This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
“Like many phobias, it usually ties back to an initial encounter related to hurtful and scary experiences,” University of Indonesia psychologist Kasandra Putranto told VICE. “So when a coulrophobic person experiences sights and sounds associated with clowns, it takes them back to that memory.”
This fear can persist into adulthood, Putranto said, and could be triggered by images and further encounters. For those who have it, maybe the best way to conquer the fear is to face it head on?
That's what Nindias Nur Khalika did. A self-confessed coulrophobe, she met up with Maulana, a professional acrobatic clown who has been in the business for three decades, to find out what triggers her fear. They talked about what it takes to be a clown and possible reasons why some kids are afraid of them.
Maulana: So what makes you afraid of clowns?
Nindias: I think it’s the makeup. The colours are so contrasting. And the exaggerated grin clowns draw on their faces is terrifying. I’ve had this fear since I was little, since I saw a clown for the first time in Java. Where I was born, you didn’t see clowns very often. How do clowns decide how to do their makeup?
Maulana: It’s all about altering the expression. We typically extend the under eye makeup all the way down to the mouth. Depending on the expression we’re going for, we draw a smile or a frown.
Nindias: Have you ever encountered someone with a phobia of clowns while performing?
Maulana: Definitely, especially kids under the age of five. Sometimes the parents play a part in instilling that fear of clowns. When my performance rolls around, I use positive reinforcement to gain their trust. You know, by being funny and offering them prizes. Usually by the end, no one’s afraid anymore. It’s also helpful to arrive at the event ahead of time and chat with the kids. Do you have what it takes to be a clown? It’s not easy.
Nindias: [Prolonged silence] I don’t think so [laughs].
Maulana: What if one day you have a child, and they say they want a clown at their birthday party?
Nindias: Of course I would say yes. Maybe by then, I would have gotten over my fear. Is being a clown just a profession to you, or is there something else keeping you in the field?
Maulana: Of course it’s a source of income, but I think I speak for my fellow clowns when I say we take pride in how we entertain others. I think God rewards us for that. Plus, making children happy is its own reward. So, it’s much more than just a job for me.
Nindias: What are the struggles associated with being a clown?
Maulana: In times like these (COVID-19 pandemic), I’m completely out of work. Sometimes it takes a while for me to get my pay, and sometimes I get scammed by clients. But it’s all worth it, because I get to entertain kids and travel. What do you usually do when there’s a clown around?
Nindias: When I was little, I would just avoid them. I never took photos with them like the other kids. Now, as long as I’m not alone, I’m usually okay. Like I mentioned earlier, my childhood fear has slowly changed. But I always try to keep my cool.
Maulana: Are you also afraid of clowns when they’re not wearing makeup?
Nindias: I don’t think so. What scares me is the makeup. I see it as a “second face.” A clown with just a red nose and a wig doesn’t scare me nearly as much as one with a full face of makeup. Do you think clowns are still relevant today?
Maulana: Business has been pretty good. I think clowns will always be accepted as a novelty. Plus, as time goes by, clowns get higher budgets and new tools, meaning they can become more modern, innovative, and entertaining.
Nindias: People usually hire clowns for children’s birthday parties. What do adults think of clowns?
Maulana: A lot of times, when the parents invite us, they want to know our tricks and how we work. Sometimes they get more of a kick out of us than the kids.
Nindias: What inspired you to become a clown in the first place?
Maulana: It was the 90s. My older brother was training to become an acrobatic clown. I lived near a club called the Jakarta Magic Centre, where I started training as well. I went on to train under a man from China in another city. He trained me hard, and I learned everything about how to be a clown. After I “graduated,” I opened up my own clown studio, Family Clown, which is still open today, although I’ve renamed it after my son, Dazan.
Nindias: How long do you think you’ll be clowning around?
Maulana: Until I die. Firstly, I love entertaining people and making people laugh. Secondly, this profession always challenges me. For example, lighting up a room is a challenge in itself.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Faisal Irfani is a freelance journalist based in Jakarta. Follow him on Instagram.