The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Clowns’

Stephen King Says the Clowns Are Nice, and Other News

October 7, 2016 | by

This clown? Totally fine.

  • Today in clowns: you may have heard about the rash of nefarious clown sightings we’ve faced here in the contiguous United States. It’s hard to keep one’s cool with clowns on the national prowl. But Stephen King, who knows from psychotic clowns, has offered a public-service announcement: do not fear the clowns, America. “King’s clown creation, Pennywise, has terrified readers since he appeared in his novel It in 1986. ‘There was a clown in the stormdrain. The light in there was far from good, but it was good enough so that George Denbrough was sure of what he was seeing,’ writes King … But despite his own contribution to coulrophobia—the fear of clowns—King has urged his millions of followers on Twitter not to worry about the rash of sightings across the U.S. ‘Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria—most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh,’ he wrote.”
  • Publishers: it’s time to stop pretending that your short-story collections are novels just so you get better sales. The Goon Squad–ization of the story collection is a complete and utter sham, Michael Deagler writes: “When reviewing a linked collection, a reviewer will sometimes (bafflingly) simulate confusion as to whether the book is a collection or a novel or something in between … It is far easier to publish a novel these days than a collection of short stories, so much so that many pragmatic writers have essentially abandoned the form. Fantastic short-story writers end up spending their careers producing middling novels, and our literature is poorer for it. So in those rare cases when a short-story collection does manage to be published (and reviewed and sold and read by a large number of people), to deny that collection its genre—to call it a novel, as though the world really needs another novel—is to rob the medium of short fiction of a hard-earned victory.” 

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Tears of a Clown

July 6, 2016 | by

Ralph Emerson’s famous photo of Emmett Kelly.

Seventy-two years ago today, in Hartford, Connecticut, someone photographed a clown carrying a bucket of water toward a fire. It’s a surreal image, haunting in the old black-and-white way. The clown is stepping through an arid landscape littered with what appear to be wooden crates, a lone railroad car, and the suggestion of bleachers. As clowns go, he’s the sad tramp kind, a pained grimace on his face. In front of him, to the left, someone is exiting the frame—a portion of a leg is visible—and the clown follows, gripping his bucket, exuding dread. He’s heading toward something unseen and tragic, something almost ghostly.

The Hartford Circus Fire occurred during a midafternoon Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus show on July 6, 1944. Some 167 people died; about 700 were injured. No one knows for sure how it started. Read More »

Pity the Fool

May 16, 2016 | by

From Paris à travers les siècles, 1879.

Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool. —William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

I feel sorry for people who don’t suffer fools. They’re missing out on so much! The quotidian, absurd human comedy; several of Shakespeare’s finest characters; TV. 

I can speak with total authority on this point, because I am a fool. I am also descended from a long line of fools. I don’t mean we’re given to gnomic utterances on the futility of existence: we’re just idiots who don’t know how to do practical stuff. We’re also very prone to prancing around and singing. True, some of us are also asses, a couple are gullible, and a few are jerks—and there are occasional exceptions that prove the rule, like my brother, for instance. But I think fool is our genus. Read More »

Clown Pain Is True Pain, and Other News

May 29, 2015 | by


Hans Breinlinger, Clown mit Spiegel, 1948.

  • Face it, America: ours is a culture that hates clowns. Coulrophobia is real, and it is systemic. But how do its victims feel? “I want respect, and I don’t want respect,” Boswick, a clown from San Francisco, has said. “I want respect for who I am and my résumé and how hard I work, how many classes I’ve taken, and at the same time I think respect for clowning is the dumbest thing in the world. Why would you have respect for clowns? Clowns are the ones who’re making fun of the world. If you respect the clown, the clown’s doing something wrong.”
  • Americans don’t give French Canadians much respect, either—and even if most of that can be blamed on Celine Dion, it’s still time to make a change. We might start by reading Raymond Bock’s Atavismes: Histoires, now available in English: “Readers will need to break through its decidedly specific references: the book, a collection of thirteen short stories, makes few concessions to those unfamiliar with the particulars of Quebec culture—a helpful appendix explains joual cursing (in which equivalents of chalice and host are two of the most vile expletives) and French Canadian touchstones such as the Quiet Revolution, les filles du roi, and the folksinger Paul Piché.”
  • In which Arthur Conan Doyle experiments with drugs—specifically with gelsemium, a dried rhizome of yellow jasmine: “A thick, black cloud swirled before my eyes, and my mind told me that in this cloud, unseen as yet, but about to spring out upon my appalled senses, lurked all that was vaguely horrible, all that was monstrous and inconceivably wicked in the universe.”
  • To look at a list of the most popular headlines on social media is to become deeply sad and afraid: “publications’ sensibilities have conformed to the platforms that send them visitors; their sites have adopted the tone and language of social media; news and entertainment, mixed as ever, now mingle according the demands and preferences of the feeds into which they are deployed.”
  • In Europe, fiction is the new reality in the workplace—if you can’t get a job, you can try to get a fake job. “Inside virtual companies, workers rotate through payroll, accounting, advertising and other departments. They also receive virtual salaries to spend within the make-believe economy. Some of the faux companies even hold strikes—a common occurrence in France.”

