RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Sure, their thick face paint might be off-putting, their fluorescent costumes a bit hard on the eyes, but clowns performing at a circus are generally amusing.
“In very specific circumstances, clowns are cool,” says Rio Rancho author Ben Radford.
It’s when clowns venture outside of those acceptable spaces that they become universally scary.
“If you hear a knock on the door at midnight, and there’s a clown there, that’s a problem. That is out of context. You need to call the cops. There’s something wrong there.”
It’s this menacing, terrifying side of the clown spectrum that the Corrales native examines in his latest book, “Bad Clowns.”
This is Radford’s eighth book, but his first about clowns. Other topics he’s looked into?
“Media literacy, science literacy, chupacabras – you know, the vampire beast – I did a book on lake monsters, I did a book on critical thinking,” he says.
“Bad Clowns” came out on Kindle three weeks ago and in print about a week ago, Radford says.
The 216-page book, published by University of New Mexico Press, includes a short history of clowns before exploring coulrophobia – the fear of clowns. It also examines evil clowns online, in literature, in song, in activism, in cinema, even in porn.
His motivation? No one had looked into the topic before.
“I tend to be interested in subjects that are unusual and that no one has done before,” he says. “I don’t want to write another book on JFK or World War II or NASCAR. If I’m going to put my time into it, I want to do something that hasn’t been done before and that’s unique.”
The book’s introduction goes over the fact that, although “distinctive bad clowns capture the public’s imagination,” the bad clown is “rarely celebrated in its generic form.”
He wants readers to see the broader context of the evil clown character in a way that is simultaneously scholarly and accessible.
“I hope the people who read the book will understand the themes and the whole idea behind it,” he says.
Radford’s research found that the bad clown emerged and flourished in popular culture about 20 to 30 years ago.
The bad news for haters of evil clowns? The scary clown phenomenon isn’t waning.
“It’s ramping up,” he says. “There’s remakes of at least three high-profile evil clown movies coming out this year.
“This is the year of bad clowns. This is the perfect time for this book.”