Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, has become the nation’s trendiest phobia, sparked by the widespread sighting of creepy clowns skulking around. How bad has it gotten? Halloween festivals have started to ban clown costumes. Think about that for a minute. Zombies, vampires and Freddy Krueger all get a pass. But clowns? Not welcome.
So I was interested in talking to Charlotte’s Evil Clown, Martin Barry, about his thoughts on the clown hysteria, as well as what it’s like being a clown and the clown community. He’s well known as the long-time announcer for Charlotte Roller Girls but will emcee his final bout Oct. 29. He also organizes an annual Clown Crawl, where participants get clown makeup in exchange for a charitable donation. (More on that later.)
I talked to Martin, sans makeup, at Common Market, where you can see an Evil Clown bobblehead on a shelf behind the register.
What sparked your interest in being a clown? How did you get started?
Actually it was due to the fear of clowns to begin with because I did it for a haunted house. Being a clown in that context was a lot of fun. It’s easy to glance down one side of the line and you see all the people tucked behind each other who are really afraid of clowns, then you come up the other side of the line and get them. It added a new dimension to my ability to scare people. I had the haunted house first and then I adapted the character for the Roller Girls. I had watched some other announcers before I started and you never knew who was talking to you, but you look like me? You can’t miss me. You know who’s talking to you.
Do you work full time as a clown?
No, I run clinical trials on new drugs and devices. I’m a scientist. I work for a contract research organization. We’re like the neutral party. The pharmaceutical company comes up with the drug, we run the study, we report back to them.
Clown-wise, do you have a lot of stuff coming up in Charlotte?
Actually, yeah, I’ve got quite a bit. Nov. 12 is the Clown Crawl. We’re collecting coats and scarves and blankets for homeless people. If they contribute to the drive, then we paint them up. And then we go from bar to bar to bar here in Plaza Midwood.
And then the other things that I have coming up are anything Mandyland Entertainment, I’m emceeing for them. We run themed parties and our home base right now is Visulite Theater. The last one we ran in September was a masquerade party. So it was like a fancy dress ball kind of masquerade and then at midnight everyone takes off their masks. It’s a really good variety. We have live music, we have some burlesque, we have some fetish stuff, we have a little bit of everything. I’m beginning to rebuild and bring my personal haunted house back.
How long does it take to put on your makeup?
About 15 minutes. I’ve done it so many times I can almost do it with my eyes closed.
What do you think’s going on with this whole creepy clown thing?
Initially I thought some of it was a promo for a haunted house, because it seemed like something I would come up with. Put the guys out there a month early. People would be like, “They were right here! They were right here!” And then everyone knows where they were, and there’s your haunted house. Perfect. … But it turns out that a lot of it’s just people copy-catting each other and trying to intimidate people just for no reason. It’s like a wide-spread social experiment. It’s the oddest thing I’ve seen in a long time. It’s almost like Andy Kaufman times a hundred.
I really wish that this mess would stop because someone’s gonna end up dead. If you want to intimidate and you want to scare people, go work at a haunted house and then you get that out of your system one month out of the year and then you go on with your life. If you’re not entertaining what’s your purpose? Standing out there and intimidating people is just bad. It doesn’t matter if you have clown makeup on or not. Intimidating people is a bad thing.
How come you think that so many people are afraid of clowns?
It’s just the same old irrationality of fear. There’s a phobia I read about where people can’t stand to have things to their right. There are weird phobias out there. Coulrophobia is just one of them.
But don’t you think there’s something special about clowns that make people afraid of them?
It’s the mystery. It’s because you don’t know whose face is underneath that. You don’t know if the guy’s really angry when he’s got a big painted smile on his face. You don’t know if he’s unbalanced or something. Maybe he missed his meds that day. You can’t tell because he’s got this big happy grin on his face. Which is exactly why I don’t have a big happy grin on my face. You know what you’re getting with me.
Do you think that makes people actually less scared of you?
Sometimes it does, yeah. I’ve had people who were really intensely coulrophobic before tell me that I’m the only clown that they love. And it’s pretty cool. If I can eliminate fear by doing this, that’s even a better thing.
Is there a clown community in Charlotte?
There’s Carolina Clowns, who are the professional entertainers. They do the kid parties and the face paintings, stuff like that. They’re good for what they do and they’re nice people but I’m not part of them. I’ve had some other clowns in town say “You give clowns a bad name.” But I don’t think I do, because people respond well to me.
So we were talking about people with clown phobias. What about you? Do you have any phobias?
The only thing I’m afraid of is something bad happening to my kids. That’s it. I’m not afraid of anything else.
Photos: Courtesy of Justin Driscoll; Justin Kates; Jasiatic Anderson; Jody Mace