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Coulrophobia and Cirque du Soleil

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I never really understood coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) until I went to see Cique du Soleil’s performance of Quidam.

Let me back up a bit. Some of my earliest childhood memories surround Bozo the Clown. He was on TV and aimed at children. I didn’t find him scary at all. I didn’t always find him funny, but never scary.

I grew up, saw clowns perform at the circus, and stroll along in parades. Still nothing particularly scary about them.

I was a clown in high school. Literally. I used to do birthday parties for kids dressed as a clown, doing magic tricks. I don’t recall running into any kids afraid of clowns while I was doing that, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t terrify any small children.

I was in college when I first encountered the concept of being afraid of clowns during a psychology class. We were covering different phobias and the professor mentioned fear of clowns. The concept was foreign to my mind. I couldn’t quite grasp it. How could anyone be afraid of clowns?

It was years later when I finally got an inkling of why people might be afraid of clowns. First was Stephen King’s book It which came out while I was working in a bookstore. Again, I found the whole concept perplexing. Yeah, I got that it was Stephen King, and he writes horror and I thought it was kinda crass to take something fun and entertaining like clowns and turn them into objects to fear. I haven’t read It but I saw the movie version and thought Tim Curry was appropriately creepy. That had more to do with it being Tim Curry (who is excellent at playing creepy characters) rather than It being a clown.

But it was finally when I went to Cirque du Soleil’s performance Quidam that I finally got why people might be scared of clown.s America typically has clowns with white pancake makeup, and colorful faces, colorful clothes and everything is exaggerated. Cirque du Soleil had a more European style clown – a large muscular man, dressed in tights and a tutu, with boxing gloves.

At one point in the performance he walks to the front of the stage, screams at the top of his lungs, then bashes the boxing gloves together over his head. And the lights go out. And the music stops. And you’re sitting there and the place is dead silent. You have no idea about what is going to happen next.

That’s when I finally got why some people find clowns scary.

As for me, still don’t find them scary.

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