I think millennial sexuality was very influenced by Tuncurry. Welcome to You're Wrong about the show where we made an episode and then we made another episode and we kept making episodes, and this is our 100th episode. Oh, my goodness. I'm very proud of us. I had vague ideas.
I was going to bake a cake for this moment. Now, just sitting here drinking a Diet Coke in my closet. But that's kind of like a cake, though. I think Congress could agree that it's the same way ketchup is a vegetable.
I am Michael Hobbs. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.
I'm Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the satanic panic.
And if you want to support the show and get cute, bonus episodes were on Patreon at Patrón dot com slash. You're wrong about and lots of other places. And I'm going to cut this little intro short because we have stuff to discuss.
I mean really just the one thing we but like we made it this far and yes I am, I don't know, I just wanted to take a moment to commemorate that, you know, that I'm very interested in, like, marking occasions. Yes. I love holiday episodes. I love anniversary episodes. I love 100th episode bursary. Yet episodes.
I was not aware that this was our 100th episode, actually, but then you told me and you said that we should record a special little intro to this episode. So this is what we're doing.
This is here we are. And here we are for it. Yeah. I mean, this might prove contentious because what I did was I went I started the first episode and then I counted everything we've done that isn't putting like an episode where we were guests on another show or something like that into the feed or rereleasing something. So this is the 100th and sense of us releasing entirely new material.
That is absolutely absurd that we've done this many episodes of the show. I never thought we were going to do as many.
I don't think I had thoughts about it specifically. I just felt like you were clearly confused for wanting to get this project with me. And I was like, well, let's see how long this lasts before you figured out what a mistake he's made. And it's been almost three years.
And I still have to realize that I have something to discuss today. Sarah, I've called you here for a reason.
You figure figured out that I've been tricking you into thinking that you like my work.
Oh, well, so what are your 100th episode thoughts?
I mean, I feel like we have grown a lot, and yet I also feel like I am excited for what we're going to learn in the next hundred episodes that we do. And I guess I just wanted to share that feeling.
You know, I feel like we had one idea or a vague idea of the kind of show we wanted to make when we started doing this and that that sort of evolved over time. And that, you know, to me, the funniest thing about how this all started was that, like, we never or at least I never imagined that it was going to be funny. Like, that was never. Oh, yeah. But we had like. Did you have thoughts about that?
I mean, the early episodes are so different than the episodes now.
The the way we do research is different. A buddy of mine the other day was asking me if I could share my notes for the going postal episode, which I think was our second episode with him.
And I sent him the document and it was nine pages long, like thirty nine pages, which is like the cutest shit, which which, you know, out of context is a reasonable number of pages. Yeah. How many how many pages of research do you have for your Tuskegee episodes.
It was one hundred and thirty one pages for the Tuskegee episodes and usually like 75 to 80 pages of notes now for an episode. So we've just gotten more ambitious.
It feels like the sort of the stakes are higher because we there's people listening now. I mean, we thought we were doing this like our moms.
We were doing it for our moms for a few laughs there. And like what? What a different time. I know.
And now people listen and people who have people who we have mentioned on the show have gotten in touch with us and people who are experts in the subjects that we discuss have gotten in touch with us.
Like it really feels like a completely different level of responsibility to do a show that people are actually listening to, which is actually really great.
It's a great accountability mechanism for when we're researching the show.
But it also just makes me like acutely aware of this when I'm doing the research that I really don't want to fuck up basic stuff which does not stop me from fucking up basic stuff to be clear.
But I try really, really, really hard not to get stuff wrong because I know that people who are real experts are listening.
Except when you mention sports, which you do not give a damn about.
I refuse to do research and I refuse to learn.
I mean, it's funny because I feel like I have gotten less anxious over time in a way that's totally counterintuitive. Oh yeah. Because when we started off and no one was listening, I was working very much in the mode of an S.A.S., which is where you're like, OK, I'm going to have a thought, my my tender, little fragile thought and then I will nurture it like a seedling in this little yogurt cup. So like when we started doing episodes, it was like the most horrible feeling to let something out into the world when I hadn't been working on it for like a year of my life because I was like, I have no idea if this is.
And I realize, like, how weird I had gotten about my work because yeah, because I didn't think of myself as a perfectionist before, and then I was put in a position where I had to, like, release an episode, you know, where I had done my due diligence.
I had done my best. I had done a ton of research, like I felt secure in the work I was doing. But I also did have to accept in a dynamic way that, like, it would never be perfect and like there would be mistakes and there would be misinformation that would sweep in. And you don't, like, stop forever.
This is kind of a theme in so many of our episodes.
The idea of like what kind of harm can journalists do if they're not conscious of the powers that they wield? Yeah, and it was like this hurricane of like my own very personal and like self obsessed hangups and perfectionism directed at myself. I had teamed up with this idea of, like anything less than perfection will tear families apart and put people in prison.
It's nice now because now you have no editorial standards whatsoever. It's been really nice watching that transition happen.
Yes, I no, but I mean, with as you know, what's happened is that, like, you have had to, like, drag me like a terrified dog, like through the process of like returning to work as a place where you feel a great sense of responsibility and you understand the seriousness of what you're doing. There is something between slipshod hurried work and absolute perfection.
And like there is a place for us in it, you're never going to feel one hundred percent secure in anything you release into the world. But like, if you are working with a partner who keeps you accountable and who you trust, then I don't know. I'm pretty happy with that.
I hope you find that partner some. Oh, shut up.
I wish that you would be it would be great.
I feel like you're like Paul Hollywood being like it's a bit treacly. I don't know if that's how he talks. I know he's British.
That's a, um. Do you want to talk about the next hundred episodes? Yeah. Yes. What what are what are our plans and goals.
So plans and goals. I want to do more stuff. I'm talking about how a classic horror characters came to be. I want to talk more about problems with the justice system. We've been talking about doing stuff on like junk science and forensics for a while. And I've shied away from that because of all the reasons you just talked about.
