I called up a real clown to get his take, and he told me that you can spot attack clowns by their feet—they won't be wearing the classic oversize shoes.
Some "evil clowns" spotted in southern France. Note the shoes. Photo via Facebook
For my entire life, when I've met new people and arrived at the point in the relationship where we find ourselves talking about our fears, I've come away feeling disappointed. Why? Well, here is a list of legitimate fears: attack dogs, STD tests, that heartbeat moment when you Snapchat your junk to someone and their name begins with the same letter as someone in your family, your house burning down in the night.
Nowhere on that list is the word clowns, because for a long time, being scared of clowns has been the most bullshit fear on Earth. It’s a fear adopted by teenagers who don't know any better to make them seem interesting by association. It’s a fear sprung from seeing a picture of Pennywise from Stephen King’s It and thinking, Yeah, that seems like a cool fear.
But now I’m starting to think that the clown fearers might have a point, because gangs of young men have been marauding around France dressed as clowns chasing innocent bystanders with pistols, poles, knives, and bats.
This weekend, 14 teenage attack clowns were arrested outside a high school in Agde, on the south coast of the country. In Montpellier, a man was beaten with a rod by a guy dressed as a clown and his two accomplices. And last week, a butcher’s apprentice was given a six-month suspended sentence after dressing as a clown and terrorizing children in Douvrin, in northern France.
Some people are saying the worst thing to come out of this is that real clowns are losing work. To them, I say: "Why are real clowns still a thing?"
“The best thing that could happen is that people stop talking about them,” says Philippe Herreman, director at Association Ch’tiClown, a social organization that visits hospitals and care homes to alternately cheer and petrify their patients. Going to have to argue with you there, Phil. Going to have to go ahead and say the best thing that could happen with these "evil clown" attacks is that they stop? Because they are the worst? Because getting beaten up by a clown is the worst?
France isn’t even the only place where clowns are getting violent. In London last year, the Met Police were called to 117 "clown-related" incidents, which sounds like an awful lot. Last October, student Alex Powell was unmasked as the infamous Northampton clown, who'd just appear occasionally up to his knees in ponds, waving at people. (I reached out to him for comment but so far he's not responded to my request.) And in December, the Hull Daily Mail ran the immortal headline, "Is there a Spooky Clown scaring people in Hull?"
Was there a spooky clown scaring people in Hull? Many Hull residents say that yes, there was. But do they have an explanation for why there was a spooky clown scaring people in Hull? No, they do not. French police, investigating their own spate of clownings, blame viral videos where someone dresses as a clown and scares whoever has the misfortune to walk alone through a car park late at night. I blame Hull.
Colin the Clown, living that clown life in the 80s
Colin the Clown has been clowning around for more than 20 years, and even performed for the Queen of England. He is not down with the clowns battering people with rods. “Obviously, I don’t agree with violence," he told me over the phone. "Committing violence and trying to blame it on clowns... listen, clowns are about entertaining people and making people happy, and this is the antithesis of what we do.”
Colin was also keen to point out that the clown costume isn’t even that conducive to crime. “I mean, I often wear very big clown shoes, so you can’t run away very quickly,” he actually said. “You could detect a real clown from their proper clown shoes.”
He's right, though ironically perhaps the scariest element of this is knowing that there are people out there right now, not costumed up at all, who occasionally dress as clowns and attack people. Maybe you got the subway into work with an out-of-costume murder clown this morning. Perhaps the person in your work kitchen making coffee is actually a cleaver-wielding assault artist. Do you know anyone hoarding face paint? Anyone who has a series of crazy wigs? Anyone who is especially skilled at getting into and out of a hatchback? Does one of your friends think flowers that squirt water are legitimately funny? Maybe they are a French attack clown.
If they are, have a word. Until then, ban clowns.
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