Listen to this episode of Decoder Ring in the audio player below:
Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin, Slate’s TV critic, takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try to figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.
Today: The clown has existed in various forms for thousands of years. What changed and made so many people suspect and fear them? Decoder Ring traces the history of clowns and clowning and finds that the scary clown and the happy clown are both oversimplifications that have more in common than it might first appear.
Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:
- Loren Coleman’s book Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation’s Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures
- Linda Simon’s book The Greatest Shows on Earth: A History of the Circus
- News post from Coed about Jonathan Martin’s arrest in a clown costume
- WHDH-TV’s Bozo the Clown from 1966
- Clip from The Greatest Show on Earth
- The final scene from the opera Pagliacci
- Commercial for Post Sugar Rice Krinkles, starring Krinkles the clown
- The first-ever commercial featuring Ronald McDonald
- Clown-pranking video: “Killer Clown 3—The Uncle! Scare Prank!”
- Miami.com’s interview with Michael Calkins about Jake the Ringmaster Clown