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There has never been anything remotely funny about clowns... 'killer' or otherwise

The latest craze just draws attention to the menacing nature of this old-time circus act, says Gail Walker

Published 11/10/2016

The 'Killer Clown' phenomenon is set to sweep across Northern Ireland
The 'Killer Clown' phenomenon is set to sweep across Northern Ireland

The 'Killer Clown' phenomenon is set to sweep across Northern Ireland. As the Halloween season approaches, the PSNI has seen fit to issue warnings to pranksters who think it's funny to dress up as clowns to scare children and intimidate people. Yesterday police stood guard outside Dalriada School in Ballymoney over a 'killer clown' threat. A few days earlier, in England, one child was followed home by a clown wielding a knife.

It's the dread word 'phenomenon' which drags down the spirit because we all know that 'phenomenon' is just shorthand for people with no imaginations jumping on rickety old bandwagons long after the so-called 'joke' has ceased to amuse all but the most dim.

Such has been the hysteria that the doyen of horror writers, Stephen King, whose work has featured creepy clowns in the past, tweeted that it was 'time to cool the clown hysteria' adding with typical pathos that whenever clowns raise their ugly mugs they typically cheer children up and make people laugh.

With all due respect, Mr King, that ain't necessarily so. On the contrary, clowns usually leave most of us twisting in our own skin at the mirthlessness of an outdated, hammy routine.

Maybe the latest furore about our sad friends will allow the truth to be exposed for good: clowns are irredeemably naff. They haven't even been amusing since moving pictures.

Go on, trawl your memories of clowns and I bet you'll find more bad memories than good. You knew Christmas was drawing to a close whenever - days after the main event - Billy Smart's Circus hit the screens with two hours of seemingly endless filler. While you could - if absolutely pushed - admire the acrobats and the magicians, even the animal acts in those less enlightened days, the appearance of the crazy car and the bucket of stars always marked the end of the fun, leaving even a six-year-old heart suffering from lacerating embarrassment and ennui.

Who decided that layers of crude, stupid make-up, donning a fright wig, wearing violently clashing clothes and insanely large shoes were funny things to do?

Even to young kids, it reeks of a kind of desperation which saddens - not gladdens - the heart. This guy (strange how you don't have female clowns) is just trying too hard to be zany, to be (groan) loveable.

And the act, the crudest of crude slapstick. Oh look, he's just been hit across the head with a plank. Oh look, he's just been hit across the head with a hammer. Oh look, he's just been hit across the head with a carjack. Throw in the odd 'custard pie' (it never was - always that shaving foam type stuff) and the obligatory bucket of water/stars and Bob's yer uncle.

Nary a witty word, a joke, an insight into character, a way of looking at the world, a piece of wry self-deprecation, satire - in other words comedy as anyone half-normal understands it. Nope, just your basic theatre of cruelty, pain and humiliation. And you are supposed to find this funny? How? How? How?

Forced fun is never fun. And nothing says Forced Fun more emphatically than a painty faced loon going through his threadbare, tiresome routine.

Of course, the smart Alecs will mutter about clowns going back to ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, about Auguste clowns, Harlequin and Comedia dell'arte; about how the clown is a force of anarchy, and served a socio-political function.

They're still not funny.

And then, even worse, there is the dreadful sad-faced clown, with his tears of a clown. All that broken-hearted clown baloney. Maudlin, saccharine, tooth-rottingly sentimental. Poor Bobo who loves the ballerina but knows she will never look at him, but just to be near her is somehow enough …

Pur…lease. Where the hell does Bobo get off? Maybe she would look at him if he canned the make-up, got some more contemporary gear from Remus Uomo and noticed that his shoes are way, way too big for him. And, oh yes, news for you Bobo - women generally aren't impressed with stupid antics featuring buckets of water.

Broken-hearted clowns should ask themselves: would Colin Firth/Ryan Gosling/Hugh Grant woo a woman's heart with the old squirty flower lapel trick or a soda siphon down the trousers. Or blackmail them with tears? (No, they wouldn't, Bobo).

Indeed, as an interesting cultural spin-off, you should always be wary of comedians described as being 'natural clowns'. This is shorthand for grinning loons like Jim Carrey, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy and Norman Wisdom - people who, it's true, have faces fit for planks. But at least even they don't paint on big, cheesy, red-lipped grins.

And before anyone thinks this is a common characteristic of all comics, let me say this. Can you imagine Killer Laurel & Hardy? Killer Chaplin? Killer Eric and Ernie?

No you can't.

It has always been the case that the sick, unfunny clowns, by their very nature, became rapidly dated and old-fashioned in their antics. But they would still insist, long after even the fixed grins had drained away, long after the world had left them behind, on just going on, wandering around dementedly, latterly on chat shows and daytime TV, demanding love us, love us, pity us, pity us. We are funny, here is my big red nose. When you squeeze it, it goes 'honk'.

No wonder such emotionally damaged self-assertion drips over easily into the, er, phenomenon of Killer Clowns. They have no other cheap gag left. Clowns already distress, how else can they ratchet up the stakes than by going completely over to the dark side? It's a logical extension of their fundamentally mirthless demands for attention.

My solution is simple. Anyone who gets accosted by these freaks in greasepaint should simply have permission this Halloween to slap them around the head with real wet fish, then douse them with buckets of real water.

This Halloween, let's do it to them, before they do it to us.

Belfast Telegraph

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