We recently had the pleasure of dinner at a rather quirky restaurant/bar called Circus which was hiding away on the fringes of Covent Garden. The resident quirk is that every 40 minutes or so they turn the lights off and some house performers appear on a large stage/table and proceed to eat fire or balance in probably impossible ways on a support to increasingly lubricated and therefore appreciative dining audience. Of course you have to watch – it is so dark in the place even with the lights on that trying to continue eating your red curry while the performance is happening is only asking for trouble. It is rather charming, and the young performers pretty talented.
Obviously this is themed to go with the name of the place. But of course one type of circus entertainment was missing. There were no clowns.
We found this reassuring. We do not like clowns, you see.
Now, I do not mean people talented in the area of physical comedy. That is something entirely different and I can laugh at a pratfall or a whack on the head with a spinning plank as much as anyone. I mean the whole white face/orange hair and outsize clothing weirdness.
Clowns are creepy and sinister and not at all funny. It is not surprising they turn up in horror movies a lot (the clown doll on the chair in Poltergeist is a personal scare favourite http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWDDoydceVg , although why the kid has such a horrible thing in his bedroom in the first place is beyond me, but then it was made in the 80s and it is not a decade know for taste and discretion).
But I had not really thought about rally what is behind the dislike. It is not just that I do not find them funny. There are plenty of things – and comedians – that I do not find particularly funny, but I would not accuse (most) of them for being creepy. I think it has dawned on me recently though, and the problem is a lack of humanity.
We are going to see King Lear at the weekend (a bundle of laughs itself I know) and one of the key characters in that play is the Fool. The fool or jester in medieval times always seemed to me as a reflection of ourselves, literally poking fun at our own inadequacies and weaknesses that we know perfectly well exist but we would rather not confront in any more direct ways. But most clowns are not reflections of our human condition and rather painted macabre creations of their own, hiding behind makeup as much as if they were wearing a mask.
A few years ago I ran the Great North Run in a horse suit, which included an all encompassing headpiece. The lovely Wife noted that she found it extremely off putting when I put the head on, because at that point I vanished. As she said, there could be anybody at all – or nobody for that matter – in the suit at that point. The mask removed my humanity and replaced it with a visage of fake equine. Incidentally, that was a day when I think I may have finally learned to truly hate the ‘why the long face?’ joke. Runners are not the most creative wits in the world it appears (although I’ll give the guy who grabbed my arm claiming that he was ‘feeling a bit horse’ at least a B+ for effort).
So I think it is the mask effect. They may indeed be very comfortable and soon everyone will be wearing one, but I do not see the fetid pale paste of the clown becoming more widespread, outside of a possible zombie apocalypse. I think it is perfectly fine to avoid things that disturb you sometimes; so together with reality TV shows and Michael Bay movies I think I’ll give the clowns a miss, if you don’t mind.