The nation’s clown shortage is no laughing matter. Representatives with several clown organizations said that membership has steadily declined throughout the last decade. Although they were hesitant to discuss the actual numbers, it is estimated that the largest organizations have lost more than 1,000 members combined.
Representatives said the clown shortage is likely due to a combination of issues. Higher standards, an aging population, and decreased popularity, have all been blamed for the decline. Some members believe coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, could be a contributing factor.
Glen Kohlberger, President of Clowns of America International, said “clowning isn’t cool anymore.” He said a lot of the older members joined while they were in their early 20s. However, recent generations are more likely to “go on to high school and college.” He said more people are waiting until “their late 40s and early 50s” to join.
Cyrus Zavieh, president of New York Clown Alley, echoed Lohlberger’s sentiments:
“American kids these days are thinking about different careers altogether… They’re thinking about everything other than clowning.”
Zavieh explained that clowning is no longer a lucrative career. Although some clowns charge up to $300 per appearance, most are paid far less. Many clowns aspire to work for large circuses, which pay quite well. However, very few clowns are selected for the coveted positions.
In 2013, more than 500 clowns tried out for a position with Ringling Brothers. The company chose 14 clowns, which were sent to clown college for training. Only 11 were offered full-time positions.
As reported by Time, Ringling Brothers employs around 30 full-time clowns. Director of talent David Kiser said audiences “expect to be wowed” and circus clowns need to be extraordinary.
Professional clown Jeff Seal said the clown shortage an exaggeration. Seal said “there are still a lot of younger people becoming clowns.” He said membership has declined because younger clowns are not interested in joining a union.
Although he believes union membership a “generational thing,” he acknowledges that international competition may have contributed to the decline. Seal said clowns from other countries are often willing to work for much less than American clowns.
World Clown Association President Deanna Hartimer said her organization has lost 1,000 members in the last 10 years. She said the future of clowning depends on attracting younger clowns.
Hartimer said the clown shortage is a becoming a serious issue. She admits it is not difficult to convince someone to become a clown. However, many are unwilling to commit to clowning as a profession.
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