Let me make one thing clear right away - I love professionally trained clowns. The clowns at the circus are talented and entertaining. They are some of the best entertainers in the world.
Unfortunately, the greatest majority of birthday party clowns are what are referred to in their own profession as "Chuckleheads." A person who buys a costume and face paint, learns a couple tricks and thinks he is a clown. Chuckleheads even have their own clubs and seminars. Amateurs teaching amateurs.
I would never hire a clown for a party, picnic or other event where the "entertainer" interacts directly with the audience.
The fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia, can cause panic attacks, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea and feelings of dread. It is one of the 10 most searched-for phobias on Yahoo! search engine.
In 2007, The Bestival music festival had to change their fancy dress circus theme after some ticket holders told them they had a phobia of clowns. The festival had originally asked festival-goers to turn up in curly wigs and large shoes.
Psychologists who have addressed coulrophobia say it usually develops out of some traumatic incident in childhood associated with a clown. Loud make-up is important for a circus clown to be seen, but close-up, like at a party, it can be very scary.
After state-funded research found that in a survey of more than 250 children aged four to 16, all disliked the use of clowns in hospital decor, with even the teenagers seeing them as "scary," hospitals were urged not to decorate children's wards with paintings of clowns in case they upset young patients.
The fear of clowns is very real, but just as real is the fact that even children who do not have coulrophobia can be frightened by a clown. An adult with a painted face is very frightening to small children. The face becomes a mask. It can be terrifying.
Add to this, most adults do not know how to interact with children. They get in their faces, are loud and scary. An amateur children's entertainer also lacks the skills to handle giving directions and maintaining control, in most cases. Their simple commands come across as threatening or harsh, and sometimes are. Dealing with children is a skill that must be learned and practiced. It should not be learned on your children by a creepy looking clown.
So why would anyone hire a clown? Oddly, parents think their children like clowns. Some might, but that doesn't mean their friends will. Do you really want to risk terrifying even one child (or adult) at your event by hiring some creep in facepaint?
Children love to laugh. They love silly antics and bright colors. Having an entertainer at your event is a great way to make it memorable. Let's make them good memories, though. Hire a professional magician or balloon artist, not some amateur in a clown suit.
Dennis Regling is a full time educational presenter. His science and math shows have been seen by students in 28 states and over 1600 schools. http://www.greatassemblies.com