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Conversations with Clowns

News & Features | November 7, 2016

Davey the Clown, who runs his personal entertainment business out of Roslindale, MA, has been receiving a lot of phone calls lately. “I’m getting, like, 10 a day,” he said, explaining that the calls were mostly pranks. “It’s primarily kids…they think it’s funny.”

These calls, Davey explained, are a result of the recent phenomenon of clown scares that has swept the US—people dressed as clowns, some with weapons, have appeared on roadsides, at people’s bedside windows, outside college dorms, and on the edge of the woods. In some cases, people have been violently attacked. Coverage of these incidents has reached Time Magazine and Rolling Stone, reflecting paranoia in communities across the country. Reactions have ranged in magnitude, from mass “clown hunts” at schools like Penn State, to death threats aimed at professional clowns, to bans on clown costumes, to prank calls like the ones Davey has received. Without question, people who entertain professionally as clowns have been impacted by this phenomenon.

For Davey, the calls have been the most tangible effect of the nationwide clown scares. He pointed out that they are more than an annoyance—he has a “pay-per-click” subscription to Google, meaning he owes money every time someone clicks on his ad to call, and he is therefore paying for every prank.

In response to this sudden attention, Davey said, “I try to deal with it in as positive a way as possible. I say thanks for the call, and generally I say I only discuss business with adults.” He added, “It wouldn’t do me any good to do anything about it, partly because it would be bad for my business.”

This is one of Davey’s efforts to remain positive, despite the large influx of joke calls and the media frenzy. As a clown entertainer, he tries to carefully consider people’s reactions to his behavior. Davey understands the clown costume and presence as one “close to the human psyche” and therefore “a very powerful position.” He expressed disappointment in the way ordinary people are abusing this power.

The fear clowns invoke, Davey said, is more than a reaction to media like Stephen King’s It—he explained that many children he meets are already afraid of clowns. Sometimes, he said, it’s the makeup. “They’re trying to figure out which of my faces to focus on. Because in clown face you can see the other one if you look close enough.” At other times, though, Davey has even provoked fear without makeup. He recalled being in Faneuil Hall in costume but no makeup; when parents tried to carry their kids over to him, the kids cried more and more as they got closer. He added, “So I would walk backwards, you know, because I don’t want them to be scared.”

In contrast, Davey referenced a time when he was hired to dress up as a witch, provoking a very different reaction from his audience. “They wanted me to be scary, so I dressed up…but the kids couldn’t stop laughing at me.”

Another part of the clown performance that intimidates people, Davey said, is their power. “I play the accordion—I get kids to back me up while I’m playing and we make a parade. I’ve had an adult comment to me afterwards that the kids are so into it, they would follow me into the woods or whatever.” Here, Davey alluded to one of the widely circulated testimonials of the clown scare phenomenon: that clowns in rural areas were attempting to lure children into forests.

Judy “Jujubee the Clown” Johnson testified to a similar responsibility. Jujubee is based in New Hampshire, and has run a full-time business as a “children’s entertainer” for 29 years. “There’s a clown code of ethics…there’s a whole set of guidelines we live by,” she said.

            Davey and Jujubee are both frustrated with how the people dressing as clowns are choosing to disregard the responsibility that comes with it. “What people need to understand,” said Jujubee, “is that they’re not clowns. These people are not clowns. They are impersonating a clown. Clowns don’t go out and deliberately try to scare people—that’s the big thing.” Davey agreed that these people are abusing the power that comes with clowning. Jujubee called the scares “foolishness.”

Besides striking them emotionally, the clown phenomenon has also affected Davey and Jujubee’s finances and wellbeing. Davey had a brighter outlook of the two, saying, “I don’t think this phenomenon has destroyed anyone’s business. In fact, they say all news is good news.” He has had a number of gigs recently, which is typical around Halloween. He has a few friends who are also clowns or entertainers for whom he can attest. (Although, he added, he doesn’t know many clowns because they “don’t know how to stop being a clown, you know, they think because they have to be telling jokes all the time… after a while you feel like you need a drink.”)

Jujubee, on the other hand, said, “It’s sad. It’s been truly, truly a sad situation. It has affected me financially.” She added that she is lucky to be able to entertain in other ways, too, through puppetry or balloons.

The hardest part for Jujubee is a concern for her safety. “I do have to be careful when I go out, which is really frightening, because I drive in full clown,” she said. “There are people out there who have made criminal threats to my life. I have a friend who did an interview with TV and radio, and she had death threats.”

Of course, Jujubee and Davey both are looking forward to a time when the hysteria surrounding the clown scares dies down. They talked about immediate solutions—“I wish they would put a ban on the rubber masks,” said Jujubee. “It would deter a lot of what’s going on. You don’t ban clowns, you ban the rubber masks.”

Davey thinks that it is mostly the media “keeping the phenomenon alive.” Jujubee agrees, referencing movies and even the Food Network’s “scary clown”-themed competition. But both expect things will calm down in the time after Halloween.

For now, professionals like Davey and Jujubee are doing their best to maintain and project positivity. Jujubee joked that she’s “only 4’11,” so couldn’t be intimidating to anyone. Davey added that on Halloween, he would hang a sign on his door that reads, “Davey the Clown lives here, he’s a nice clown, please trick-or-treat.”