Decoder Ring explores the rise of scary clowns and the 2016 phantom-clown panic.

Why Did Clowns Delight Our Ancestors but Scare the Bejesus Out of Us?

Why Did Clowns Delight Our Ancestors but Scare the Bejesus Out of Us?

Cracking cultural mysteries.
June 25 2018 6:00 AM

Clown Panic

Decoder Ring investigates the history of clowns, phantom-clown panics, and the rise of the horror clown.

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Benjamin Frisch

Listen to this episode of Decoder Ring in the audio player below:

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Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin, Slate’s TV critic, takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try to figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

Today: The clown has existed in various forms for thousands of years. What changed and made so many people suspect and fear them? Decoder Ring traces the history of clowns and clowning and finds that the scary clown and the happy clown are both oversimplifications that have more in common than it might first appear.

Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:

Email: decoderring@slate.com
Twitter: @willapaskin
Decoder Ring is produced and edited by Benjamin Frisch.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.