'Way to be a motivator, Jack.

"There is super-tits-Shawn, writing on the wall..."
(my take on the typo sitch-e-a-tion.)

Snakes, people. Snakes deserve fear. I can't even look at them too closely in books, because I watched a movie when I was little where snakes pictured in books came ALIVE, slithered off the pages and bit you!!

I have Tales from the Farm (not unlike Tales from the Crypt)that would freak all y'all out.

And let's not forget the whole Riki-Tiki-Tavi situation. Snakes wrapped around a toliet - eeeeeew.

mike julianelle
3.13.02 @ 4:43p

I think Stephen King's books are almost always diluted by their horrible endings, IT included.

And as for the typo, I don't know what I like better, Jael's original "superstititious", which could find a place in Disney's X-rated sequel to Mary Poppins; or Tracey's super-tits-Shawn, which frightens me with the possibility that there is an overweight kid named Shawn in junior high who is set to be assailed with that terrible, terrible new insult.


adam kraemer
3.13.02 @ 5:14p

I'm just waiting for Jael to make a bigger slip like "Zimboobwe" or "Areolasmith" or "asbreastos."

More importantly, "superstititious" is an anagram for "I, Super Tits, is out."

jael mchenry
3.13.02 @ 5:17p

Keep waiting, Kraemer.

russ carr
3.13.02 @ 6:12p

Coming Soon: Haley Joel Osment and Pamela Anderson in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the touching short story, "Super Tits Last All Day Long."

jack bradley
3.13.02 @ 6:16p

I can't wait to see the email my mother is going to send me after she reads this thread.

matt morin
3.13.02 @ 6:44p

It's not the thread that's got her worried, Jack. It's the bad crowd you've fallen in with.

adam kraemer
3.14.02 @ 9:49a

Have to get your priorities straight.

So to speak.


roger striffler
3.14.02 @ 1:29p

I have a friend who hates it if you talk with a fake accent. She says it completely freaks her out when it looks like you but doesn't sound like you.

I don't generally find clowns particularly funny, but they don't bother me either. Of course there was the time that my best friend dressed up for halloween as a Rollerderby queen. That was frightening.

Come to think of it Jack, you and I have been to some parties where there were people that should have scared you far more than clowns....

roger striffler
3.14.02 @ 1:32p

Sarah - if carnival music creeps you out, you really need to rent Disney's film version of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes

I always thought the scariest thing about Disney was the way they bastardized great literary classics, but that one will keep you up nights!

adam kraemer
3.14.02 @ 1:50p

Oh, great movie. Still bastardized from the original Bradbury, but not in a bad way. And Jason Robards is the man.

mike julianelle
3.14.02 @ 2:03p

I haven't seen that in a long time, but yeah, it freaked me out good back in the day!

roger striffler
3.14.02 @ 3:53p

Actually, they tried to do it without Bradbury's input and it was horrible, they had to suck up to Bradbury and get him to come in and rewrite the script (which he thoroughly enjoyed rubbing in their faces).

tommy velasquez
3.14.02 @ 7:41p

i'm not particularly afraid of clowns... they are pretty freaky though...

but i sooo can see where you're comin' from jack...

good article.

tony cofer
3.20.02 @ 2:29p

Don't feel too badly about this fear because I have a friend who is afraid of white bunnies, except his white bunnies turn into killer bunnies. So call yourself normal! Loved the article.

Tony Cofer

mike julianelle
3.20.02 @ 4:49p

When I was a kid and had nightmares, my parents told me to think of Xmas and Santa and the Easter Bunny. So then I had nightmares about Santa and the Easter Bunny trying to kill me. Thanks Mom and Dad!

sarah ficke
3.20.02 @ 4:58p

Mike, have you read the Sluggy Freelance "Bun-Bun vs. Santa" story? They also have "Bun-Bun vs. the Easter Bunny."

jack bradley
3.20.02 @ 5:11p

Sychronicity with the Easter Bunny thing: My sister called me a day or two ago and was discussing this column. She told me that both of her kids are scared of clowns, as well as anyone in one of those "mall costumes" like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claws...er, Claus. The 4 year old stood calmly in line to visit the Easter Bunny, then when he got close to the front turned to her and said "I don't have to go up there, do I?" He then ran like hell, even though she'd told him he didn't have to go through with it.

So maybe these phobias have a genetic component. That, or my family is just full of wussy kids. (Shut up, Adam.)

mike julianelle
3.20.02 @ 6:11p

Sarah, since last week I have been reading Sluggy from the beginning. I found it made little sense when I started in the middle, so I decided to go for broke. As we speak, I am in the middle of the '99 Xmas strip. I'm really liking the whole thing, but reading 250 strips a day is a bit much. Only 2 years two go till I'm caught up! *sigh

adam kraemer
3.20.02 @ 6:48p

That's okay. I'm somewhere in the middle of Doonesbury 1982. Only 20 more years...

joe procopio
3.20.02 @ 7:21p

I'm not afeared of clowns, but I buy the rationale.

The Joker, for instance, couldn't have happened without the expectations of the fear.

Don't clowns come from fools, jesters, and the like? And weren't they oringially more ghoulish and wisecracky than silly?

jack bradley
3.20.02 @ 7:40p

MOM!! Joe's trying to make us stay on topic, again!

Actually Joe, I think you're right, especially the "wisecracky" part. People have been sending me links to sites like ihateclowns.com, and I'm discovering that the fear of clowns goes back almost as far as clowns and jesters have been around.

Oh, and thanks for the (((((shudder)))) "Joker" reference. I'll sleep like a baby tonite, for sure.

russ carr
3.20.02 @ 9:00p

Tell me, Jack -- have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

jack bradley
3.20.02 @ 9:01p

Yes. He led.

mike julianelle
3.21.02 @ 9:10a

Russ, I LOVE that quote. "You wanna get nuts?! LET'S GET NUTS!!" I like Keaton, but that line there sucks!

adam kraemer
3.21.02 @ 9:21a

Who was telling me that in the middle of "Jack Frost," his wife suddenly yelled out, "Fuck Michael Keaton!"

joe procopio
3.21.02 @ 2:37p

that was me.

adam kraemer
3.21.02 @ 2:45p

I thought it might be. Thanks, man.

mike julianelle
3.21.02 @ 3:08p

Joe, that's hilarious. Was she screaming it out of desire or disdain?

joe procopio
3.24.02 @ 11:02a

Flipping through the channels last night I came across Killer Klowns from Outer Space. This would have scared the bejeezus out of Jack, as they terrorize a small town with popcorn bazookas and cotton candy cocoons.

Mike: Anger and bewilderment.

matt morin
3.24.02 @ 2:36p

KKfOS is hillariously bad. But the DVD of it has amazing stuff on it.

jack bradley
3.24.02 @ 4:31p

I tried to watch KKFOS once, as a type of desensitizing therapy. I made it as far as the scene where the clown things "cocooned" the dog with cotton candy (and presumably ate it). I didn't sleep for a very long time, and that scene is right in the beginning somewhere. I think the whole movie would have rendered me catatonic.

renee naber
3.30.02 @ 11:25a

It was soo great to see I am not the only one scared to death of clowns.It is my belief that the red make up on a clown's face is not make up,but the blood from their victims. I HATE THEM.

jack bradley
3.30.02 @ 7:38p

And just when I thought it couldn't get any worse...now I'm thinking about clowns with blood painted on their faces.

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