cover image Bad Clowns

Bad Clowns

Benjamin Radford. Univ. of New Mexico, $24.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-8263-5666-6

Clowns with sinister sides and malevolent motives come under critical scrutiny in this pithy, abundantly illustrated study of the “bad clown” as a pop culture phenomenon. Radford (Mysterious New Mexico) surveys the history of nasty clowns from the Punch and Judy puppet shows of 17th-century London to contemporary treatments in film, television, literature, and music. He also identifies traits that make clowns potential sources of creepiness—among them, their grotesquely exaggerated outfits and grease-painted features, which convey “the superficially contradictory human feelings of horror and humor.” His discussion of “bad clowns of the ink” is focused almost exclusively on clowns in comics and graphic novels. Pennywise, the clown incarnation of evil in Stephen King’s novel It, is presented almost entirely in terms of his appearance in the book’s television adaptation. Radford is on surer ground when discussing the cult-classic science fiction film Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the manic antics of Krusty the Clown in The Simpsons, and performances by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger as the Joker in the Batman film franchise. Chapters on bad clowns in real life add ballast to Radford’s analysis of what he identifies as “the real or imagined contradiction between the public and private personas of the clown.” Color Photos [em](Apr.) [/em]