Clowns speak out against recent 'scary clown' antics
Randy Long, owner and founder of the Fargo Entertainment Company, has performed throughout North Dakota and Minnesota for the last 28 years. For most of that time, he was a clown. In the first 15 years in business, Long would make appearances in ...
Randy Long, owner and founder of the Fargo Entertainment Company, has performed throughout North Dakota and Minnesota for the last 28 years.
For most of that time, he was a clown. In the first 15 years in business, Long would make appearances in full clown makeup and wig nearly every day of the week to tell jokes and twist balloon animals to entertain children and adults alike.
But these days, he seldom dons the traditional getup before starting his act.
"It's really not worth the time or effort to be a clown because of the negative connotations," Long said.
In recent weeks, a scarier sort of clown has made headlines as people dressed as clowns have popped up to frighten people across the country. On Oct. 8, a juvenile wearing clown attire and carrying a large kitchen knife was arrested after chasing an 11-year-old boy through Crookston.
Though the recent press hasn't helped the image of clowns, Long said he started backing away from traditional clowning before the recent spate of scary clown sightings.
Part of that is because of logistics. Long said he realized at some point that the children he entertained responded equally well to clown antics done without the time-consuming makeup. He still considers himself a clown though, and strongly disapproved of those he described as "idiots" who have been taking to the streets to instill fear.
"Ultimately, they're taking a cherished children's character and basically ruining it for a generation of children," Long said. Though he said most kids didn't seem to mind him trading in the wig for a baseball cap, those who might have an interest in a more classical kind of clown are "getting that experience stolen from them by people who are really childish themselves."
Though scary clowns have been especially timely as of late, Long said he's seen traces of a fear of clowns for years prior, with a significant increase over the last five years.
Charles Higgs, a member of the Kem Shriners-the Grand Forks chapter of the Shriners fraternal association-has been clowning around as "Blinky" since 1999 as a member of the local Shriner clown division known simply as the Crookston Clowns.
The Shriners maintain several clown units across the country. The groups of entertainers often march in parades and make visits to children's hospitals.
Shriners also take the clowning to the proverbial big top at the annual Kem Shrine Circus, which they host at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. For Higgs, the draw of the act is rooted in positivity.
"We're trying to bring joy to the kids, that's our main purpose, to make them laugh and smile," he said. "People see clowns now and don't want nothing to do with them."
Most of the members of the Crookston Clowns are older, Higgs said, and recruiting new clowns has been difficult.
"If it keeps going the way it is, there won't be hardly any clowns," Higgs said, though he hoped the act would prevail for the sake of the joy it can bring. "When we get this child that comes up to us and is smiling and giving us a big hug-we get all the pay in the world right there, that's more than anything."
'Clowns are timeless'
Both Higgs and Long said the 1990 miniseries "It," which was based on a novel by Stephen King about an evil being manifested as a terrifying clown, has been a heavy influence in the modern fear of clowns. The series is being rebooted as a feature film to be released next year.
Since the release of the book and series, Long believed images of frightening clowns shared on social media outlets have only added to a menacing association for the goofy characters.
Danielle Johannesen, an assistant professor from the University of Minnesota-Crookston's Liberal Arts and Education Department, said the clowns have appeared in almost every culture throughout history.
Though not all clowns are the same-Johannesen said the figures appear in some contexts as tricksters or mischief-makers-the concept of the evil or creepy clown arose almost entirely in the 20th century.
"It's kind of a reversal of how we usually see clowns," she said. "We're conditioned to see them in very specific settings, like the circus, birthday parties or carnival. So often the creepy clown is taken out of that context where we're very comfortable with clowns and put into a different, unexpected context."
Johannesen said many of the things that can make a clown a fun character can also be subject to a darker interpretation. Traits like facepaint, exaggerated facial features and obnoxious mannerisms can naturally create a fear response to a clown's antics, she said, and taking a clown outside of a familiar setting can be jarring.
Johannesen also mentioned "It" as one of the key examples of the evil clown character in recent popular culture. She also pointed to other famously evil clowns such as the Joker from the Batman comic books.
Despite the current cultural fascination with the sinister clown figure, Long said he believes clowns haven't lost their happy face-nor their place in comedic entertainment.
"These things happen, people forget and ultimately these are a bunch of guys out trying to find their five seconds of fame," he said. "Clowns are timeless. They will go on."