Yeah, because I'm not worthy, I, I want to keep doing book clubs. I feel like that was something that we started doing out of necessity and quarantine times because it was just like hard to have the brain space to like research episodes like normal for a while. And then that was something that people liked and that we really liked doing.
We also have some maligned women left that we need to talk about. We also really we didn't get through everybody. We also I know there's cases that are important to both of us that we haven't covered yet. Like we both really want to do a series on the HIV epidemic. We want to talk about the Iraq war. We need to talk about JonBenet Ramsey and the Menendez brothers and Leopold and Loeb and some McDonald's hot coffee case and Britney Spears.
We get probably three or four extremely good ideas from our listeners every week. So another one of my anxieties about doing the show is that I used to think that we were going to run out of topics after like three months.
And what the experience of doing the show has taught me is that, like, we may never run out of topics, there's always going to be something else that the media got wrong, unfortunately. Yeah.
No, we won't. We're just going to keep doing this show until we look like the night at the end of Indiana Jones in the last crusade.
And then we're going to, like, give the show to some younger archaeologists. Yes.
So stay tuned for that for our dessicated husks.
And all of this is an intro to our one hundred episode, which is about killer clowns with a wonderful guest.
Yeah, I feel like this episode is like a nice topper for our 100th episode versus cake because it's about a moral panic. It is about issues that are about as serious as you can get. And it's also really ridiculous.
And it's also about the friends we made along the way because this show brought Chelsea to us, right? Yeah.
And this is in the same way that it's bizarre that we've never done a Menendez Brothers episode to this point. It's amazing that it took us one hundred episodes to do a crossover with our beloved sibling show American Histeria. Yeah. And its host, Chelsea Webber Smith, who is about to tell us about killer clowns.
So enjoy. And we will see you for the next hundred.
Yeah, I'll meet you back here at our two 100th episode special. I will make a case for that. I probably I probably will. Today, we have a special guest and a special topic. Yes, we do. Hi, I'm Chelsea Webber Smith and I. I do a podcast called American Histeria, where we cover moral panics, conspiracy theories, urban legends and American fantastical thinking.
All those things come together and we try to explore false fears of Americans and why they happen when they do.
I feel like you're like a carnival barker for your podcast, like the current the millennial power podcast, the millennial carnivals. Hey, come on. Come on.
I, I've been bingeing Chelsea show all week and it is wonderful and people should check it out. But yeah. And we are talking about I would, I would call this killer clowns I suppose. What title would you get this.
I, we called our episode on this Phantom Clowns and I think that's sort of like the original when the original Lauren Coleman is his name, he was the only one really who wrote about the 80s panic, which we'll talk about, I'm sure.
And he called them Phantom Clowns. So I stuck. Yeah, OK.
OK, so I was not aware that there was a panic. I am aware of the phobia of clowns, but I do not have it.
Mike, I'm going to I'm going to do something for you right now actually before we jump into that clown panic. So I have a kid's encyclopedia book from the sixties called Great Days of the Circus.
OK, and I was going to turn my camera on for a second and show you some pictures of clowns and makeup. Are you trying to terrify me right now?
I'm trying to unsettle you, Mike, like always, OK?
Mm hmm. Oh, there they go.
Oh, God. The one with teeth. Jesus Christ. Well, the thing I find really striking about these pictures close in on their face, I think with that made me realize is that like, oh, clowns weren't meant to be seen close up, were they? Like clowns were meant to be seen from far, far away. Yeah.
This is what Trixie Mattel always says about drag queens to.
Right. And that clowns, you know, they have these exaggerated, intense facial features because they're conveying like one basic emotion and sort of like a broad comedic emotion to the back row. Right. I think the circus is also like a scary and dark place that was like sold as wholesome entertainment for a long time in a way that was jarring. Yeah.
Circuses are like genuinely terrifying. Right, because of all the animal cruelty and like the weird economics and labor exploitation, there's so many things to be scared of at the circus.
I'm scared of of how the elephants are suffering.
Sarah, do you have a killer clown thing? Do you have a phobia? No.
I mean, I feel like there are very few different things at play here, right? Because there's like an actual phobia of clowns, which is a name thing. I forget what it's called core Korrell phobia. Oh, nice.
Why isn't it just clown of phobia? There'll be so much easier when they had to make it hard, but whatever. So like. Yeah, this clown a phobia, you know, I feel like there's a lot of media and like cute shirts and stuff in the nineties that we're like clowns are scary huh. Yes. Idea that like it was weird to find clowns scary and kind of like quirky. And even if you like clowns and like I really like clowns actually I think clowns are really neat.
I'm appreciative of the art of clowning. But like if if a clown in full makeup meant to be seen from far away, got in my face, I would be like, please go far away again.
Back are like, tone down your look.
So we're clowns always scary or were they fun for a while. And then they became scary.
They weren't scary before. I think we'll go back a little bit later in the episode to what the clown was before this, but to just sort of start in a really American context and more recently, the 1960s, the experience of the clown was completely different from today. Clowns were not scary, period. I mean, in the sixties, Bozo the Clown who is.
Oh, yeah, absolutely horrifying. He just has like these giant arched eyebrows and big red hair.
And it's just in some ways it's scarier than it. But there was a ten year wait for kids to get tickets to see his live show.
So, like, you start to talk about having a baby and you're like, we got to get in line for Bozo tickets.
What actually was Bozo the Clown? This was like a Las Vegas performer or something. What? I don't even know who Bozo the Clown. What I think you're thinking of Dean Martin.
Well, he was basically just the original clown show on television. So he was a TV show. So he sparked a franchise, which I think is super interesting. They franchised out his image so actors in any city could put on their own bozo show.
So it's like Kamp Krusty. Exactly. It's like Kampschroer. Yeah. I want to get a visual of Boso.
Let's all let's all you need though the clown, because this guy is the archetype for everything.
Scary. I think it came after.
Oh you were not kidding. Like I was expecting. I didn't think that, that I would. I find him scary, but I really didn't think I would find him this scary. Yeah, that's horrifying. The eyebrows are really upsetting.
