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Coulrophobia: Fear of Clowns


Comic: Bizarro (who by the way has a new blog and an upcoming comic show at the Purple Onion in San Francisco on February 22, 2008)

Remember that ailurophobia is the irrational fear of cat? Well, coulrophobia [wiki] is the irrational fear of clowns. It comes from the Greek word kolobathristes meaning one that goes on stilts and phobos meaning fear (the Greeks didn't have a word for clown - the closest thing was those on stilts, i.e. circus performers).

Clown phobia is quite common in small children, but in some, the fear persists well into adulthood. I've read that up to 1 in every 7 people have it to some degree, though the exact number is very hard to pin down.

It's easy to make fun of clown phobia (clever pun, eh?) But it can be quite a dramatic and overpowering fear in adults. Like this lady who is scared to death of clowns:






[YouTube Link]

So why are people afraid of clowns? Most phobia started in childhood, but in some, fear of clown is sparked by reading about one (like the sadistic Pennywise the clown from Stephen King's novel It) or watching one in horror movies, even campy ones (Killer Klowns from Outer Space, anyone?). Indeed, the theme of evil clown [wiki] is quite common in American pop culture.

Perhaps some clowns are truly evil. Like serial killer John Wayne Gacy [wiki] aka The Killer Clown. Gacy, who was convicted for the rape and murder of 33 boys and young men in the 1970s liked to dress up as "Pogo the clown" in neighborhood block parties to entertain little children. After he was caught and convicted, Gacy spent his days on death row painting - you've guessed it - clowns.


John Wayne Gacy's Pogo and Clown Skull
(Photo: Serial Killer Central, who has more of these kinds of morbid art)

People are apt to overanalyze coulrophobia, though they can come up with interesting reasons. Kathryn Cillick at Phobialist came up with this explanation:

I have a theory about the reason for fearing clowns that I thought I would suggest to you. Because clowns have permanent, exaggerated expressions painted on their faces - usually of joy but not always, it renders the observer impotent in measuring facial expression as a precursor of action and for those who are vigilant about their environment, possibly because of past traumatic events, they are unable to interpret and therefore predict what this creature may do to them. This is heightened when we observe the "happy" clown performing some aggressive behavior - it becomes too much to take - creating intense confusion and fear. I don't know if this is the reason - simply my first thoughts on a very intriguing subject.

If you're afraid of clowns, you're not alone: anti-clown celebrities include rapper P. Diddy, Johnny Depp, Carol Burnett and Anthony Bourdain.

Now I don't find clowns scary. I find them creepy. How about you?


I am scared of clowns, but nearly as bad as the woman in the video. I can even tell you why I don't like them.

When I was four, I went to the circus and entered a drawing for a bicycle. I ended up winning the bicycle and the clowns came up the stands to get me. Well, they grabbed me by the wrist and practically dragged me down the stairs. It hurt. :(

I didn't even get to ride the bicycle for another six years because I was too short.

I'm not completely terrified of them, but I'd much rather be in a room full of puppies than a room full of clowns.

Anyway, I'm liking the articles and long posts that you guys have been posting lately. Thanks for taking the time to do it! :D
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I agree that clowns are creepy. I have no basis for this. The exaggerated expressions theory was interesting, perhaps a bit far-fetched, but still intriguing.
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I am afraid of snakes, but my encounters with them usually end up in me getting pissed off and shooting the snake or stepping on its head.
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I think that clowns can be fun if not down right creepy because for all their smiles (painted or otherwise) and glee they turn scary at a moments notice. I guess too many horror movies and books (like IT) didn't help. :)
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My theory is that children are scared of distorted human faces. There's something familiar but something is off. If the person is someone they know they are even more scared.

as a child the most scary thing was my father when he had shaved his beard. Beardless stranger pretending to be your father is scary.

Sent from my mobile using FeedM8
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My friend Nikki who works as a care clown in South Africa with children in hospital (and the Red Cross Burns unit in particular) found that the less make-up you wear the better. The kids need to be able to see your expression. They're already in a scary awful situation suffering terrible burns or living with tuberculosis or HIV or serious injury and the last thing they need is some freak caked in so much facepaint as to appear inhuman.
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Definitely the distorted features, among many things. Kids are taught not to talk to strangers, but these people get in your face and make you talk to them and they use creepy voices and they give you candy. I'm not personally afraid of them, I just don't like them. My Fiancee will cry if they come near her, though.
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I also think it has to do with people's innate caution to insanity. Something about an always-happy creature with exaddurated expressions sets of our "Uh uh, this thing is crazy" sensor. I think it all ties into a feeling of "something's not *right*", which other people go into, above.

For a similar reason, I find evil dolls/puppets creppy. Its the 'not-quite-human-but-acting-similar' factor. Animated humanoid-shaped objects or any kind are creepy! (whether a fictional 'evil puppet' or a real animatronic person). :'(
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I've always hated clowns. Anytime I saw a clown, I always suspected a pervert or weirdo with a distorted life behind the mask. It's not funny, just groce. Why can't we settle this stupid custom. Why do poor people like her have to go through these painful confrontations when what they resent is just the extreme of a natural and sane reaction? Stop the madness!
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Oooh, had to chime in. I'm squicked out by anything that has a distorted resemblence to a human- clowns, dolls, mannequins, some claymation, etc.
Creepy!
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*raises hand* I'm scared of clowns too! When I was a toddler, my mother took me to the circus. She tried to introduce me to a clown and I started screaming and crying because it freaked me out or something...been afraid of them ever since. No reason why, I just don't like them.

