Send in the clowns

Amie Richard­son is ter­ri­fied of clowns. So what pos­sessed her to go see Stephen King’s IT?

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Coul­ro­pho­bia: the fear of clowns. While I didn’t know the word un­til re­cently, fear­ing clowns started young. It was the Alexan­dra Blos­som Fes­ti­val, the early 80s, I was maybe 3 or 4, dressed up in white lace socks and black shoes for the street pa­rade, clutch­ing my mother’s hand.

Weav­ing in be­tween the gi­ant horse and rider float with red and white tas­sels came two striped clowns, one rid­ing a uni­cy­cle and the other run­ning be­hind him. The run­ning clown came closer, squeez­ing his gi­ant flower and spray­ing peo­ple in the crowd. I re­mem­ber the chaos as the squeal­ing, laugh­ing crowd dis­persed to avoid the wa­ter, the uni­cy­clerid­ing clown honk­ing his horn and yelling out be­fore col­lid­ing with peo­ple walk­ing be­side the floats.

Sud­denly two white-gloved hands grabbed at me and pulled me into the chaos, lift­ing me first onto the bike with the other clown be­fore plac­ing me up onto the float. I was scream­ing and cry­ing for my mum, who was taken by sur­prise and rush­ing be­hind. What felt like hours was prob­a­bly a few min­utes un­til my mum car­ried me down from the float. I was racked with fear. I dreamt of those stripy tops and white faces herd­ing me into a crowd for years af­ter.

I’m not alone in my coul­ro­pho­bia. Ac­cord­ing to Google, 12 per cent of Amer­i­cans have a pho­bia of clowns, while in the height of last year’s spate of “clown at­tacks”, 42 per cent were more wor­ried about clowns than cli­mate change, ter­ror­ism and death. It ranked sev­enth in the UK’S top 10 list of pho­bias – more feared than blood, snakes and fly­ing.

And for me, other than a gi­ant, intangible fear of re­jec­tion (along­side a long list of smaller, ev­ery­day wor­ries), clowns scare me most. More than rats – though a com­bi­na­tion of the two in a dark al­ley­way would likely see me go into psy­chogenic shock.

But here I am, sit­ting in a movie theatre, on the opening Fri­day night of IT. “I’d like to go to this movie with you,” my now boyfriend had said months be­fore. I barely looked at the movie, only not­ing that it was com­ing out in Septem­ber, and hear­ing that he wanted to go to a movie with me, in Septem­ber, when it was April, sent me into a flut­tery, gooey mess.

When we watched the trailer, it sparked a dif­fer­ent type of flut­ter­ing. But I made ex­cited sounds and de­cided that if I was still see­ing this re­mark­able guy who made me laugh af­ter months and months of sad­ness, then watch­ing a clown-faced mon­stros­ity at­tack kids on the sil­ver screen would be a fear I was will­ing to face.

The theatre goes black, the mu­sic starts. I’m ter­ri­fied, wait­ing for the first sight of Pen­ny­wise, the danc­ing clown. The lit­tle boy in the yel­low rain­coat chases his paper boat in the driv­ing rain through the street gut­ters be­fore it dis­ap­pears down the drain where Pen­ny­wise lies in wait. And there I am, black shoes and white lace socks, be­ing lifted from the safety of my mum’s shadow into the abyss. He opens his mouth and starts to speak. “Here, take it,” he beck­ons. I look over to my date and feel a sud­den rush of safety and as­sur­ance. I sit back and grip my way through the rest of the film, like ev­ery­one else.

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