South Carolina is currently experiencing some sort of scary clown invasion, freaking out the residents and taxing local law enforcement. While coulrophobia (the actual full-blown phobia of clowns) is relatively rare, it is undeniable that a lot of people find clowns pretty goddamn creepy. And who better to talk to about the reasons we fear sinister clowns than author Stephen King, creator of Pennywise the Dancing Clown from his 1986 novel It?
The Bangor Daily News asked King his thoughts on why people are so scared of clowns, and in an email, he responded:
I chose Pennywise the Clown as the face which the monster originally shows the kiddies because kids love clowns, but they also fear them. Clowns with their white faces and red lips are so different and so grotesque compared to "normal" people. Take a little kid to the circus and show him a clown, he’s more apt to scream with fear than laugh.
I suspect it’s a kind of low-level hysteria, like Slender Man, or the so-called Bunny Man, who purportedly lurked in Fairfax County, Virginia, wearing a white hood with long ears and attacking people with a hatchet or an axe. The clown furor will pass, as these things do, but it will come back, because under the right circumstances, clowns really can be terrifying.
Lon Chaney said (or is reputed to have said), "There’s nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight." Meaning, I suppose, a clown seen outside of its normal milieu, in the circus or at the fair. If I saw a clown lurking under a lonely bridge (or peering up at me from a sewer grate, with or without balloons), I’d be scared, too.