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In Salt Lake City, clown business is down, and it's no joke

The Salt Lake Valley isn’t immune to the nationwide clown craze.

As Deseret News’ Pat Reavy reported, local police officials have investigated a number of alleged sightings of creepy clowns. “In Utah, the clown hype picked up significantly this week with reported clown sightings in Orem, Provo, Roy, Ogden, Kaysville, Lehi, Murray, Tooele and West Point,” according to Reavy’s report.

But local police said these apparent sightings were merely the result of social media hype.

In fact, that’s how it’s been across the nation. As I wrote for Deseret News last week, the social media craze led to Merrimack College going under lockdown because one social media user said they saw a clown with a rifle. Students at the University of Massachusetts roamed local streets with bats and weapons to fight the supposed clown stalking the campus. The University of Connecticut and the University of Pennsylvania similarly had reported clown sightings.

Moreover, about a dozen people were arrested last weekend in Georgia, Alabama and Virginia for sending police false reports of clowns, according to The New York Times.

The clown hysteria began in South Carolina, where children living in a local community said they had been approached by clowns, who apparently tried to lure the children into the woods.

Though children and families have suffered from this issue, so too have clowns — actual clowns who use the wigs, red noses and pale makeup to provide an entertainment service to children and parties, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“We are all sticking together,” one clown told WSJ.

This seems to be the case in Salt Lake City, too, where local clowns have said they’re working to share positive messages about clowns, even though they’re suffering from lost business.

Jeffrey Hansen, who works as JubJub the Clown, told the Deseret News that he received 10 to 15 calls in the last week about his clown business. Only they weren’t to book the bubbly clown for a gig.

"You get a lot of prank calls,” he said. “Kids mostly, thinking they're funny. Asking if I'm one of those clowns out there who's going to kill or rape other kids."

Hansen said normally he has eight to 10 bookings for a month. Right now, aside from the three he booked last month before the social media craze began, he doesn’t have any bookings yet for the fall.

But he said he’s not alone. “Some clowns — this is their primary income and it’s going to hurt their bottom line.”

Tom Butte, known as Sammy T Clown, and Carol Butte, his wife and Sunshine the Clown, said they’ve seen a drop in business, too.

“They’re associating us with these idiots who are walking around with these masks on their face with professional clowns,” Tom Butte said.

Carol Butte said it’s especially troubling for clown professionals because they “are afraid to go out in their costume,” she said. “There’s one person I know who turned down a job. It’s hurting.”

But Brenda Hattingh, who plays Boobiliboo the Clown, said she doesn’t understand the worry from business owners. She, unlike other clowns, doesn’t identify with her job, she said.

Of course, Hattingh is a different sort of clown (she actually identifies as an entertainer). She said she doesn’t do the full-face clown makeup. She wears bright colors, and wears a clown wig (something she picked up six months ago). She draws a heart on one cheek, balloons on another cheek and paints the tip of her nose green with sparkles. Her lips are usually red and shaped like a heart.

“I think some clowns really identify with being a clown,” she said. “And they’re taking this very personally. I consider myself to be a children’s entertainer. I understand if your business has been affected, but being a clown is not like my identity. I don’t identify with these people giving ‘clowns a bad name.’”

As far as her own business is concerned, Hattingh said she’s in a slow season right now, so she isn’t surprised to see a lack of calls. She said her business does well in the spring.

Clowns should realize that they’re not unlike everyone else when it comes to a slow season in their profession, Hattingh said.

“Farmers deal with droughts where their entire crops are destroyed,” she said. “Clowns dealing with a temporary hit in the business happens with every business. This just happens to be actually weird. It’s just a weird, odd occurrence.”

She attributes the rarity to the fact that clowns are naturally creepy.

“Clowns are already scary. Now this on top of it. I think it’s feeding on an already present fear that people have.”

But clowns have worked to dispel this stigma, Hansen said. He mentioned the Clowns Lives Matter movement, a social media protest by clowns to end the negative stigma that’s been created as of late. In fact, a Clowns Lives Matter march has been planned for this weekend in Arizona.

"There's a movement going on. They're trying to get people involved. There's a lot of ticked-off people,” Hansen said.

Hattingh, though, said a Clowns Lives Matter movement is taking the hysteria a little too far.

She said starting a Facebook page called Clowns Lives Matter is “ridiculous because it’s taking Black Lives Matter and sort of trivializing it a little bit. We’re not being persecuted. We’re not being held at gunpoint for no reason. I just think that whole movement is ridiculous.”

Instead, Hattingh hopes that parents will teach their children valuable lessons about how to talk to clowns and show them the difference between one of these fake clowns and one you’d find at a party.

“I think a lot of kids don’t see clowns as being human,” she said.” They're like a mythical sort of character that lives at the circus. I think telling the kids that clowns are humans just like everybody else and there are good people and people you should stay from. If you don’t feel right about the situation, stay away from that clown.”

Hansen said that he expects the hysteria to die down after Halloween, as it usually does. In fact, he said this isn’t the first time the clown craze has popped up in the United States.

And he’s right. The Deseret News reported back in 1991 that community members were worried about mysterious and creepy clowns stalking areas of the valley.

Hansen said this isn’t how society should act towards clown. The positive reputation needs to return.

“It’s ridiculous. We’ve been dealing with this every year. Every Halloween. It’s never gotten to this where people are actually … calling clowns up and threatening their lives,” he said. “We’re there to help people. We’re there to make people happy. That’s the whole point of what we do. … We’ve had such a great, positive reputation for hundreds of years. And it’s hurting us. People are scared when they see us. It’s just not how it should be.”

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.