Yeah, sometimes they're like more arched in the middle, which is like more alarming. Oh, God. It's a really exaggerated big red upturned mouth shape.
Also, the lack of head hair. He has these giant like three foot long, almost like pigtails coming off of the sides of his head.
But he has no hair on top of his head, which is really unsettling, which is.
Yeah, which is Pennywise the clown. Ronald McDonald came out of Bozo.
He burst out of his chest and then scurried away.
Exactly. Willard Scott was the first Ronald McDonald and he was originally a bozo in Washington, D.C. And then private contractors and volunteers everywhere would become clowns throughout the 60s and 70s. And it was like a pretty lucrative industry. You know, we see all these old shows, the clowns coming to birthday parties, and that was super normal. And and one of those people was John Wayne Gacy Jr..
I did not know that he was a clown. He was Pogo. Right?
He was Pogo. Exactly. And Pogo was just something like something he did at children's hospitals and parties and stuff. And he was he was really known in the community as is like a great guy who was great with children and had a nice family and a nice job.
And so, of course, if you all don't know, John Wayne Gacy was a serial killer in the mid to late 70s and he murdered and sexually assaulted at least 33 teenage boys and young men. And their bodies were found in his crawl space under his home that he lived in with his wife. But, of course, like as you might imagine, this guy who dressed as a clown and there's a super iconic picture of him dressed as Pogo the clown, and that was what the media grabbed on to.
That was like the red meat of the story was a killer clown.
And then it was like, oh, the irony like, isn't it strange that he dressed as a clown to bring children joy and was also a murderer? Like it feels like that the media latched onto that came from a sense of like that. It was ironic in a way that it's hard to to connect with now.
Well, and of course, as you guys know, what was happening at the same time in the late 70s was the beginning of like three moral panics, which are stranger danger, the gay panic and satanic panic, the Triple Crown. So a gay pedophile luring children well dressed as a clown is absolutely perfect.
Yeah, that's the thing. Like the clown, I feel like the clowning is has gotten conflated with his identity, with his, like, activities as a serial killer. And it's like, no, I think the clown thing was like heaven trying real hard to be normal. Yeah. And to be a good person and to sort of perform the actions of a good person, like, look good people dressed as clowns and bring joy to the children.
Yeah, he's a community man. Right. But what he was doing is he was getting teenagers and young men to come and work for him, construction jobs.
And that was how it you know, it's like not very sensational. So the media just made him into sort of a killer clown. And one of the best things and I would bet my whole life that this was never said and this was made up. But when he was arrested, he was reported to have said, you know, clowns can get away with murder.
Oh, my God. Yeah. How could you imagine? I know that's so silly.
I mean, like, I sure like it could have happened. Lots of things could have happened, but like.
No, yeah. I mean, that's just like if you're writing like a straight to video horror movie in the eighties, like, come on, come on. How do we end this thing. Yeah. What's the stinger.
Was he a clown for a long period of time?
It wasn't core to his identity. He was more of a serial killer. Yeah, I think children catch snippets.
Right. And they have to translate it through their little seven year old brains.
And they're hearing and seeing, no matter what pictures and stories about a clown that kills children because that was the narrative.
So I think that that seeped into the consciousness of both adults and children.
Right. So the link was made between clowning and killing, right? Yeah, exactly. So it's like you're having clowns and serial killers. Right. So I think these things.
Yeah, they were just a perfect recipe for what would come soon after that, which was the first panic about clowns.
The first panic about clowns. Yes, about phantom clowns. Phantom clowns.
You guys are you guys ready to go into that? Yes. OK, so ready. I feel like we're about to enter the haunted mansion, right? I'm like, I'm so scared. I'm so excited.
So John Wayne Gacy was sentenced to death in 1980 and it was, again, like a very, very public trial. So the very, very next year, it was April of 1981. It was kids in Boston and they started reporting men in vans dressed as clowns that were. Trying to lure them with candy and drinking, ding, ding. So then here's the thing.
So you guys will probably remember how during the satanic panic, the the original mother and child whose names will escape me, who were reporting abuse in daycare, sparked the police to send a letter home to everyone saying, hey, this is happening.
Did this happen to you at the McMartin preschool? Yeah, that was yeah. McMartin was the one where the police sent a letter to all the parents. And we're like these very specific things may have happened to your child. Here's a long list of them that includes, I believe, the phrase anal sodomy. But we don't know. And don't ask your kids about it and don't talk about it amongst yourselves or with anyone else, Robi. And that was a great plan.
So anyway, Boston Public School District sends out memos telling parents to keep a close eye on their children because clowns are trying to kidnap them with.
They literally warned parents about clowns. Yes, they needed to keep an eye on their children because there had been reports of clowns trying to lure them with candy. Oh, boy.
Calls just started flooding in.
There were so many reports that police began profiling clowns and they started following and pulling over clown Mike. And here's the thing. There were like so many clowns.
Yeah, there was a lot of birthday clowns that they pulled over, but they never found anything nefarious. And if you're driving between birthdays, I mean, it's like you're not you're just going to be in makeup.
Yeah, well, they write it is very similar to the sort of child sex trafficking panic that we have now where you're like someone trying to traffic me at the grocery store and then you hear the actual story. And it's like a person came up to me and asked for directions. Yeah. And it's like this completely normal story. I can see that being the same thing that happened then. It's like I saw a killer clown, but it's actually literally just like a 40 year old man in clown makeup driving from one party to the other.
So, OK, so more sightings happened. They started happening all over the northeast, sort of. And even in the Midwest, like Kansas City, there was a clown chasing children with a sword. This is my favorite one in Boston. The day after the story started airing on TV, they were called to the park to investigate a clown that was reportedly just naked from the waist down.
So I don't know if he was wearing shoes, but of course, there was no pants. This clown identified or found him. So coming kind of at the same time as this clown panic, Ronald Reagan. I think he had just won the election. He was very much a representative of this uncanny valley thing that I think we'll talk about a little bit more later. And people kind of remember him as as having like red cheeks and that like too polished veneer that almost rendered him a animatronic.
