The Impending Clown Shortage

When I was a kid, my family was a bunch of clowns. Literally, my dad and my brothers and I used to dress up as clowns and go to hospitals and take part in parades and such. Apparently we need to get back into it because the nation is apparently facing a major shortage of clowns.

As the “Greatest Show on Earth” returns to Brooklyn Thursday, circus folk fear a national clown shortage is on the horizon.

Membership at the country’s largest trade organizations for the jokesters has plunged over the past decade as declining interest, old age and higher standards among employers align against Krusty, Bozo and their crimson-nosed colleagues.

“What’s happening is attrition,” said Clowns of America International President Glen Kohlberger, who added that membership at the Florida-based organization has plummeted since 2006. “The older clowns are passing away.”

He said he wouldn’t release specific numbers, citing the privacy of the members.

Membership at the World Clown Association, the country’s largest trade group for clowns, has dropped from about 3,500 to 2,500 since 2004.

“The challenge is getting younger people involved in clowning,” said Association President Deanna (Dee Dee) Hartmier, who said most of her members are over 40.

I’m assuming they’re not counting the 535 members of the House and Senate in those numbers.

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  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    I strongly suspect this goes hand-in-hand with the more general decline of the traditional travelling circus. When I was a kid in the 70s, circuses were still a big thing, with our smallish town seeing three or four a year, always well attended. I can’t remember the last time I saw a travelling circus, and none of my nieces or nephews have ever been to one. The last time I saw a clown on television other than Krusty was two years ago, when Seattle celebrity clown J. P. Patches died and local channels were doing retrospectives.

  • sh3baproject

    i always had a phobia of clowns,not including those in politics. so yea,i am seeing this as a double edged sword.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1092933945 mikegarber

    I’d like to take this opportunity to plug Shakes The Clown http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102898/) as one of my favorite movies. of all time.

  • cswella

    In addition to @1 Gregory in Seattle’s comment, I’d add that fear of clowns and a general distaste for the profession (re: imagery of sad/drunk/pedophile/etc).

    I know of 3 people who have a phobia of clowns. Clowns as a horror device are everywhere.

  • Dexeron

    “I’m assuming they’re not counting the 535 members of the House and Senate in those numbers.”

    Hiyoooooooo!

  • Chiroptera

    Can’t they just put red noses on the current Republican candidates for office? Or do clowns need to be funny?

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    It is interesting to note that coulrophobia is closely tied to age. This isn’t just that children are more likely to be afraid of a clown’s face, it is that older people are much more likely to have gone to circuses or fairs and interacted with clowns, while most younger people have seen clowns only in the context of horror movie monsters.

    This is why I fear the profession probably will die out: with fewer clowns, more people will grow up being afraid of clowns, which will lead to even fewer taking up the calling, creating a downward spiral. I’d like to think that, just as the traditional European circus is being reborn in Cirque du Soleil and similar shows, that someday clowning will experience a popular revival.

  • dingojack

    Perhaps we can prevail on ‘Our Fearless Leader’ to relent and send Alexander Downer to Washington (as he wanted*) rather than London.

    Dingo

    ——–

    * be afraid, be very, very afraid. Coulrophobia is, in this case, absolutely justified.

  • Cuttlefish

    I was guessing this post would be about a handful of politicians announcing they would *not* be running for president.

    Alas…

  • Chiroptera

    Gregory in Seattle, #7: …while most younger people have seen clowns only in the context of horror movie monsters.

    So, you’re saying that my idea of putting red noses on Republican Tea Party candidates is a bad idea?

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    @Cuttlefish #9 – Actually, that was my first thought, too. Especially given how so many GOP hopefuls have been dealing with scandals in recent weeks.

    @Chiroptera #10 – I think it is a brilliant idea. Of course, I’m speaking as one who does not want to see Republican TP candidates get elected.

  • Johnny Vector

    I have it directly from several of my clown friends that the article is nothing but a puff piece with a catchy quote, and is unrelated to reality.

    Certainly in the D.C. area clowning is in revival. There has been a monthly Clown Cabaret for the last 4 years, and the 4-year-old Commedia Dell’Arte troupe Faction of Fools started winning (well-deserved) Helen Hayes awards last year. Not to mention Happenstance Theatre, which just got their first Helen Hayes nomination, and came close to selling out the entire run of their last show.

    So yeah, I’m not seeing the shortage.

  • Phillip IV

    It’s not the first time that there’s been a clown shortage – in the late 60ies, the shortage was so acute that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opened its own clown college to address it. At that point, they had only a dozen clowns or so left – not even enough to fill a car. They closed it in 1997, perhaps it’s time to bring it back.

    I chuckled at this phrase, though:

    “What’s happening is attrition,” said Clowns of America International President Glen Kohlberger

    Somehow gives me a mental picture of hard-faced, somber clowns engaged in trench warfare. Going over the top, making it through the enemy’s banana-peel fields, ripping their over-sized trousers on barbed wire, only to be mowed down by fully automatic cream-pie throwers in their dozens.

  • zero6ix

    I blame John Wayne Gacy, Insane Clown Posse, and Stephen Chiodo.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Warren Zevon warned us about this.

  • Richard Smith

    I think that those who would like to be clowns are intimidated by all the greats. Bozo, Clarabelle, Homey; those are some pretty big shoes to fill…

  • estraven

    Clowns scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I hated them and would dissolve into a quivering, tear-emitting pile of mom-please-get-me-out-of-here if they came up to me at the local fair or whatever. Shudder.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    @Phillip IV #13 –

    Somehow gives me a mental picture of hard-faced, somber clowns engaged in trench warfare. Going over the top, making it through the enemy’s banana-peel fields, ripping their over-sized trousers on barbed wire, only to be mowed down by fully automatic cream-pie throwers in their dozens.

    Here, take this shiny new Internet: you’ve earned it.

  • Chiroptera

    Richard Smith, #16: …those are some pretty big shoes to fill…

    *snicker*

    I hope that was on purpose.

  • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

    I also wonder how much of this is clowns just not joining Clowns of America. Maybe they aren’t extolling it’s benefits to members well enough. I know I’ve passed up membership in several trade organizations for artists because there just weren’t enough benefits to justify the membership dues. I can’t imagine clowning is much more lucrative than what I do. especially in this economy.

  • felidae

    You forgot to include the roster of FOX news personalities in your list for alleviating the clown shortage– the Dooceys would lead the pack along with The Five

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty — Survivor

    I get that clowns are supposed to be funny, but… they’re just creepy! I didn’t much like them as a child, either.