It has a NAME! Coulrophobia, Fear of Clowns

Dawn Vickerstaff
5 min readNov 4, 2022

How I got over my fear of people in face-obscuring costumes and learned to love Puddles Pity Party.

Terrifying clown

Stephen King had It right. Clowns are scary. They are not expected, not ordinary, and they do things differently from you and me. They trigger that fight or flight response. Not many of them eat children for breakfast but I certainly believed they would, even in my logical, analytical, educated and intelligent mind. Phobias do not yield to reason. Not even when you are an adult.

My fears of clowns included a fear of Santa Claus, separately known as santaphobia (who knew?). I know exactly when that particular trouble started. I was just over two years old, not talking a great deal yet but I remember it, boy do I remember. They, the big people in the house, decided it would be a treat to take me to the gigantic downtown department store where they had the best Santas and plunk me down on the lap of one and see what would happen. This is what happened.

That’s not really me. My mother didn’t dress me in leopard skins but the look on that poor little child’s face just before she bursts into magnificent howls and floods of tears echoes the picture I once had of this very moment.

Why did we think this was such a good thing to do to our children?

For me, that’s the moment that led to a near lifetime of Santa mistrust, suspicion of people with face-obscuring beards, or long hair, masks and make-up that morphed eventually into a morbid obsession with avoiding clowns. I also think the shift into the high gear of total fear and loathing of clowns was helped along magnificently by The Banana Man.

The Banana Man appeared on Captain Kangaroo. I have no idea how old I was then, old enough to sit in front of the TV and eat my cereal with banana and milk. It’s a wonder I didn’t develop a phobia of bananas (bananaphobia — really).

The Banana Man was a white face clown who wore this voluminous robe with HUGE pockets out of which he took any number of unlikely things all the while constantly humming in this haunting, high minor key but mostly tuneless way. It was hypnotizing and disturbing at the same time.

The Banana Man brought out from his robe multiple items ties, bananas, what have you. He also has a trunk out of which he takes pieces of wood, one at a time that he unfolds and refolded in a way to make several boxes on wheels that attached to the little engine he folded out of the trunk itself. Suddenly where there had been none there was a train and its cargo became the impossibly huge bunches of bananas he also pulled out of his robes. All the while his slow methodical movements and his tuneless humming put the watcher into a kind of trance. Then he climbed into the engine which began to smoke just like a real train and went round and round and then off the stage. Perhaps if he didn’t hum like that he wouldn’t have been so disturbing but I found him heart-poundingly frightening and after that first time if he appeared again I’d run screaming before he could start his infernal entrancement.

After all that my family took me to a local tent circus. I sat and watched the clowns while clinging to my grandmother and crying until I soaked her dress. My coulrophobia was in full flower. They never took me to the circus again. Better to avoid such displays then to address the problem and seek a solution. That was my family’s answer but to give them credit, what other answer was there?

I lived with this fear of clowns and as I grew I handled it in a similar way. Circuses were not my thing, I’d say if someone made the mistake of inviting me. I didn’t like horror films so why would I go see ‘It’? Other evil clowns popping up in movies and on TV just served to exacerbate my already well-grown phobia so again I just avoided them. But now, suddenly there is Puddles, a 7 foot clown dressed in Pagliacci white face with a gold crown on his head and he’s adorable.

Perhaps you are one of those who has already been aware of Puddles. Oh yes, he’s been around for a long time. Where have you been? You say. Well, I’ve been living in Britain where America’s Got Talent didn’t float over. But then during the ‘sequestered years’ as Puddles puts it, I was right there, stuck in the States unable to fly home for nearly two years. I could have used Puddles Pity Party to lighten my depressive mood. But spilt milk, right? (See this video for the reference. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=puddles+pity+party+billie+eilish+)

I think I’ve now watched all of his youtube videos. My favorites are of course his cover of Royals which went viral and Chandelier with Post Modern Jukebox (love them) and Malibu which was sung first by Miley Cyrus but the best is Palms by Sxip Shirey. He sings it in front of a circus bus while several of the performers come out one by one to greet him. His reaction to the Lady in Red is heart-rendering and sweet.

I couldn’t seem to get enough of The Sad Clown with the Golden Voice. Cuddles are free and coffee is always welcome. Quirky, wonderfully listenable, emotive and fun to watch. This bingeing on a particular clown seems to have erased any residual coulrophobia. That’s good isn’t it?

He performs all over in places with smaller stages and larger ones for very reasonable prices. He doesn’t gouge his fans. I’m looking for tickets for my friends in the States. I’d like to share the auditorium with them when he comes to a venue near them. It isn’t likely I’ll be there but I can enjoy their enjoyment when they tell me about it. I also hope he shows up here sometime soon. I like his healing energy and what I can see of his ethics through the greasepaint.

Nobody asked me to write this, by the way. It just seemed appropriate that I call attention to a likeable, gentle, talented clown who entertains given that there are so many other clowns in the news that aren’t entertaining at all.

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