Wait, you say Ronald Reagan was a clown, like he fit the clown aesthetic.
So here again, this is just me.
So at the same time, this was happening where he seems like he's a little bit play-acting and some people talk about how he was kind of creepy.
Our first Stuttaford president, this is very cultural studies and I'm extremely here for it. I fucking beautiful like this. Wasn't Ronald Reagan the real killer clown?
I mean, he was he he literally was right. He was he was also this beloved figure because he had been and kind of cheesy movies and his career as an actor and then had been this charismatic megafauna as governor of California and was just very telegenic. I feel like that was something that people are very aware that he was pioneering. Also this like telegenic presidency that was style over substance and had pretty devastating consequences.
I mean, he killed a lot more people than John Wayne Gacy. Yeah. Yeah, there you go. But yeah, he had, like, the red cheeks and his hair was so molded and weird. He did he looked like he looked like his animatronic in the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland also.
I mean, not a lot of people know that Ronald Reagan's campaign slogan in 1984 was Everything floats down here, another hero.
But anyway, I don't know. It's like he had like a very polished veneer.
And it's like this, the creepy crafted perfection of politics. We all see it. And I imagine children interpret it, you know, in a certain way as well. You know what? I'll take it.
I'll take it. Yeah.
Trump also was coming into office as the other clown panic happened. And that's sort of why I bring it up.
It's like the clowns are like a naturally produce, like urban legend warning sign of like, oh, no, we're about to have a really, really bad administration. Right.
Well, speaking of harbingers, shall we go into horror movies?
Yes, my favorite place.
So I think Poltergeist, it was in 1982, so was like right after all this clown stuff. And it was kind of the first representation of a clown being scary.
And it's that clown doll that pulled. The boy I don't know his name, I can't remember under the bed, that was really scary. Do you remember that? Oh yeah. Mike, have you seen Poltergeist?
I'm Googling Clown Doll Poltergeist because I'm still too scared to see that movie. It's a fantastic scene. Then I'm going to describe to you verbally because I don't want to ask you to see it. No. It's this beautiful, suspenseful scene where the boy is like looking under the bed. You're like, sure, there's going to be something under the bed. He looks down, there's nothing there. And then he like gets up and they close behind him.
Yeah. This is the stool that I have in front of me on Google Images. It looks terrifying. Tell us about this clown.
It seems to be made of like porcelain or something Plastiki. And it's got like a big toothy grin and big bozo eyebrows.
Oh, you and like, long arms and legs.
Arms that got magically long to strangle with in the same way like children of the corn is creepy because it's like these images of innocence that are out to kill you. The idea of something that is perpetually smiling while also trying to be is just like the incongruity makes it that much scarier.
That's also why dolls are creepy. I think we're so naturally afraid of things that can't feel empathy. The very basis of our communication with people is like, what is your facial expression? Right. And if it's incongruent with the actions, then you're like, oh, you're like super dangerous. You're not committing an act of passion. You're not like punching somebody because they said something mean.
You're like calculatingly wanting to harm anyway.
So back to horror, because Steven King then published it in 1986 and then, of course, Pennywise the Clown, who now has become a new yet again giant cultural icon.
Penny Wise was the central villain. And I think what Stephen King really nailed in this was that the clown morphed into like a personalized worst fear of each child. Yeah. Is there anything that you want to say about it? Like what was your experience originally? Did you read the book or was it more the movie for you, Sarah?
It's funny, I didn't see the movie or read the book until I was like in my late 20s. And that book features protagonists who start out at 11 years old when we first meet them and then we return and they're like, thirty six. Thirty seven. Yeah. And there's a real theme of repressed memory. They're like, I really wondered how much Stephen King kind of was influenced by the zeitgeist in telling a story about these characters who basically did battle with this shapeshifting monster who often took the form of Pennywise the Clown and who didn't remember any of the first time or didn't remember their childhoods in this town or this friendship that they had with each other.
And then the memories come back as they come back to fight yet again. And repressed memories are so central to the satanic panic. So this feels like a satanic panic and farm story to me, too. What do you think about that?
I think about that all the time. Every single morning I wake up and say with Stephen King influenced by this enigmatic.
Yeah. And then into your skin care. And they're like, but he was yeah, he totally was.
I think he had to have been informed by every every moral panic that was going on at that time.
I wanted to also mention that's a good transition because Pennywise, I believe, was also influenced heavily by Ronald McDonald.
And I have proof I found an old McDonald's commercial that very, very closely, in my opinion, resembles the very iconic scene with Georgie, who's the younger brother of the main character who goes missing. We see him meet Penny Wise in the sewer.
Oh, my God. I want to see Ronald McDonald in the sewer so bad.
OK, so I think we're going to show I think we're going to let Mike take a look at that, right? Yes. I mean, OK, ready? Yes. One, two, three.
Isn't that McDonald's hamburger delivered by Georgie, don't you want to know?
Mom told me never to talk to strangers. Yes, I. Wow, your brother is always very wise, very wise.
I'm rather ruparel about a few. I George, from Penny Wise dancing, playout. You. So now we know each other, you know, thank you, you really honor Ronald McDonald.
Oh, God, I can't tell which one is more terrifying.
Yeah, and I think the thing about Pennywise, too, is that all of these characters who come back home as adults are confronting Pennywise at the same time that they're confronting their childhood traumas. And, you know, the dynamic trauma that they still carry with them from childhood that they have maybe repressed are not dealt with, but like their home and it's back and Pennywise is still in the sewer. Like, I feel like Pennywise is so effective as a scary monster because, like, all scary monsters that, like, are sticky and, like, stick in the culture.
The thing to me, the thing about Pennywise is that he's synonymous with childhood trauma, like you manifest as your worst fear and he knows how to terrify you with his knowledge of what your parents did to you or of what you have of the worst traumas that you have experienced. And so to be afraid of Pennywise, it's not silly, right? Because Pennywise is connected with with human trauma itself.
