Is That a Clown Question, Bro? Consult This Handy Guide.

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 13 2012 5:36 PM

What’s a Clown Question, Bro? A Guide.

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Noted media critic Bryce Harper

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

While there is no such thing as a stupid question, there is such a thing as a clown question, bro, at least if you ask Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper. After he smashed his seventh homerun of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays, Harper, 19, was asked by a Canadian reporter whether he intended to celebrate with a beer (Ontario’s drinking age is 19). Nats PR officials saw where this was going and tried to shut the cheeky correspondent down, but not before Harper chimed in with the eminently meme-worthy contention, “That’s a clown question, bro,” delighting two nations and launching a thousand #thatsaclownquestionbro tweets.  

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

Perhaps, like pornography, you simply know a clown question when you see it. But to help our readers and journalistic peers steer clear of embarrassment (or at least being pelted with red, squeaky noses), we’ve compiled this trusty guide to the genre.

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1. A clown question is irrelevant.

Clown questions get on people’s nerves because they raise topics that no one cares about. In the flushed aftermath of a brilliant home run, Bryce Harper will be most interesting when analyzing the game, offering a window into his mindset on the field, or speculating about the Nats’ chances for the rest of the season. On the other hand, Harper is not a noted oenophile, so his selection of festive palate-rinsers after a day of athletic exertion is unlikely to inspire or enthrall.

Example: Asking a judicial nominee at a hearing, “Do you like guys?     

2. A clown question is irreverent.

Clowns are not known for their gravitas, and clown questions rarely afford their targets the dignity and respect they deserve. The Toronto reporter’s inquiry homed in on Harper’s youth (and implicit immaturity), rather than his professional accomplishments.

Example: Asking an actress at a movie premiere, “What kinds of food do you eat?

3. A clown question has “gotcha” components.

To many at the post-game powwow, the journalist seemed less than sincere in his curiosity about whether Harper was in the mood to take advantage of Canada’s relaxed liquor laws. Instead, he appeared to be steering the baseball hero towards a compromising or inflammatory statement. Some American viewers probably wouldn’t look kindly on underage drinking from a national role model. Others might interpret a demurral as uptight sissiness. From water-squirting flowers to whoopee cushions, clowns put people in compromising positions—and so do clown questions.

Example: Asking a former presidential candidate, “How many people are in the military?

What else constitutes a “clown question”? Let us know in the comments.