How Professional Clowns Work

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Author's Note: How Professional Clowns Work

Last spring, a clown terrified my 3-year old son. The odd thing was that he knew her. She was his dance teacher, and she'd costumed herself as a clown to MC an end-of-year recital. In any case, my son flipped and refused to go onstage, never mind perform. He doesn't know anything about Gacy or the Joker (call me overprotective), so his fear didn't have to do with cultural associations. It was her stark white makeup that got him. The masklike paint rendered her both familiar and strange, a petrifying combination as far as he was concerned. It could be that clowns who don that look, the classic face pioneered by Joseph Grimaldi, risk straying into the infamous "uncanny valley," meaning they have the creepy appearance of being nearly human, but not quite. Maybe that's why many modern clowns are opting for a minimalist get-up that includes nothing more than an old bowler hat and red ball nose — just a few touches to let you know they're real people with a very odd job.

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