Why do people find clowns scary?

Red noses, colourful baggy costumes, oversized shoes, white facepaint, wigs, bunches of balloons… and evil grins?

It seems that clowns are often portrayed negatively in popular culture. I can think of many more examples of sinister clowns than harmless ones. Maybe the fear of clowns (coulrophobia) has increased because of these associations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clown for real (or if I have, I don’t remember) so my experience of clowns is through their presence in films, TV, books and music. Immediately I think of a scary figure with a smile like a knife slash, deathly white makeup and murderous intent. So what is it about the clown that terrifies adults and children alike?

  • Clowns’ human identities are hidden beneath exaggerated costumes and makeup.
  • A blood-red, extended mouth like a crocodile’s – a fake and dangerous smile.
  • The old-fashioned association with circuses, and by extension the power of the ringmaster with his whip.
  • They are supposed to be amusing, their antics thrust into our faces as ‘funny’, which has the opposite effect.
  • Their status as official pranksters means they can risk getting away with things.
  • Trying to gain children’s trust is now a suspicious thing for a stranger to do.
  • Clowns might single a person out from the crowd for humiliation disguised as fun.

All this is of course rather bad for actual clowns today, as so many people are scared of them. I imagine the clowning business is not so lucrative as it used to be. Interestingly the ‘clown’ in Shakespeare’s plays was not a silly person in floppy shoes who ran around throwing custard pies. Rather, the clown might pretend to be dim but really he had the worldly wisdom to see things clearly.

The great news for those with coulrophobia is that clowns are not very prevalent in society so the chances of encountering them frequently are not high. You’re unlikely to find them in your house, whereas sufferers of (for example) arachnophobia have it worse.

Anyone out there not scared of clowns? Let me know.

24 thoughts on “Why do people find clowns scary?”

  1. Okay so although I am not really scared of clowns in general, but I still find this post very informative and well researched! โค๏ธ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜ The way you have presented your ideas on this unique topic (I dont think I have seen anyone out there talking about this yet โค๏ธ) is really…I LOVED IT!! And I agree with the possible reasons you have stated behind peopleโ€™s phobia of them!

    A VERY WELL WRITTEN POST, Ford! LOVED IT!! โค๏ธโค๏ธโค๏ธ

    1. I’m glad to hear you’re not scared of clowns! Thanks for your comments, I thought I would write a different kind of post. I always write about what I’m interesting in ๐Ÿ˜‰ โ™ฅ

      1. Well, not yet anyway! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

        Well, it really was veryyy interesting!! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜โค๏ธโค๏ธ๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿ‘ป I loved it! โค๏ธโค๏ธ

  2. I hate clowns and I blame it on watching Poltergeist at way too young of an age. Then Stephen Kingโ€™s IT came along and that sealed the deal for me!! Iโ€™ve been coulrophobic ever since!

    1. I don’t blame you for hating clowns, especially seeing how they are represented in horror movies! I hope you are able to avoid meeting clowns for real ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. My husband likes to send me the clown emoji in texts just to drive me nuts! Lol! Other than that, Iโ€™ve been good!! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

    1. It seems that the fear of clowns is mainly due to their representation in horror films/books. However, I’m sure there have always been coulrophobes even before the idea of the evil clown was well-known. As for me, I’m not scared of clowns per se, but if I encountered an evil one I would be as scared as anyone!

  3. Stephen King’s “It” is also one of the main reasons why I find clowns scary, KayCKay!

    And I agree with your reasons as well, nsford. Clowns just don’t quite feel like they fit twenty-first century culture anymore. There’s too many weird things about them, especially when it comes to trying to gain the trust of children they don’t know. Creepy.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lydia. I think Stephen King’s ‘IT’ has a lot to answer for! I also had the thought that part of the reason people were supposed to laugh at clowns was because they looked different, but now that we celebrate difference, it just seems old-fashioned to laugh at people who wear unusual clothes and makeup!

  4. Clowns = creepy and yes King’s It. I blame it all on him! And what a great post this is, NS! I love the reasons you stated which are so so true!

    1. Stephen King has a lot to answer for!
      Thanks Jee, I’m glad you liked the post ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I’m glad to hear you’re not scared of clowns ๐Ÿ˜‰
      I haven’t actually seen the remake of IT but I do remember the TV show being extremely creepy.

  5. I am scared of clowns. I met them first when young going into circuses to see various performances. I never found them funny there. Then probably the media and culture helped to instil this fear of them in me. I particularly agree with your points on their exaggerated make-up and smile. I am yet to see a clown whose make up and presentation are not disturbing. They look very disturbing to me. I read about one real serial killer who made my coulrophobia worse – John Wayne Gacy, he was a professional clown and a serial killer. A stuff of nightmares.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I never went to circuses, but I suppose my first memory relating to clowns are the drunken ones in Disney’s Dumbo film! The makeup is particularly disturbing, I agree. I might have read about Gacy, in the course of my evil clown research.

      1. Speaking of Dumbo, it is one children’s animation that has to be given a special prize for being the most disturbing in the history of animations. Dumbo’s nightmare/hallucination about pink elephants traumatised me as a child.

        1. Oh yes! Totally agreed. ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ is horribly frightening – I still find it disturbing now (although kind of funny too). I may do a ‘scariest Disney moments’ post at some point, and that will definitely be in it!

          1. If you do decide upon making such a list, I will be eagerly anticipating it. I love the topic of uncovering Disney’s “darkness” or letting others know of Disney animations’ unintended effects.

          2. Sure – I’ve added it to my list of posts to write, I already have some ideas for it ๐Ÿ˜‰
            Thanks for sparking the idea!

  6. Great post! ๐Ÿ™‚ I had no idea what the fear of clowns was called until now ๐Ÿ™‚ I never found clowns funny or entertaining. I can remember somewhere when I was very young there were clowns inside a circus tent (I really can’t remember where this was and I must have been about 4 years old) but I remember the feeling of being bored when they came on and I didn’t like the energy they had, running around everywhere, or how they singled out people in the front row, thankfully I was two rows behind! That’s a very vague memory though, one of my earliest, but my only other experience with clowns (bar having two cute toys) is just as everyone else has said, Stephen King’s It which I saw on tv years ago (I’ve never read it). It gave me nightmares about scary clowns and they just don’t seem funny to me. I don’t think I have coulrophobia but I definitely don’t like them and unfortunately that other phobia you mentioned is one I definitely do have, although it also extends to any insect thing that’s in my house! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

    1. Wow, I can see how having that experience when you were little can really affect your view of clowns, and it must have made an impact as you still remember it! No, I don’t think clowns are funny either, but I find certain insects scarier ๐Ÿ˜‰

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