HOUSTON — Do clowns scare you? They do a lot of people, especially lately. And it's got folks who make their living as clowns pretty upset.
"Ninety percent of the time, I show up to events dressed in clown and 90 percent of the kids will bolt out the back door," said Ben Kirsch, who has been clowning professionally for 15 years.
Back in '86, Stephen king wrote "It," a novel about a demon who terrorizes a town in Maine dressed as a clown. When Tim Curry brought the evil clown to the TV screen four years later, clown fears shot way up!
"A lot of time it's parents of adults, they're scared of clown characters more than the kids," said Sky Blue, a Houston woman who graduated clown school last year and performs in lime green pigtails and rainbow overalls.
Bill Wiatrak performed as a clown in and around the Bayou City for 25 years, doing magic tricks and riding a unicycle. Today, he runs "Incredible Events" where he hires out over 20 clowns. Recently, bookings have slowed way down.
"People call me and they say they want a clown that doesn't have very much makeup or no makeup at all," Wiatrak said. "They want a balloon animal artist or a face painter, and they don't really want someone dressed up as a clown."
Kirsch is one of Wiatrak's performers. He used to work with the Ringling Bros., but says today he doesn't find a lot of joy in clowning.
"The kids are now literally looking at me as, 'Oh sweet! This thing that we can get away with being mean to,' he said. "And that's not what clowning is about. Clowning was meant to brighten people's day."
Blue agreed and said, "Clowns, they are such nice people. Like goodhearted people. A lot of times we do volunteer work and go to the hospital and do charities."
Expect a whole new generation of kids growing up terrified of clowns with the new screen version of "It" scheduled to hit theaters next year. "It needs to be burned," says Kirsch. "It needs to not happen. Awwww.... Jesus!"
How can good clowns turn the scary-otype around?
"The best thing we can do is to continue to do it in the way it should be done," Kirsch said. "By being festive, and happy and bringing joy to people's lives and hope that everyone follows."