A professional clown reviews Stephen King's IT

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Sep 12, 2017

In both the book and now the smash hit big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's IT, the main antagonist is often not seen as a traditional killer or monster, but instead dressed as a clown. Before the film appeared, clowns said that IT would be bad for the clowning business. Now that the film is out, what do clowns really think about the record-breaking movie?

Charie D. La Marr spent years as a clown, training with Ringling Brothers clowns and then spending years performing in television, parades, grand openings, charity events, stage shows … and bachelor parties. And now she's working as a writer of clown-based, circuspunk horror such as the novel Laugh to Death and short story collection Bumping Noses & Cherry Pie, which won the Horror Writer’s Association New Pulp Award Best Collection in 2013.

La Marr attended the film in minimal clown clothes, and afterward we clowned around about IT, whiteface, and fear. This interview has been lightly edited.

Why do professional real-world clowns dislike horror-film murder clowns?

It’s really quite simple: It costs us money. Parents are the ones who hire clowns to perform at birthday parties and other events. They come out of seeing something like IT, and if they remotely fear or dislike clowns, odds are they aren’t going to have one at their kid’s next birthday party.

There are a lot of party clowns out there. I have known many who made a living at it simply by little ads in shopper papers and word of mouth. I started that way. These are people who can pick up two or three parties on Saturdays and Sundays each – especially during the summer months. It’s big money—all cash and seldom reported.

Why do you think people have a fear of clowns?

Children aren’t born with phobias; they are imprinted on them. In most cases by their parents. And they were imprinted by theirs. I think it is very unfortunate when someone pushes the fear of clowns on a kid. Because the reason we do what we do is out of love. And it’s sad to see that kind of magic taken from children.

It made me furious when parents tried to force a crying child on me so they could get a picture. I would politely whisper to them, “You teach your kid not to talk to strangers and then you get upset when they won’t stand next to the strangest stranger they have ever seen and hug them?”

Most children are not afraid of clowns. They are drawn to them like the Pied Piper. The guise of a clown helped IT to lure children to him.

So what did you think of the film?

I loved it.

I’m not sure I liked the idea of breaking IT into two [parts], because you don’t fully get the idea that the book was really about learning to beat your fears. Each one of them had their own fear as adults, like the fear of intimacy. Their childhood fears—the pirate, etc.—the way IT presented itself to each of them were fears that aren’t real.

I noticed how they tied Bev’s bloody bathroom to her first period and the Tampax. Well done. And in Bev’s case, add to that the fear of her father’s sexual advances. Her fear and Bill’s of his dead brother were the only fears that were actually reality-based. Maybe that’s why Pennywise was able to separate her from the others. And why the two of them were drawn to each other. I think it was.

And I want Part 2 immediately. It is going to be killer.

As a clown, is there anything about Pennywise that you noticed that an average non-clown would not have?

His makeup was all cracked. Did you see that? When you have the same makeup on for like 10 or 12 hours, it starts to crack up, especially if you touch it up. I wonder if the makeup artist did that intentionally because Pennywise had been there every 27 years for a few hundred years at least. Any real clown in the audience caught that immediately.

What kind of clown is Pennywise?

Pennywise is a whiteface clown. Whitefaces had the reputation of being the smart one—the one who played the tricks on the August (fool in German). Whiteface clowns somehow have the same reputation as the Trickster does in American Indian legend. They are coy and sly and you aren’t supposed to know what is going on behind that makeup. The whiteface appears to be “masked.” That is where the “evil” connotation comes from. The Joker is also a whiteface clown.

Pennywise’s upper lip was painted. You never paint the upper lip. It is covered in white. A true whiteface clown has no upper lip.

Have you had any horror experiences while dressed as a clown?

I was hired to clown at a party thrown by John Gotti, and that morning, my car wouldn’t start. I was terrified I’d be late.