Oddly enough, my favorite horror book/movie is Stephen King's It. I include the book not only because it's more frightening but so y'all know it isn't just Tim Curry that scares me ;)
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Creepy. But I'd rather be in a room full of clowns than a room full of spiders.

Went through a very intense haunted house a few years ago. Near the end was a "circus" where clowns with fangs came out of the corners. A 20-something woman in the group had a meltdown. Before you go into a haunt called "Phobia House," be aware that one of your phobias might be included. Luckily for me, the tarantula in the glass case was too cold and was hiding.
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as someone who actually does have coulrophobia (meaning that I will scream, cry, panic, and actually break out in hives when I see a clown in person), i can tell you that we are not crazy people. I don't know why i have it, i just know that I have to avoid circuses, parades, and festivals. life would be better without them.
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The biggest reason the fear develops in childhood is that at a young age (and even into the teens) kids are not often able to read facial expressions correctly. The painted facial expression is heavily exaggerated and kids who may not be able to interrupt normal expressions could be frightened by such a display.

The woman on the video is pretty brave, she's facing her fear and seeking help to overcome it. Good for her!
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I have a tendency to pass out, or at the very least go weak and hysterical, in the presence of a clown (oh, how I wish I were kidding). And like Lisa, you learn to just avoid what I consider locations of clown likeliness: carnivals, parades, circuses. I'm not frightened of a single other thing, and I realize, when not confronted by a clown, that coulerophobia is ridiculous...but when confronted with a clown my body and mind disobey and the crippling fear takes over.

Incidentally, the photos of clowns in this posting (which I very quickly scrolled past while looking away) were a bit of a, um...well, I made a little scream noise and had to take some deep breaths, and I'm at work. I won't write, "Please don't do that," because it's my problem to work out, but you should warn a sister before you go throwing especially scary clown images all willy nilly.

I hate my stupid phobia.
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I am 31 years old, and am horrified of clowns. Like Karen mentioned earlier, I was afraid to watch the video too. I have been afraid of clowns as long as I can remember. My earliest memory of fear of clowns was Poltergeist, when the clown grabbed the little boy under the bed, but my mom said she thinks it was before then, at a festival, when I was in a stroller. Happy clowns scare me, Bozo, could NOT watch that when I was little, still can't. I will have nightmares. If I see one on TV, I have to turn my head. I went to a rodeo when I was younger, and the clowns were shooting the guns, maybe that is another reason. I don't know.
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I'm creeped out by photos and thinking about clowns - I'm extremely uneasy with them within eye sight and 100+ yards away - I'm heading for the exit if they are within 100 yards or closer. I don't have the displeasure of coming in contact with them, as I hate the circus (animal exploitation and all that) so I don't see them in person.

I don't think clowns are evil - they are just regular people trying to entertain. I can respect that. The common theory about the inability to judge expression is my reason. I watched Bozo on TV and was OK with him, he was pretty straight forward, always smiling within the painted smile and moved pretty slowly/consistently. But clown in real life move around quickly are always popping in here and there, trying to physically touch you to draw you in and they are not always smiling, but that big painted on smiles seems like a trick. On a pure instinctive level, it's alarming! I really don't know what I'll do if one gets too close to me without me knowing and starts all that grabbing/goosing crap - he/she might be going down. But I can usually move out of the area, not make eye contact and clear out. Nobody knows and I want to keep it that way. I hope I'm never forced into an up-close encounter with a clown. BUT!!!! I have to confess that I do LOVE seeing a group of clowns doing the whole pile out of the tiny car thing and clown around with each other on the brightly colored costumes/wigs, etc. BUT!!!! They are faaaaar away, waaaay down there somewhere and I can't see their faces. Again, I appreciate what they are trying to bring to the world, but they creep me the #$%@! out...
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This os how I feel. Imagine a guy with a plastic bag over his head wearing strange clothing. He gets out of a small car. He procides to make strange gestures to small children grabbing there arms shacking hands. well spraying people with soda.
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My brother's coulrophobia stemmed from a nightmare scene in the movie "The Brave Little Toaster" in which a clown threatens the toaster with a water hose and forks and such. Even Ronald McDonald gave (gives) him the willies, although he has partly overcome the phobia.
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I can explain my fear of clowns quite easily.
i saw a clown when i was like 4 years old it didnt freak me out that much but then like a couple months later i woke up to find my big sister watching IT pennywise and the clown i saw were practically identical. As i got older people were like why dont you just metally kill them everytime you see one? Yeahh no matter you do to a clown they just keep on SMILING!! that freaks me out more than killer clowns
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My phobia began in the infant school playground when a boy came up to me and removed the Guy Fawkes mask that he was wearing right in my face. Immediately I last the power of speech and many years of speech therapy restored it but, 50+ years later I still have a slight speech impediment.