Right. So a lot of people blame the book for the phantom clown panic.
But obviously, as we see it came five years later. So we're going to jump forward a little bit to 2008 just to sort of show how clowns have transformed from jolly happy children's entertainers to it really, really scary. So there was a study conducted in 2008 where they polled 250 children who were aged four to six, and they were trying to decorate a hospital wing for children and they were trying to figure out how the children would like the decor to look.
And every single child said that they did not want clowns to be part of the Dicle are why every single child.
So it's like the end of clowns as child entertainment. It's the end of clowns as pure happy fun like that just isn't a thing that exists anymore.
It's always complicated. I bet a lot of professional clowns hate Stephen King. I wonder, can we do.
I know that this is a little out of order, but can we go a little bit into the history of the clown? Because we talk about like clowns used to be lovable childhood entertainers, but that's not what they were. They do this ebb and flow thing because the archetype of the fool, right, that stretches across time. It dates back to ancient times and across most, if not all cultures.
There is this sort of creation known as the fool or the wise fool, like a court jester type of situation.
Yes, this is so interesting to me. Ancient Greece had an actual profession where a man would come to funerals and do impressions and crack jokes at the expense of the dead person and make fun of the mourners and the family.
So it's like a funeral slash roast. Yes. So essentially this clown would show up and do that. And sort of the idea was that if you're roasting dead people and the community that's mourning, it would help vent the anxieties about death and what sort of this transgression it really helped to vent sort of the darkness and sadness of death. Right.
That's also the origin of your mom jokes. Exactly. At people's funerals. Just fucking brutal.
So the other routes, like you mentioned, Mike, are in, you know, the royal kingdom in England and clowns were known as court jesters and also wise fools.
And they were really respected because they as much as they were goofballs and joked around, they also were known to hold kind of like a crude wisdom.
They were allowed to make fun of the king without being tortured or killed. And they not only that, but they were political advisers to the king because they were allowed to speak plainly.
I mean, it's sort of similar now to this stance that people like Jon Stewart take where it's like, oh, I'm just a comedian. I'm not really a political actor when humor has always been political and humor has always been profoundly influential on the way that we think about things.
Right. And the idea that humans, like, used to be fundamentally different, you know, in this like deeply human way, it's like. No, like this is why to return inevitably to the topic of scary movies like scary movies to me are much scarier when characters are telling jokes and behaving like human beings. If they're like grim and like serious the whole time, I'm like, well, this really takes me out of it because, like, I wouldn't be like that, which is why The Blair Witch Project is so scary, because they're like telling silly jokes and yelling at each other like human beings do under duress.
So this is just another fun fact. This was actually found out because my partner, who's a producer on her show, also was reading about the history of circus music. She informed me that the classic clown song and you know, it is a loop doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
The classic clown song loop doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
It's beautiful. So. Song was composed in 1897 and Czechoslovakia, and its original name is The Entrance of the Gladiators, and it was a military march, played like was played really slow.
So it was like, dun dun dun dun dun. No, no, but get ready for this. When the clowns came out and used it, it was like it was like a faster tempo. And when the clowns come out in the circus, the name of the song they come out to is called A Scream, and they say they're not trying to be scary.
Yeah, that's amazing. It's perfect. Yes. Like, I don't think anything has ever made me so happy. So obviously, this started out as like an ironic thing because people were like, oh, it's so funny.
They're playing our old favorite song.
We do do it a little too fast. Like, that's so weird and ironic. Yeah, it's like running for a serial killer to clown and his free time as opposed to just being appropriate.
So now I want to talk about one of my most favorite things in the world. And maybe you guys have talked about it, but it's the uncanny valley.
We have not we have not talked about that on this show.
So please take us there. So the uncanny valley is an aesthetic theory that it's that thing where you are witnessing something that's human or like a humanoid and it's close.
It's like human, but it's not.
And it's what inspires like eeriness, that discomfort you feel when looking at animatronics or dolls or clowns, like when you check into a nice bed and breakfast and there's a Victorian doll and a chair facing you as you got into bed and you're like, I'm just going to turn this object around.
It's like the idea that when something is distinctly not human, it's less unsettling than when it becomes closer and closer to being realistic. I think of it as like the difference between The Incredibles and The Polar Express. But in The Incredibles, all of the humans are super stylized. Yeah, no one is fooled. They like, are those real humans or not.
But then the Polar Express, they're trying to be like, you can't even tell that it's a computer, but you fucking can. And it's weird.
And it evokes a feeling in us of like, I don't know how many are you or things and how many of you are human. That's exactly what it is.
And so the uncanny valley has like nobody can say definitively what it is, why those things creep us out and make us feel really uncomfortable. But there are a few theories that I think are really interesting.
One of them is that perhaps it looks to us or may remind us of a dead body which we want to avoid, or someone who may be infected with something like rabies. We are naturally repelled from things that could be dangerous. Another theory is that it has to do with empathy. So these things that are a little inhuman are more difficult to empathize with or read empathy from.
There's like a feeling of being like a little bit soulless. So there's a lot of trust that we're naturally biologically programmed to have when we're like there's something off here. And it could be something that's dangerous.
Right? It's like when somebody doesn't blink. Yeah, like Charles Manson. Not a fan of blinking. Unsettling guy. Yeah.
So now this is the part that I love the most about the uncanny valley, the theory that I love the most. And it has to do with like what is what is creepiness. Right.
What is eeriness. It's different than fear. We know that it's a completely separate feeling.
Right. So we think of creepiness sometimes as like, say you're on a bus and there's a dude staring at you. Right. Like you're not purely scared. You're just like creeped out. Right. It's about assessing a threat. So our social norms say that we can't scream and freak out because that would possibly be rude or it would be outside of what's acceptable.
So we kind of sit there and we're just doing this like reconnaissance. Right. So we're keenly aware of this threat and we're watching for more information. And so it kind of creates like a little bit of an error message in our brains because we don't know what to do. So it's kind of like a creepy threat is ambiguous, right?
