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Many Will Agree:Send Out the Clowns

July 23, 2001|HANK STUEVER | WASHINGTON POST

What brought about the demise of TV's Bozo the Clown, and is there anything encouraging in it for people who hate clowns?

Perhaps. The news out of Chicago, where Bozo's kiddie show ran for almost 41 years, is that children grew bored with clowns, particularly this one; the ratings had finally sunk too low. "The Bozo Show" had been lingering for years in the odd telescape of early Sunday morning, with the preachers and Bowflex infomercials.

The final episode, aired July 14, featured Bozo (actor Joey D'Auria has played the part since 1985) wearing black tie and tails, getting goofily sentimental about his career.

It was the TV clown, Bozo especially, who spread a kind of love and good cheer that is hard to explain, because clowns also freak people out. Clowns are unpredictable, hammy, manic, clever while maintaining a strange naivete. We are supposed to love the clown and enjoy his company.

Which means some people don't.

Clowns aren't exactly funny. Who has not wanted to beat the tar out of a Pierrot or a mime, or knock over a menagerie of Emmett Kelly porcelain figurines?

Why the clown rage? Their unpredictability triggers an anxiety like no other. The popping balloons, the circus cannons--let's consider the post-traumatic stress.

Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is a true affliction. The anachronism that Bozo became is no match for what we've turned the clown into. A Bozo-esque toy clown attacks a little boy in the 1982 movie "Poltergeist" at a point in the movie when the haunted house has supposedly been exorcised of all its demons. The demonic clown, from Batman's Joker on down, has taken over. Workaday clowns have been trying to repair this evil image for decades.

Ronald McDonald, the clown who sells hamburgers, has been appropriated by the animal rights movement, which portrays him as psychotic, spattered with the blood of innocent cows.

In a suburb of Bozo's Chicago, there was the ultimate evil clown, John Wayne Gacy: At local birthday parties and children's hospitals, he performed as Pogo the Clown. Over time, he killed 33 boys and men.

Imagine how hard it is to be a good clown now, in a world where we all believe that clowns have some sinister side we're not seeing.

The kids aren't laughing like they used to. As a clown, you see a lot of children's hospital wards. Sometimes that makes children think they are sicker than they really are, if clowns are dropping by.

Bozo leaves a world that ceased to enjoy the clown for what he was, that gave in to the more coulrophobic nightmares of roasted children and wicked laughter, of being chased through a fun house full of mirrors.

Bozo, who never cried, relied on the frown turned upside-down, those wings of shocking orange-red hair. He was visual cake frosting, easy to overdose on.

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