I could never go to the circus and even when my parents tried to introduce me in private to the man, who I knew, behind the Santa Claus costume at a church Christmas fayre, I still bolted from the hall when he arrived 10 minutes later; and I knew who was behind the whiskers.

Many years later a similar thing happened to my son in a local store. I told the child off which started a spat with his mother who couldn't or wouldn't see the postential harm. Fortunately the effect on my son was transitory.

It might seem like harmless fun to many but I would caution anyone because of the potential harm. Also, street robbers use masks to hid their identity and that can exacerbate the problem for coulophobics. But I doubt if crimminals could care less.
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Clowns are not natural. That is why I HATE them to death. They are unhuman, and are too crazy to be human. If you ever run into one shoot it. Clowns are its not humans. ITS people get it right geeze!!!! Kill he clowns!!!!!! make them go away!!!! please.
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I am deeply terrifies of those sick too happy freaks of nature, I can't even stand to look at a cartoon drawing of one, they keep smilong no matter what you do to them, they deserve to die! its insane how my fear arrects my life
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I am deeply terrifies of those sick too happy freaks of nature, I can't even stand to look at a cartoon drawing of one, they keep smilong no matter what you do to them, they deserve to die! its insane how my fear affects my life
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Well i am really uneasy around clowns. When i see the happy clown i often think of crazy people who smile all the time and do lots of irrational things, plus if a clown kills me, no one would think of them because they are so "happy" all the time, and then the sad clowns are even worse, they look as though life is going so crappy for them that they will kill you and themself for some satisfaction. It's something about them clowns that makes me wonder who was the first person that decided to put oh 50 tons of makeup, have a distorted and permanent smile, frown or sad face and that makes people happy.

It's weird to me...........
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I am 25 yrs old and scared to death of clowns.. ALL clowns.. i had to cover the pictures and not watch the video.. a few yrs ago i had told my husband (at the time)that i was afraid of clowns.. he didn't believe me and when we were in the Halloween store at that time there was a little boy trying on a costume;i was down another isle and he called me over to him and when i got there he moved out of the way and there was the little boy in a clown costume.. I ran out of the store crying! My bf and i were talking about clowns and i told him i was afraid of them and he laughed until i told him how serious i was... then he apologized...
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i am not scared of clowns actully i am not scared of anything to be honest.

snakes x
spiders x
clowns x
dogs x

absolutly nothing xxx cheres
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i honestly feel her pain. i have a really bad headache from clenching my teeth and i was near tears....i'm alot like her, i can't even be around clowns they freak me out way to much. but me i would have run out of the room crying...i avoid parades rodeos, carnivals, and anything i know where a clown will be. i can't even watch movies with clowns in them without freaking out and having nightmares for weeks... and ive always been like this, when i was little my parents had to force me awake one night cause i was screaming bloody murder and yelling clown(litterally like i was being killed)..but i could not remember the dream..
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hello there ive just come across this site in hope someone will help me all tho i have a phobia of clowns it doesnt stop there.
my phobia is of anyone or any think dressed up
to a clown to superman to even a child wearing a batman custum as i havent found anyone with my phobia as of yet.i am hoping if anyone knows of it and knows any name for it.the actually phobia as got worse as i got older and i am now 26 and it is still getting alot worse as i get older.i do have a 4 year old son and its not far on him so please can any one help or point me in the right direction please any help would be great thank you
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Clowns creep me out. And I don't mean in the 'Oh! Their so creepy, but not scary!' I am scared to death of clowns. I can't even look at a picture of a clown without feeling like i'm going to puke and scream at the same time. A feeling of need to get away from the tv/picture/clown in question arises. It's horrable. This fear for me has ALWAYS been here. I found out about it at Kings Island (an amusment park) once. And ever since then i've steared away from them. I hate having this fear because a lot of people find it funny. My dad is always drawing pictures of "Killer Clowns" and putting them in my room. And my mom dressed my sister up as a clown for halloween and made me take her Trick or Treating. So...that's all. :D
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I have a few phobias. Don't like spiders, centipedes, and I don't particularly dig being in closed in spaces where escape could be difficult,i.e. the back seats of two door cars. So I do understand the clown thing. Especially since the John Wayne Gacy horror story. Clowns are creepy because they are masked, and they are usually adults acting like little children, both of which are weird and unsettling. Like most spiders, they are harmless. And so it goes...
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my phobia is unsetilling by killer clowns and scary movies but normal clowns still creep me out a lot (not as much as killer clowns). it all started when i was 3 and i saw killer clowns from outerspace i would hide behind the couch. then when i was 6 or 7 when i saw mr.jingles that was the most horrifying clown movie i ever saw!
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I danced with the devil USMC Vietnam 1968 as Huey doorgunner Marble Mt Mag-16..I can dance with clowns, as long as they aren't pointing a gun at me..
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I'v always been scared of clowns, but from reading the all the diferent comments and watching this video it makes me feel better because I can look at pictures and movies of clowns but if I'm face to face with them I freak out. No offence to the people that have such a serveir fear of clowns but it makes me glad that my fear is not as bad.
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