Clowns are a good example of this, of course, because they have all of the features of humans, but they're all a little bit exaggerated.
They're just a little bit off like their eyebrows are really why their smile is really wide.
It feels to me like now the well is poisoned.
I feel like people now associate clowns with freakiness more than they associate them with joy and happiness and kids birthday parties, right? Absolutely.
And then there's also you guys know about supernormal stimuli. What I know and I think this could explain why clowns have been beloved and despised. So we got the uncanny valley on one hand.
On the other hand, we have this thing called supernormal stimuli, which is it's a psychological concept that explores how we are naturally more attracted to things that are exaggerated and blown up, which is like Disneyland. I want to watch these sort of. Dramatic, you know, theater, the history of art, we want to see more drama and the main study that was done was with birds. They gave birds that had these small spotted eggs, giant eggs with giant polka dots on them, and they chose to abandon their eggs and go sit on these other eggs.
So, you know, and they have all these other tests with with fish that have like brighter colors. So it's like we will go to the FAQ if it's blown up and exaggerated. So I think that there's that attraction because the clown is nothing, if not a blown up version of a person.
You know, we were talking about horror movies earlier and it feels like clowns have always been appealing, you know, in a few different ways. But one of them is the way that horror movies are appealing where like, you know, it's just like this anarchic experience of watching someone break the rules of the society that you are in and getting to have some kind of cathartic experience through this. So it's I don't know, maybe clowns are for grownups ups.
I mean, they were as we were talking about, they were not writers, entertainers, I think really until maybe the circus.
But even the circus was like not just for children, but the circus is like you. Everybody goes right. The circus comes and you're like, well, I'm a servant in Hartford, Connecticut. So, yeah, I'm going to go to the circus on my behalf because these illustrated posters have promised me fantastical things.
The circus was for people who fucking hated elephants, that you or specifics wanted to see an elephant and didn't know how the elephant had gotten there.
But I mean, you think about dolls, right?
Dolls have also had this tiny dolls have also had a rough go of it culturally. Yeah. Yeah.
They're another thing that's been ruined by horror movies. Definitely. Chucky was the end of us earnestly enjoying dolls. Absolutely.
OK, how about we talk about the 2016 panic? Yes, please.
I'm not even aware that there was a twenty sixteen panic. I was alive. I did not see this at all. What is this.
What were you doing. It was huge. Is this do I have to be on Tumblr. How do I find this. No, no, no. It was in the news.
It was like I'd say Facebook was the the transmission. You weren't friends with a scared Facebook people. My.
Yeah. So what was what was this? All right. So this game in 2016, a lot of people were like, oh, it's because it came out, but it's not because it came out in twenty eighteen.
So part of what people believe sparked it was outside of sort of cultural consciousness was the low budget horror director named Adam Krauss. He had a creepy clown stand in the street holding black balloons, trying to make a viral marketing campaign for his short film, which was called Gags.
And then a bunch of people called the police and started taking pictures spreading on social media. Another possible beginning point was, have you guys watch? Well, I like you probably haven't. But Sarah, have you watched the Wrinkles the Clown documentary on Hulu? I have not. What is it?
So Wrinkles was this character created by someone who has remained anonymous? He is just kind of seems like a normal dude. And they started filming like creepy clown stuff and spreading it like found footage.
So he put up all these stickers that said Wrinkles the Clown with a phone number and you could call this phone number. And there was a creepy message or he would actually answer the phone. And, you know, he is like a language kind of voice.
And and he also kind of created this idea that parents could call so that to scare their kids into obedience. So parents would actually call and leave messages, not actually wanting wrinkles to come. But you can hear the kid just like crying and screaming in the background is being like, we're going to call wrinkles and have him come over if you don't eat your dinner.
Oh, wow. But it was a a man scenario, right. And it was coming a couple of years before the actual panic. So 2016, we've got suddenly this group of kids in Greenville, south South Carolina, are saying that a clown was trying to lure them in the woods. But in perfect 2016 fashion, it was not with candy, but with large amounts of cash.
Oh, capitalism is so that these these clowns flashed green lasers at them, came to their door and I rattling chains and banging around.
He left a trail of tide pods in the woods for exactly twenty sixteen.
Anyway, of course, in classic fashion, the mom of one of the children sort of fuels this by contacting the local news and coming on in. They interview a lot of the children who are again like about seven years old.
And it's so, you know, he's like that.
I saw a cloud in the woods and he it but it's just really darling.
So what the mother is like, they might she might as well be leading like some new coalition against clowns. Like she's like a mad like Mothers Against Drunk Driving thing going on, Mothers Against Forest.
And so she reports it. So then more and more people start reporting because on the news. Right. And so one woman says there's a clown with a blinking nose. Near a dumpster, but I kind of think it's just this weird attention thing, right, like the poison Halloween candy, you have people jamming tax into candy and then putting it on Facebook. Right. And it gets like 40000 shares or something.
Is there any evidence that there were ever any actual clowns? There is no evidence. But I think that some of it had to be because if I was a teenager and this was going on, there's a part of me that might have, like, done some jokes.
Well, this is the thing is. Yeah, if we're in the middle of, like a clown panic, it actually makes a lot of sense to go dressed as a clown and fuck with people.
Oh, yeah. And I'm sure that happen. So basically, those same children that kind of were the first ones in South Carolina told police that a clown lived in a house near a pond at the end of a trail through the woods, which is so fantastically fairy tale.
That's a Thomas Kinkade painting.
And so the police did find this property and found nothing clown related or threatening. Yeah.
Anyway, it kept going, reporting clowns with knives jumping out of abandoned houses and bushes, chasing kids from bus stops. Teenagers started making threats to schools posing as evil clowns likely to get out of tests.
Oh, my God. Kids did that at my school, too, but they use bomb threats.
OK, so this is the best one. All right.
So this woman said that she was smoking on her porch at 4:00 a.m. and a man wearing a striped outfit and a clown mask and a red wig walked directly up to her, grabbed her by the throat and said, I should just kill you now and then.
