Those who make liv­ing clown­ing around aren’t laugh­ing

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Michael Bal­samo

NEW YORK >> Send in the frowns.

This year’s na­tion­wide creepy clown craze has be­come a night­mare be­fore Hal­loween for ac­tual, work­ing clowns, who say their book­ings at par­ties and other events have dropped sharply, even after many of the so­cial me­dia-fu­eled scary clown sight­ings have turned out to be hoaxes.

Some fear go­ing out with their grease­paint makeup and red noses will make them a tar­get of po­lice or even ma­raud­ing mobs who take to the streets on so­called clown hunts.

“It’s def­i­nitely a scary feel­ing leav­ing your house, and you fear you are go­ing to get jumped be­cause you’re dressed as a clown,” says Cyrus Zavieh, a New York City hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tor who also per­forms pro­fes­sion­ally as Cido the Clown.

“You’re there to make them happy, to make them have fun, and now they are say­ing, ‘Aaaag­ghh!’” Zavieh says. “All of a sud­den th­ese sto­ries are put­ting fear into kids . ... Be­fore, they’d just look the other way, but now it’s like, ‘You’re a scary clown and I hate you.’”

The World Clown As­so­ci­a­tion — com­prised of more than 2,000 mem­bers in 30 coun­tries — has been flooded with calls from scared per­form­ers. It’s been send­ing out safety tips, sug­gest­ing clowns con­sider chang­ing into their cos­tumes when they ar­rive at a party or go with a han­dler.

As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Randy Chris­tensen says clowns are also in­creas­ingly get­ting re­quests for “mod­i­fied per­for­mances” in which they en­ter­tain with­out makeup and tra­di­tional clown at­tire.

This week, re­tail gi­ant Tar­get took the step of pulling scary clown masks from its shelves. And McDon­ald’s says its sig­na­ture clown char­ac­ter, Ron­ald McDon­ald, will be keep­ing a lower pro­file.

The fall­out fol­lows a phenomenon in the U.S. in­volv­ing dozens of sto­ries, many fab­ri­cated, about clowns stalk­ing or at­tack­ing peo­ple.

In mul­ti­ple states, peo­ple have called po­lice to report being men­aced by peo­ple in clown cos­tumes. In Ken­tucky, a man dressed as a clown was ar­rested after lurk­ing in the woods. Chil­dren in Ohio and Texas have been charged with mak­ing clown-re­lated threats to school class­mates. A New York City teen told po­lice a clown threat­ened him with a knife in the sub­way.

“They aren’t clowns. They are clown im­per­son­ators,” said Wendy Pin­cus, who has per­formed in New York City for the last 20 years. “We’re here to make peo­ple happy. We don’t threaten peo­ple. We bring joy.”

Pin­cus, whose clown al­ter ego is “Crazy Daisy,” says she’s seen a 30 to 40 per­cent de­crease in just the past few weeks.

Clown sight­ings, hoaxes and pranks — es­pe­cially around Hal­loween — aren’t new. In fact, they’ve be­come a re­cur­ring sta­ple of crime blot­ters since serial killer and work­ing clown John Wayne Gacy was con­victed in 1980 of killing 33 peo­ple.

In 2012, James Holmes dyed his hair red as Bat­man’s Joker when he opened fire at a Colorado movie the­ater, killing 12 peo­ple.

Those high-pro­file cases not­with­stand­ing, ex­perts say it’s rel­a­tively com­mon for peo­ple to feel creeped out by clowns.

“It pri­mar­ily has to do with the ex­ag­ger­ated makeup and features. We rec­og­nize it, but there is some­thing ab­nor­mal,” says Dr. Kristie Golden, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions for psy­chi­a­try and neu­ro­sciences at Stony Brook Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal. “We can be drawn in by that or we can be re­pelled.”

World Clown As­so­ci­a­tion’s Chris­tensen says this year’s clown scares seem to be reach­ing new heights, and he sug­gests work­ing clowns re­pel them the same way they al­ways have, by spread­ing a mes­sage of hap­pi­ness and bound­less.

“Go out and clown and show peo­ple what this is,” he says. “Show them what good en­ter­tain­ment is — show them what a car­ing clown does.”

MARY ALTAFFER — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cyrus Zaveih, also known as Cido the Clown, is pho­tographed Tues­day.

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