Clowns have always had a scary side

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The medical term isn't bigfeetophobia or bozophobia. If you suffer from fear of clowns, you have coulrophobia.

According to Macmillan's English Dictionary, the term is based on the Greek word koulon (meaning limb), suggesting stilts and stilt-walking.

"Not all clowns walk on stilts, however, and in fact, discussions of causes of coulrophobia seem to agree that the most fear-inducing aspect of clowns is the heavy makeup which, accompanied by the bulbous nose and outlandishly colored hair, completely conceal the wearer's identity," says the dictionary definition.

The condition is a little more easily explained in children, say psychologists and circus performers. But among adults, when you're supposed to know that the person under the makeup is only trying to make you laugh? What's the problem there?

"Clowns freak a lot of people out," says Matt Walker of the Troubadour Theatre Company. "The makeup is sometimes pretty grotesque." Stephen King didn't exactly enhance the images of clowns when he created the demonic child-killing Pennywise in his novel It. The clown of Todd McFarlane's Spawn is another creature of nightmares.

When he's enacting a "scarry clown," as he has done during the annual Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween haunt, North Hills' Tuba Heatherton frequently gets in people's faces, looking to make them jump.

"A lot of clowning is surprise," says Heatherton, a graduate of Ringling Bros. Clown College. "When I'm playing the Knott's Scarry Farmer, I'll be a very old man, stooped over, moving very slowly and playing a banjo. I'll pull out the same rubber chicken I use for clowning, but instead of holding it up, I'll bite into the neck and blood will come out of its mouth.

"A lot of the same muscles you use to delight people and make them laugh are the same muscles you use to terrify them."

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