Some students and teachers would wish they were never born at the junior and senior high school, the junior and senior year of high school.
Yeah. And then just walked away after that. So, yeah, that didn't happen.
The junior and senior high school like that doesn't even make sense.
It's when people make up stories about criminals. You can often tell when something is sort of a myth made to circulate on Facebook, partly because the killer always like they don't kill you. They say something scary and then leave or whatever. Yeah, I guess like people explain themselves to you and kill you and like say things that are meant to be scary to an audience, like something that you learned from a horror movie.
I can't believe people fell for this. So clowns become a way to get out of school and do local news reporters.
Like I do this thing sometimes where people send me a tip and then I just don't do a story on it because it's fake. I know that they could do that.
But my like, if there is a killer clown out there and you didn't report on it, you feel pretty foolish after he did something terrible of the junior and senior high school.
Oh, my God.
OK, so Penn State 500 students at Penn State went on an actual clown hunt because there were claims that an evil clown had been spotted on campus. There are videos of this. I imagine it was partially a joke. Right.
But but it's still something that people, like know what it is.
And they're like, yeah, those kids did that to distract the cops from, like the meth lab they had in their basement. Yeah, it is obvious.
OK, so Ronald McDonald was put on hiatus from all community events. It was this big of a deal. Oh, in 2016, Yelp. And I don't know if he's been reinstated yet. It's actually amazing to me that he's still around. I thought you'd, I think, would have done away with him years ago.
McDonald's is powerful. Yeah. They need to they need to rebrand. I mean, I hope they don't because I don't want them to do better.
But I think we need more of a I don't know if he's grimace or the grimace, but that guy, the purple guy, I can't believe all this was happening.
And I never heard about it in twenty sixteen. It was a really event for your life that's going on.
Maybe, I don't know. Yeah. So OK, this got all the way to the White House when White House a reporter asked a White House spokesman, John Earnest, for President Obama's opinion on killer clowns.
And this is what the White House spokesman said, quote, I don't know that the president has been briefed on this particular situation.
Obviously, this is a situation that law enforcement is taking quite seriously.
Come on. Wow.
OK, so another example, a mom and daughter call the police on a 12 year old boy who turned out to have autism spectrum disorder and he was just looking to surprise his mom with his new Pennywise costume like this.
Can you look at a 12 year old boy and realize that's a 12 year old boy and it's probably don't call cops on 12 year old boys clown outfits? Well, yeah.
And also, like, if I saw someone dressed like Pennywise, I would assume I wouldn't assume that they were Pennywise himself.
Like, I would be like, oh, that person likes Pennywise and they're trying to be scary, like they're a kid or an educated.
Sometimes it's like, do people think that movies are real? They do make I think they do.
A little girl in Athens, Georgia, was. Actually arrested for bringing a knife to school to fight off supposed clowns, so things got bad, not because there were killer clowns, but because people were reacting far out of proportion to phantom clowns.
So one thing that happened was a 16 year old was stabbed to death by an older man. And we're not sure you can't say for certain why, but he had a clown mask. He's wearing a clown mask.
Oh, the one who got killed or the one who killed him? The one who who was killed. So it was possibly a reaction to the clown mask, but I can't say that definitively. So I don't want to put out any fake news.
What were the circumstances of this? Did they know each other?
They did not know each other. It's a little bit foggy, the extenuating circumstances. But here is a certainty.
So going back to that South Carolina apartment building that kind of helped spark everything, men who lived there, who were told that there were mysterious clowns in the woods, started firing their guns into the woods when they heard.
My guess is that they could not exist. Oh, my God. So we have, like, real danger coming out of this, but not the kind that everyone's expecting, which is always the case with a moral panic and a people being, like, keyed up and ready to shoot you or stab you.
It's so fucking weird. I want to interview one of these people. Like, do you actually think that there's men dressing up as clowns trying to kill children? Is that like the actual belief?
I want to know if they think that they're clowns with magical powers. I feel like if someone's wearing a clown costume, they're just a person wearing a clown costume. Like, I feel like people are treating clowns as some kind of a supernatural entity in these scenarios.
If I was going to kidnap a child, I would not dress in a way that made myself extremely distinctive and memorable and also something that everyone is scared of already.
But it's like dressing up as Jason, you know, to try and, like, crash a fun party.
So did this ever get, like, debunked or did it just sort of fade away? As we got distracted by other events in 2016, it got debunked by Kelsi.
It faded away, as everything does. I think poison Halloween candy is a great example of of a really similar situation where the reports come out. And once they do get debunked, they're no one's interested in reporting that. Or it's a tiny little footnote. What sticks is the sensational media reporting.
I feel like all of us sleep on the combination of fucking local news and Facebook as engines of radicalization. Yes, because like, yes, we talk about like Fox News and stuff.
And Fox News is bad, but it's so sort of like up front forwardly bad.
And we talk about Forkan. Yeah. And 4chan and these other places that are like really, obviously fucking terrible.
There's a lot of people that are sort of savvy enough to know that Fox News is terrible and to not go on 4chan.
But they're watching the fucking local news every night and they're seeing what their friends share on Facebook. And there's just like huge middle of people in America who are not getting radicalized by Fox News, but they're just absorbing what they think is credible media and is just fucking trash. And what is it that's so bad about it?
Because I feel like my experience watching local news is like every story. I'm like, why am I hearing about this? Like, this seems like a weird thing for you to be telling me about. It's like not relevant to like, you know, public information that I need to know about, like voting and like street cleaning and stuff like that. It seems like engineered to like, scare me or be cute. Yes. Yeah. They're behaving as if they ran out of stories when, like, obviously that's impossible.
So like, why are they talking about these things?
And it's so like there's so much propaganda that goes through, just like these sources say. Sixty five people were trapped in a trafficking sting and then you later find out that it's like not sixty five, not a trafficking sting.
But they were people, though, and it's Peiping police rhetoric just directly into people's homes, like without any kind of editorialization or anything.
