Are you coulrophobic?

They wear silly clothes, have comedy hair, and are traditionally hired to entertain children. So why are clowns so damn scary?

In Blackpool, the organisers of the Showzam circus festival have decided the phenomenon of coulrophobia — fear of clowns — warrants some investigation…

Coulrophobia is one of the top 10 most common phobias. It even has celebrity sufferers: Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, Johnny Depp, and even rap star P Diddy are all said to have the fear, so much so in Diddy’s case that he is reported to have once demanded a “no clowns” clause in a contract.

Depp, whose phobia dates back to having nightmares as a child in which he would see clowns’ faces leering at him, once explained that it was the painted faces and fake smiles that upset him. “There always seemed to be a darkness lurking just under the surface, a potential for real evil,” he said. “I guess I am afraid of them because it’s impossible — thanks to their painted-on smiles — to distinguish if they are happy or if they’re about to bite your face off.”

Showzam’s director, Claire Turner, agrees that it often seems to be the barrier created by the facepaint that’s the problem, so the workshop will start with participants meeting the man behind Mooky, the festival’s star clown, without his make up on, in his normal clothes.

By the end of the session, third generation circus performer Laci Endresz Jnr will be in full costume, in a process of graded exposure recommended by Peter Kinderman, a professor of clinical psychology at Liverpool University. “The clown phobia seems to come from terrifying clowns like the one in Stephen King’s It,” Turner says.

“At the workshop people will gradually see Laci’s transformation to Mooky, as well as getting an explanation about clowns, what they do and where they come from.”

When I was a kid I actually ran away from home to join the circus. Met some truly cool clowns – and that was about it. Everything else turned out to be a niche market business.