Clowns have long had a bad rap. Despite being costumed entertainers whose craft is primarily aimed at children, a series of real-world crimes and fictional baddies over the decades have left the profession with a marred public perception. According to many professional clowns, the latest threat to the job is the “It” horror movie which, later this year, will resurface in theaters in the form of a reboot after decades of absence, much like the film’s own shapeshifting antagonist, Pennywise.
Mel Magazine recently took the pulse of the professional clown community and found a mixture of fear and resentment towards the latest full trailer for the upcoming “It” reboot.
“It’s a dying profession. And the people who do it and scrape together a living have to grapple with the fact that it’s cool and hip not to like clowns,” Guilford Adams, a professional clown from Los Angeles who has played the character Gilly for 20 years, said. “The ultimate prick in this [IT movie] is that it’s going to turn young consumers away from an art form that’s sweet and nice and not about the Kardashians and ‘Minecraft.’”
Clowning was first established as a job in the earliest days of professional theatre — called commedia dell’arte — in Italy, in the 16th century, and was itself an extension of the ancient Greek and Roman tradition of masked theatre. Clowning has seen numerous evolutions since its earliest days, and has even solidified enough as a profession to warrant the creation of various clown colleges over the years — Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College taught roughly 1,400 clowns between 1968 and 1997, while the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco has taught clowning since 2000.
Public support for clowns in America has always been tenuous at best. The serial killer John Wayne Gacy targeted teenage boy and young adults in Cook County, Illinois between 1972 and 1978. After his arrest, Gacy would be dubbed the “Killer Clown” because he often volunteered his services as an amateur clown at fundraising events and children’s parties.
Stephen King’s novel “It” drew on the public’s fear of clowns when it was published in 1986. The novel focuses on a group of children who banded together to fight a shapeshifting monster that disguises itself as a clown. The book was adapted into a miniseries in 1990 that starred Tim Curry as the monster, Pennywise. The upcoming reboot looks to see Bill Skarsgard reinvent the supernatural clown, and that has real-life clowns quaking in their boots.
“We just experienced a nice break from the scary clown meme from last October,” Nick Kane, another Los Angeles-based clown, referring to the rash of clown sightings from last year, said. “And just when things are starting to normalize, the ‘It’ trailer comes and it’s like, ‘Here we go again.’”