Without any context. Yeah. I mean, they still fucking do the razor blades in the apple every week. That still goes around local news.
I swear you're going to be downloading it from Zoome this year. Seriously, your 3D printing candy and it's going to be full of weed.
You know, I like to think of local news as a thousand ways to die and then one to help you sleep. So like it'll be like, yeah, there was a fire, a car crash like Antipas coming into the suburbs and then like, here's a new quack medication to help you.
Someone help dogs cross the road. Yeah.
Love the format. It's just twenty nine minutes of murder and then you end with ducklings. Yeah.
Still speaking about the news. I think obviously part of this that we can't ignore is what was happening culturally in 2016.
And I think it's really interesting that we had this. I mean, you can't not see Klown in Donald Trump, right? He's he's so fake looking.
His hair is insane.
His coloring is insane, is meant to be seen from far away. He's got this. Oversized suit where his little tiny fingers poke out like he looks like a lot like a clown, and then at the same time he's being rendered in magazines, political cartoons as a clown, like that's one of the biggest ways that people regard him. Right. I think this is really fun.
Anarchist's actually created a billboard in the middle of the night. They painted over a billboard with Trump dressed as a clown with the words clowns can get away with murder. He was actually specifically dressed as Pogo.
Well, even to the point where Governor Gavin Gavin Newsom, you know, who loves to throw the punches, he he compared Trump to Pennywise in a tweet. You know, got him. Got him.
I think I think the Donald Trump as clown thing is like very Oberlin, totally cultural studies.
It is. I fucking love it. Yeah.
I like as somebody who spends a lot of time on Google Scholar, like for researching the show, there are those papers that I came across when there was talk about how like the Beatles were so popular because there were four of them. You know, there's like Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Oh my God. And they were like books of the Bible. And he was going through all this symbolism of for sure. I read the whole fucking paper. It was like 70 pages long.
But yeah, like the last thing I thought would be fun to talk about was another clown sighting that came a little bit before the actual panic.
This this sighting, this clown sighting and interaction with this cryptid that would come to be known as Sam the Sandown clown that was seen by two children. I think they were seven and nine and this was around four p.m. and they were attracted to this area. They were on a golf course and they heard wailing and they follow the noise and then it stopped.
And then this clown came out of the bridge and they described him as about seven feet tall.
He looked wooden and mechanical and flesh at the same time as the way that these children described it.
The first thing that came out was a hand wearing a blue glove. And I believe it only have three fingers. He couldn't communicate. His words were all garbled. And at one point he used like one of those weird tape recorders with the microphone. Remember those where you could like talking to it? And it would be loud, but it was like four children.
So he was trying to speak through that, but he couldn't really communicate. So they asked him to write, like who he was on a piece of paper and why he could write.
So they're talking to a disembodied hand at the golf course. No, sorry.
The hand came first, then the clown, the seven foot tall clown who was wood mechanical influence might keep up.
Sorry, keep up. So they asked him who he was and he introduced himself as all colors. Sam or he said, I am all colors.
Oh my. Yeah. Could this be someone who was just tripping balls. That's my very real.
And then they asked, are you a ghost? And he wrote, Well not really, but I am in an odd sort of way. And they spent about thirty minutes hangin with this guy. They weren't terrified of him or anything. He lived in a metal shack which they spent a little time in, and then he vanished. But again, the children didn't act afraid of this thing.
But when we hear a six foot tall flesh wood mechanical clown creature talking into a weird microphone to us that's horrific and scary and weird.
I don't know. I just think it's this interesting outlier that I'd never heard before.
Well, it's like a friendly killer clown scenario, is what you mean that it's like a nice story. So you chatting with a dude who's tripping balls in a old suit?
What if these killer clowns are like Sweetums and the Muppet Movie? These like spectral clowns that live in the forest that only want to hear the laughter of a child, and they're tortured by the fact that we keep running away from them and shooting at them. That sounds scary, though.
All right. They sound like like a mournful outsider artist sitting in their shack, which is like practicing clowning. Yes. Miranda July, which is what I think a lot of the stuff is too like.
It's funny to me also that people aren't more cynical about like if you see a clown holding black balloons, like, I would presume that to be a viral marketing campaign, it's surprising to me that more people, when they see something super weird, are just like that's probably a viral marketing campaign, dude.
Last time I was in New York, I walk past a bar on the Lower East Side or something. It was like opening soon a bar just for pregnant women. And it had like a photo of a woman, like a visibly pregnant woman sipping a martini. And it was like, this is very fucking obviously a viral marketing campaign that is like wanting us to get pissed and share that on Instagram. And then, of course, like two days later, it was like viral marketing campaign comes to the Lower East.
It's like, yeah, that was fucking clear to you because I'm not on Facebook.
I don't watch local news. It's actually kind of inspiring that the twenty sixteen clown panicked, didn't result in a bunch of laws for like three strikes for clowns or some bullshit like Georgie's law.
I feel like clowns have already been pretty marginalized and. You know, yeah, I hope that a new dawn is breaking for the clowns of this nation, do you? I'm fine without clowns. I do not miss clowns. OK, maybe this is another maybe this is better. I feel like maybe the era of us pretending that clowns are simple, wholesome figures rather than complex trickster characters is over. And maybe that's good.
Now, if only we could do the same thing for Ronald Reagan and stop shooting guns into the forests, shoot guns into the forest. That's the moral of the story, is don't shoot at imaginary things.
Chelsea, can you tell us about if people liked this episode, like, what else do you talk about on your show?
Yeah, we do so much of the similar things that you guys do. I mean, we cover everything from the Illuminati to quackery to the archetype of the redneck and how poor white people have been maligned by rich people forever.
And we have a new season coming up. Fake news, charismatic leaders, televangelists. But if you guys like this show, I find you guys very inspiring. And I think we're just kindred spirits kind of together in what we do.
So the bunkmates idea, you know, more than debunking, even just sort of like, why write?
We want to know why we want to go into the scary forest. We do the haunted mansion.
Why don't you just go to.