A long time ago, clowns must have slept with pop culture’s mother and never called again because their portrayal in media over the years has been less than flattering. They’re either depicted as childish buffoons who need to get a real job or supernatural monsters who want to gut you and make balloon animals out of your intestines. But after talking to Clown Bobo, I realized that clowning is much harder than it looks and that the only people clowns are most likely to hurt are themselves, typically through crippling substance abuse brought on by the grim realities of their job.
4. You’ll Be Surrounded By Pain And Misery
One of Bobo’s jobs is performing for children in hospitals, and doesn’t just picturing that make you feel all good and warm inside? After all, what could be nobler than cheering up sick kids? Plus, it’s not just about entertainment: Studies have shown that clown care can reduce pain, help the heart, and even boost the immune system… If you do it right. But do it wrong and it can easily lead to depression and wanting to punch Robin Williams for making Patch Adams.
“I know that this may come as a surprise, but the sick children clowns usually work with are, well, sick. They are exhausted both physically and mentally, which makes them scared, which in turn makes them cry out for their parents. You want to make them happy with silly balloon art but know that it’s ultimately futile because you can’t construct their moms out of a piece of inflated rubber. You want to read them a fun story but the only story they want to hear is ‘The Day Mom Came to Stay With Me in the Hospital And Never Left, Which is Today.’ You want to do ANYTHING but often all you can do is sit there and wallow in the kids’ misery.”
But fear and tears are nothing compared to the apathy. Some of the kids Bobo’s worked with have dealt with so much shit that they’ve simply shut down. So while you’re there juggling and trying to entertain them, many of the kids just look away and say nothing because they don’t have the strength to do much else.
A clown is usually the only person in the hospital a child can say “No” to, like by refusing to let them into the room, so the clowns’ job is basically to give some control back to the kids and make them feel less helpless.
But due to budget cuts, it doesn’t always work out that way. “Herding a bunch of kids into a single room (instead of individual visits) and putting me in front of them is the opposite of giving them control, resulting in confusion and fear which you instinctively pick up on because clowning is all about empathy and getting inside your audience’s head. Only sometimes, the things you find there will make you want to hit the bottle. Hard.”
Then again, at the end of the day, you are still doing good and people respect you for it, right? Yeah, about that…
3. Clowning Attracts Tons Of Assholes
“The reason why I never went to a clown college or circus school is because those things are rarer, more expensive, and harder to get into than you think. In most cases, if you want to be a clown you need to put in long hours figuring that stuff out on your own. This has had an unfortunate side effect of making skilled clowns a rarity all around the world, and causing the profession to be flooded by sketchy amateurs.”
Professional clowns worldwide have long complained about circuses and troupes cutting corners by hiring people with no experience, slapping some white paint on them and telling them to go handle their balls in front of some kids. The reasoning here is flawless because even if an amateur clown screws up, you can always play it off as part of the act, then pocket the extra money and go do blow in a motel room with discount hookers. As a bonus, the people you’ve hired probably know a guy who can hook you up with both.
“Like many in my profession,” Bobo says, “I’ve run into my share of bad clowns, from people who simply were over their heads, to hopeless drunks like the guy I was supposed to work with once who got kicked out of the group because he drank himself to a stupor on his first day.”
“That’s why I always warn people to be careful around disheveled clowns that look like hobos, because it might not actually be part of their costumes.”
“All of this pisses me off because clowning requires the ability to approach an audience in just the right way and knowing when to back off. If you don’t know what you’re doing, or are too drunk to care, you will scare people off and ruin it for the rest of us, and plenty of modern clowns do not know what they are doing.”
2. Being A Clown Completely Changes The Way People Look At You
“I want to bring up the killer clown stereotype again because I actually have a theory as to how it got started. Children might develop a fear of clowns early on because most clowns look plain weird, which is totally understandable. But later in life, that fear might reinvent itself through the prism of adulthood.” So instead of associating clowns with stuff a child would fear, like monsters, you start to associate them with the stuff an adult would fear: murder, psychosis etc.
“That’s why I wasn’t surprised when a group of children entertainers I knew went to do a show at an elementary school and were greeted by a patrol car when they got there. You see, along the way they stopped to ask for directions when someone saw their costumes in the back of the car and called the cops, naturally assuming that these perfectly normal people were going to enter a public building and just molest the hell out of the kids there.” Basically, the only thing that incites more uncomfortable dread and fear than a clown is probably a nuclear warhead in the shape of an anatomically-correct penis.
But in other cases it all boils down to clowns not being meant to be liked or trusted. First, you have to ask yourself why you laugh at clowns, and it’s obviously because they are beneath you. A clown dresses strangely, he bumbles, he’s pitiful, pitiable and other words that have the word “pity” in it. So you start from there and then you arrive at some pretty insulting assumptions about all clowns.
“One time, after a birthday party I performed at, the father of the kid asked me to do cocaine with him because he reckoned I must be down for all kinds of weird and crazy shit, right? I’m not, but that doesn’t stop people from thinking that I am, or throwing candy, rocks or empty beer cans at me or my fellow clowns. Most people look at a clown, even if he’s out of costume, and think: ‘Yup, that is the toilet of humanity. I’d like to defecate on him,’ which is the main reason why…
1. Depression Is A Big Problem In The World Of Clowning
“As a clown, your bosses will definitely look at you like an unskilled laborer that will someday be replaced by well-trained monkeys (for now, they just insist on paying you in bananas.) They will also tap their watches and make sure the audience doesn’t get a second of entertainment they didn’t pay for, then quickly rotate you to another show until your funny bone fractures from all the tension you’ve been putting on it.”
I mentioned earlier that clowning is all about empathy, but that doesn’t even begin to touch on the subject of the emotional Molotov cocktail that’s brewing inside a typical clown’s head. There have been studies showing that clowns, like many entertainers, often “feel misunderstood, angry, anxious, suspicious, depressed,” and they tend to use comedy to deal with these emotions. But what happens when you are forced to use your therapeutic comedy like an automatic switch, performing with all your might whenever your bosses tell you that it’s go time? “Then, like many clowns out there, you find yourself fighting depression after realizing that you’ve thoughtlessly sold away your comedy, the one thing that has kept you sane all these years.”
“But, hey, I’m still here trying to bring joy and laughter to kids that I don’t even know. Hopefully, I will be here next year as well.”