In just the past week, no less than two of my friends, both normal, well adjusted men, have told me that they suffered from a phobia that I’ve never encountered in real life, the fear of clowns. It turns out it even has a name: coulrophobia.
So I did a little research, and what I found was fascinating. While it’s quite common for children to be afraid of clowns, I discovered that some experts believe that as many as one in seven adults never outgrow this fear. Like most phobias, symptoms can include shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea and overall feelings of dread.
Like most phobias, it is difficult to explain where this comes from. The most common cause is usually a bad childhood experience involving a clown. But there is another interesting theory about how this phobia develops. Because a clown’s smile is painted on, you can’t tell what the clown is really thinking. Is he going to give you a flower or go for your throat? That perpetual smile does something in the mind of the coulrophobe, who finds this inability to “read” the clown, along with the clown’s historic propensity for acting outside social norms (and getting away with it) so unsettling that it creates an unreasonable panic.
Google “fear of clowns” and a whole plethora of websites come up devoted to explaining and helping people overcome the phobia. Clearly, coulrophobia is no laughing matter.
Many famous fictional characters suffer from coulrophobia, encompassing such wide ranging types from Cosmo Kramer to obsessive compulsive detective Adrian Monk. Pasquale, the perpetual child in the comic strip “Rose is Rose” is terrified of clowns, as is Bart Simpson.
Alan Shore, the wily lawyer from the TV series “Boston Legal”, is so afraid of clowns that the normally glib attorney actually froze in a courtroom when the plaintiff, a clown, unexpectedly showed up for the trial in full clown regalia. Later in the episode, Shore claimed there was nothing unreasonable about his fear, describing clowns as “evil” and taking issue with parents who encourage their children to “simply trust them”. He eventually overcame his fear–with the help of colleague and former Marine Brad Chase–to the point where he is able to approach the clown, who allows Alan to squeeze his nose. (There’s a reason this is one of my favorite TV shows. I’m a big fan of the surreal.)
For a comprehensive list, (and boy, is it a long one!) click here.
And I always thought the lions were scary. By the way, if you suffer from coulrophobia, do not, under any circumstances, look at the picture below.
But if you LIKE scary clowns, check out this link.
Hey, I warned you!