All the World Loved a Clown

October 17th, 2009
Frank Avruch as Bozo

Frank Avruch as Bozo

The first television shows I recall from my childhood are Bozo the Clown, naturally, and Hobo Kelly, also a clown. Bozo in particular was a beloved, iconic personality. We loved Bozo even though he threatened to blind one of us every episode with that maddening flipping-the-spoon-into-the-glass challenge. He was above reproach.

But somewhere along the line our image of the clown went from cherished denizen of our childhood memories to… something else.

Be a clown,
Be a clown,
All the world loves a clown
Be the poor silly ass
And you’ll always travel first class.

First we lost our reverence for them. Bill Griffith created Zippy the Pinhead in 1971. In 1974, in “The Groove Tube,” Ko-Ko the Clown removes his red nose to light up a cig and read erotica to the kids watching from home.

Once the taboo against clown bashing had been shattered, all hell broke loose, and the clowns came pouring out. In 1988 we were cocooned in cotton candy by Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Two years later Tim Curry traded in his garters for a clown suit and terrorized Derry, Maine as Pennywise in Stephen King’s “It.” And two years after that, in “Lisa’s First Word,” Bart Simpson lies awake, hugging his knees, chanting “Can’t sleep. Clown will eat me”: Homer has rendered the image of Krusty the Klown, Springfield’s beloved Percodan-addicted clown, on Bart’s headboard. And now there’s Zombieland (2009), where zombie clowns represent the deepest fear of the neurotic, reluctant hero, Columbus, Ohio. When there’s no more room in hell, the clowns will walk the earth.

Some things are too bizarre to be make believe. Consider Pogo the Clown, aka John Wayne Gacy, who killed thirty-three boys in the mid-seventies. And then of course there is the most infamous, most murderous clown of them all: Ronald McDonald. Billions and billions served up childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Sometimes reality is scarier than anything dreamt up in Hollywood.

Maybe that’s what makes clowns so damned scary, even to, or perhaps especially to, grown ups. We invited them into our homes to entertain, to delight, and they try to f’ing kill us. They are the wolf in freak’s clothing.

Ready to face your fears head on? Time to nut up or shut up. “Killer Clown Revue,” twisted work by Kelly Hutchison, aka Dark Vomit, frightens children of all ages at Copro Gallery in Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, through October 24.

The Clowns Last Supper

The Clowns Last Supper

You really ought to get down there sooner rather than later. I know that what’s his name said the recession is over, but… come on. Still, a lot of this work has sold, including the veritable who’s who of clowns, “The Clowns [sic] Last Supper,” above, for $5500. These are not your mother’s clown paintings, and they’re going fast.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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