Death of a clown: Why America’s red-nosed ones are disappearing

Older generations of clowns are dying out and young people are reluctant to replace them, warn the Clowns of America

Daub a greasepaint tear on your cheek, for this is no chuckling matter: America may soon be bereft of clowns. That’s the claim being made by the country’s shrinking clown-based trade organisations in a report by the New York Daily News, which warns of an imminent national clown shortage brought on by a decline of interest in clowning, and the advanced age of its existing practitioners.

Glen Kohlberger, the president of Clowns of America International, told the New York Daily News that his organisation’s membership had dropped like a perfectly executed pratfall since the middle of the last decade. “What’s happening is attrition,” Mr Kohlberger said. “The older clowns are passing away.” Meanwhile, he explained, younger potential clowns are being put off taking it up professionally. “They go on to high school and college and clowning isn’t cool anymore,” he said. “Clowning is put on the back burner until their late 40s and early 50s.”

The largest clown organisation in the US is the World Clown Association, which has seen membership fall from about 3,500 in 2004 to 2,500 today. Its president Deanna Hartmier explained most of the Association’s members are over 40. “The challenge is getting younger people involved in clowning,” she said.

Yet with the number of large-scale circuses also in decline, there are fewer opportunities for aspiring clowns to make a living. Clowns in the US can expect to earn between $200 (£119) and $300 (£179) for birthday party appearances, with only an elite few selected to perform at world-renowned circuses such as Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey.

According to Daily News, of 531 applicants to the Ringling Bros Clown College in 2013, a mere 14 were selected to take part in a two-week boot camp, and just 11 of those were offered jobs with the circus, which employs around 26 clowns in all. “Our audience expects to be wowed,” said David Kiser, director of talent for Ringling Bros. “No longer is it good enough to just drop your pants and focus on boxer shorts.”

Though popular culture contains many beloved clowns, the prevalence of malevolent funnymen such as Pennywise from Stephen King’s chiller It has led to a rise in the number of people suffering from coulrophobia, a fear of clowns. In the UK, clowning recently suffered a pie in the face, publicity-wise, from a Northampton man who dressed as a scary clown and terrorised local residents. The Northampton Clown reportedly began a wave of copycat clown incidents, which unnerved unsuspecting members of the public across Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.

However, Tony Eldridge, aka Bluebottle, the secretary of the British clowning organisation Clowns International, told The Independent that there was no corresponding clowning shortage in the UK. “There’s no crisis here,” Eldridge said. “The figures are fairly static. There’s never been that many clowns in Great Britain. We’ve always had around 250 to 300 members.”

Mr Eldridge explained that several of his members have had to go part-time as a result of a drop-off in the number of children’s parties hiring clowns since the economic crisis. “The business was flourishing 10 years ago because people were financing quite elaborate children’s parties,” he explained, “There was quite a lot of competition between families for entertainers.”

Despite the declining number of registered clowns in the US, one youngish entertainer, Jeff Seal, told Gothamist it’s not the clowning profession per se that’s in crisis, but its somewhat fusty trade groups. “There are still a lot of younger people becoming clowns, they’re just not joining the Clowns of America International,” Mr Seal said. “It’s more of a generational thing.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence