The United States is running out of clowns, and according to industry insiders, it’s no laughing matter.
The Daily News reports that membership in the country’s largest clown trade organization has plummeted over the last decade amid higher standards for clowning, decreasing popularity amongst the younger generation, and an aging population of current clowns. The World Clown Association, the nation’s largest clown trade group, says membership has declined from roughly 3,500 to 2,500 since 2004 — a loss of over 28%. Glen Kohlberger, President of Clowns of America International, another large trade organization, also complained of shrinking membership, but declined to give specific figures due to privacy concerns.
So why are there no more clowns left to send in? According to those in the industry, putting on floppy shoes and makeup just isn’t as glamorous as it used to be.
“What happens is they go on to high school and college and clowning isn’t cool anymore,” said Kohlberger, who cited serious difficulties in getting young people to pick up the trade. “Clowning is then put on the back burner until their late 40s and early 50s.”
In addition to clowning’s stunning downtrend in “coolness” among the younger generation, being Bozo doesn’t pay that well either. Cyrus Zavieh, president of New York Clown Alley, a small New York area clown association, told the Daily News that the $300 a clown can expect for a birthday party gig isn’t enough to attract flocks of new performers.
“American kids these days are thinking about different careers altogether,” said Zavieh, who worked for almost 20 years as a clown under the stage name of Cido. “They’re thinking about everything other than clowning.”
Finally, the most prestigious clown employers have begun to raise their standards, making it difficult for even existing gagsters to find a job. Last year, the circus giant Ringling Brothers invited only 14 clowns out of 531 applicants to attend its 14-day bootcamp at the company’s clown college. Just 11 of those who attended the camp were offered jobs, and the circus’s entire roster consists of only about 26 clowns to work across Ringling Bros.’s three different circuses.
However, while trade organizations cry foul, others believe the issue is being overblown. Clown and filmmaker Jeff Seal told the Gothamist that there are plenty of young clowns — they just aren’t rushing off to join unions. “There are still a lot of younger people becoming clowns, they’re just not joining the Clowns of America International,” said Seal. “It’s more of a generational thing I think.”
International competition may also be a factor. “There’s a lot of clowns coming out of China who will work for really cheap,” Seal added.