Photo via Flickr user timlewisnm
The global clown population is in peril. Not unlike the Mexican wolf or Wyoming toad, clowns find themselves increasingly alone, partly because they’re are almost deliberately terrifying, and partly because this has never been an acceptable career path in the first place.
The World Clown Association, which is one of the largest clown trade groups, has seen its membership drop by nearly 30 percent in the last ten years, from 3,500 members in 2004 to a depressing 2,500 today. Clowns of America International president Glen Kohlberger claimed that clowns are a dying breed, with very few young clowns to fill their giant, squeaky shoes. “The older clowns are passing away. What happens is they go on to high school and college and clowning isn’t cool anymore. Clowning is then put on the back burner until their late 40s and early 50s.” Or in other words, nobody goes clowning until they’ve completely failed some 30 years down the line.
Perhaps it’s because clowns have a bad rap in youth circles. Chances are that if you had to name three clowns off the top of your head, two would be in the Insane Clown Posse, and the other one murdered 33 young men in the 70s. Clowns are inherently scary and fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia. A University of Sheffield study of 250 children ages 4 to 16 “found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable.” Bestival, a music festival on the Isle of Wright, had to scrap their “circus” theme in 2006 after festivalgoers demanded refunds, insisting they were too afraid of clowns to attend.
Besides the fun of clowning around, it’s really no surprise that career-driven kids don’t want to be clowns anymore. The average “event” clown can earn up to $150 an hour, with salaried Cirque de Soleil performers able to make anywhere from $45,000 to $200,000 a year, according to a Reddit AMA with a former acrobat. This is following an intensely difficult bout of clown college, which leaves clowns with a limited skillset applicable almost exclusively to the circus. Although the hardest part is probably not being able to look your own father in the eye for 15 years after telling him you’re going to become a clown.
All hope is not lost, however. Following the original New York Daily News story, aforementioned CAI president Kohlberger contacted Gothamist to clear up a serious misquote. “There is NO fear of a clown shortage in the US. Clown of America International is doing very well, and so are the clowns that are members of it. We are an educational organization that is supported by our members. We are getting new members every day. The economy has effected every organization across the board, and we may have lost a few members because of the economy, but we have thousands of members in the US and worldwide.”
Despite Kohlberger’s reassuring words on the endangered status of clowns, it doesn’t seem to be far off that clowning is on its way out; the statistics on membership speak for themselves. The most important question still remains: What will we as a society do without clowns?