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The scary clown craze

This year’s Halloween was a little different: lots of people didn’t dress up as monsters, but as scary clowns. The scary clown craze began months ago and it spread quickly across the US and the UK. Dozens of scary clowns appeared out of nowhere to frighten people. Learn more about this strange phenomenon and about the ancient art of clowning.
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Fear is not a pleasant emotion, but most people like a little thrill in their lives. Some people might enjoy reading a horror novel, others might like riding on a ghost train in an amusement park. Strangely, being frightened can be fun. One of the year’s most beloved celebrations, Halloween, revolves around fear. On that day, many adults sit at home to watch horror films, and many children go trick-or-treating, dressed as scary creatures such as vampires, ghosts, zombies and witches. But this year’s Halloween was a little different. One outfit was particularly popular even if it wasn’t a traditional monster costume: this year lots of people dressed up as scary clowns.


Scary Clowns

The wave of ‘scary clowns’ began months before Halloween. In August, the people of Wisconsin saw an unkempt clown with black balloons walking the streets. In September and October, dozens of other scary clowns appeared across the US, the UK, Australia and other countries. Sometimes these clowns just wandered around looking scary. Other times they jumped out of nowhere and started chasing people. Sometimes they even frightened passersby with fake weapons. Most of these scary clowns proved harmless, but some took the joke too far and ended up injuring people. A few were arrested for “making a terrorist threat connected to ‘clown-related activity’.” This sounds ridiculous, but it’s not funny at all. Policemen have better things to do than arrest people dressed as scary clowns! Following police advice, many schools banned clown costumes from Halloween celebrations.



Nobody knows the reason for this scary clown craze. Some believe that it’s a way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the horror novel It written by Stephen King. It tells the story of a group of kids terrorized by a mysterious monster. This creature often disguises itself as a clown called Pennywise. Before writing the book, King wondered: “what scares children more than anything else in the world?” The answer he gave himself was: clowns. Clowns can be ambiguous: who is hiding behind the face paint? Are their drawn smiles sincere, or are they the smiles of madmen such as the Joker, Batman’s enemy? If the recent wave of scary clowns is paying homage to the novel It, Stephen King is not grateful. He recently tweeted: “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria – most of them are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”


A noble tradition

Indeed, the professional clowns who want to make people laugh are worried by what’s happening. They say there’s a big difference between real clowns and people in scary masks. Their profession has a noble tradition: there were clowns already in ancient Egypt! Clowns believe that “laughter is health,” and with their acts they explore emotions such as happiness and sadness, but also hate and fear. A clown wants to teach people to face life and difficulties with a smile. They also teach resilience: clowns survive anything that’s thrown at them. Many clowns do good around the world. For example, Clowns Without Borders is an association of clowns who entertain and help children in war zones. Patch Adams, similarly, is a doctor who uses ‘clowntherapy’ to help sick children in hospitals. Although these professionals are worried by the scary clown craze, they are confident that they’ll survive. “We’ve been around for centuries,” they say. “We’ll still be here after these people in scary masks are long gone!”

Useful links 1) Read about the origin and history of Halloween:

2) Learn more about clowns and scary clowns in this short video:

3) Find out how a man dressed up as Batman is chasing down the scary clowns:

4) Learn more about the history of clowning:

5) Read and listen to what professional clowns have to say about the scary clown craze:

6) Here are the American and British websites for Clowns without Borders:

7) Learn about Patch Adams and his work:


1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the right alternative.

1. People who like being scared probably enjoy celebrating
  1. Christmas.
  2. Halloween.
  3. New Year’s Eve.
2. Traditionally, on Halloween children go trick-or-treating dressed as
  1. clowns.
  2. adults.
  3. monsters.
3. The first scary clown was seen in
  1. the US.
  2. the UK.
  3. Australia.
4. The scary clowns craze is
  1. an American phenomenon.
  2. a British phenomenon.
  3. an international phenomenon.
5. The police are not happy because
  1. scary clowns are a distraction from their real work.
  2. scary clowns are not funny.
  3. scary clowns are banned from schools.
6. Thirty years ago Stephen King created a famous character:
  1. Batman.
  2. Pennywise.
  3. Joker.
7. Stephen King asked the people dressed as crazy clowns
  1. to pay homage to his novel It.
  2. to calm down.
  3. to continue scaring people.
8. Professional clowns are interested in exploring
  1. all kinds of emotions.
  2. only positive emotions.
  3. only negative emotions.
9. Clowning has been around for
  1. hundreds of years.
  2. thousands of years.
  3. less than a hundred years.
10. Patch Adams and his clowns work
  1. in war zones.
  2. in circuses.
  3. in hospitals.


2) Complete the sentences with the following words. Conjugate the verbs if necessary.

craze  *  passerby  *  to disguise  *  outfit  *  unkempt  *  ban  *  resilient  *  grateful  *  to revolve  *  harmless

1. The spy ______ himself using a wig and dark glasses. 2. There’s a ______ on cigarettes in this building: you can’t smoke inside. 3. Clowns are ______: they recover quickly from the bad things that happen to them. 4. I was very ______ that mom helped me with my homework. 5. The garden looks ______: nobody has mowed the lawn in ages. 6. That dog is ______: sure, he barks a lot but he doesn’t bite. 7. The latest  ______ in fashion is purple jeans. Everybody wants them. 8. The lady fell in the middle of the street and a ______ helped her up. 9. Halloween films usually ______ around ghosts and monsters. 10. A vampire ______ must include fake vampire teeth and a black cape.

GRAMMAR – Adverbs of place, time, manner, degree

3) Complete the sentences using the following adverbs:

only  *  nowhere  *  lately  *  yet  *  extremely  * everywhere  * carefully  *  there  *  really  *  warily  *  soon  *  angrily

1. The clown hasn’t finished his act ______. 2. ______ there has been a wave of crazy clowns in the UK 3. The professional clown ______ claimed that the crazy clowns are stupid people with scary masks 4. He was in no hurry, so he ______ put on the green zombie makeup 5. “The clown was over ______,” said the boy, pointing at the forest behind the school 6. The police are ______ worried about the clown craze 7. The clown jumped out of ______ and scared everybody 8. I ______ enjoyed the clown’s performance, it was great 9. He looked around the corner ______, thinking that the crazy clown was there 10. He celebrated Halloween ______ once 11. The clown craze has spread ______ in the US 12. Some say that the crown craze will ______ be over.  


4) Did you celebrate Halloween this year? Did you wear a costume? Write about what you wore and what you did. (60-80 words)

5) Which is the scariest mask you can think of? Explain why you find it so frightening. (60-80 words)

   --- (Carlo Dellonte) (Image credits: Graeme Maclean, flickr and Lucas Ramos Bispo, flickr)



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