The Year in Review (and in Orbit), and Other News

December 10, 2014 | by


The Cocos Fire, San Diego County, May 15, captured by a DigitalGlobe satellite. Image via Slate

  • “Time and again we hear about a new desire for the real, about a realism which is realistic set against an avant-garde which isn’t, and so on … It seems to me meaningless, or at least unproductive, to discuss such things unless, to borrow a formulation from the ‘realist’ writer Raymond Carver, we first ask what we talk about when we talk about the real. Perhaps we should have another look at the terms ‘the real,’ ‘reality’ and ‘realism.’ ”
  • On David Lynch’s paintings and drawings: “Lynch has long been the American director with the most direct pipeline to his unconscious—his graphic work suggests the doodles of an extravagantly disturbed child … The implied or explicit subject of these paintings is often arson, rape, or murder, but in Lynch’s work, merely existing is a violent affair.”
  • The year in satellite images: snapshots from DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 and WorldView-3 satellites captured erupting volcanoes, protests, melting glaciers, music festivals, and, most chillingly, wildfires—from 480 miles up, a landscape on fire looks more like it’s covered in blood.
  • Slava Polunin is Russia’s “best-known artistic clown,” and now he’s taking his act on the road. “His reaction to events, he insists, is best seen in his portrayal of the human condition … He thinks Samuel Beckett ‘had the human condition about right, but there is no need to be miserable about that.’ Audiences watch a mime character preparing for suicide with a noose—and end up cheering a finale involving a ticker-tape storm and giant colored balls, against a haunting, electronic soundscape.”
  • “In a poll conducted by Variety in August, the five most influential celebrities among Americans age thirteen to eighteen were all YouTube stars. Ryan Higa, KSI, Smosh, Jenna Marbles, and other YouTubers with equally absurd names were all more popular than notable old person Leonardo DiCaprio. The highest-ranking movie star, Jennifer Lawrence, lagged well behind someone named PewDiePie, a Swedish twenty-five-year-old who films himself cracking jokes while playing video games. His videos have been seen more than 6.5 billion times, making his the most viewed channel of all time—bigger than Beyoncé, bigger than Bieber.”


The Vestigial Clown

June 23, 2014 | by


Detail from Hans Breinlinger’s The Clown, 1948.

Yesterday, a friend and I entered into a great debate. It started with my question:

“Does the clown exist who could make you laugh?”

He said yes; he thought that clown who does the act with snow off Union Square would make him laugh. (The show is lauded for its masterful clown-craft and its evocation of childlike wonder.)

“Okay,” I said, “has a clown ever made you laugh?”

“Of course not,” he said.

Does anyone expect to be amused by clowns in this day and age? We all know that clowns are creepy, clowns are scary, clowns are lame—but that understanding has always been predicated on the understanding that, like dolls, clowns are supposed to be happy, fun, innocent. Thus, when a clown goes psychotic, it is doubly terrifying. Or it was thirty years ago, at least. Now, in a world of John Wayne Gacy and It and Insane Clown Posse and Diddy’s coulrophobia-driven “no clowns” rider, we expect clowns to be sinister.

Take this recent survey of kids in children’s hospitals, a historical clown stronghold:

More than 250 children aged between four and sixteen were asked for their opinions—and every single one said they disliked clowns as part of hospital decor.

Even some of the older children said they found clowns scary, Nursing Standard magazine reported.

The youngsters were questioned by the University of Sheffield for the Space to Care study aimed at improving hospital design for children.

“As adults we make assumptions about what works for children,” said Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer in research at the university.

“We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them frightening and unknowable.” 

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