Metro

Stephen King: The clowns ‘are pissed at me’

The clowns, they’re not exactly happy.

Just months after a series of creepy clown sightings swept across the nation, putting a proverbial black mark on performers who make their living by slathering on face paint and showing up at children’s parties to entertain, a new film based on a decades-old book by author Stephen King is again giving the clown trade a bad name.

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“The clowns are pissed at me,” King wrote in a succinctly blunt tweet on Monday. “Sorry, most are great. BUT ... kids have always been scared of clowns. Don’t kill the messengers for the message.”

King, of course, was referring to his 1986 tome “It,” which features “Pennywise” the clown, a murderous creature that lurks in the sewer drains of Derry, Maine, and perverts the minds of a group of young friends. The gang of pals must face their darkest fears, and return home as adults in a brave attempt to take down the evil foe.

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In the 1990s, King’s book was made into a two-part television miniseries starring Tim Curry, who portrayed the red-haired, long-clawed, and snaggle-toothed Pennywise.

The reboot of that classic is set to hit theaters in September. A bone-chilling trailer released online last month garnered 24 million views in less than two weeks, and ultimately reignited a deep seated fear of clowns for many who watched it.

But as the two-minute teaser, which only briefly shows Pennywise, gave people the heebie-jeebies, it also drew criticism from the clown community.

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In short, the collective feeling is “Here we go again.”

Larry Rettig — or “Flippo” — a juggler-slash-magician who sometimes performs as a clown, said the fear of clowns is “not new at all.”

But with the adaptation of King’s book coming to the big screen, “it will be worse” for performers.

“I have a lot of, quote, clown friends that only perform as a clown — they don’t know how to juggle, they are not good at magic, and they only do balloons and face painting,” he said. “And you better believe they have been affected.”

Flippo isn’t fazed. He said over the last few decades he has received fewer requests to perform in makeup, mostly due to people’s lingering fears.

Ultimately, he shifted his focus from being “Flippo the juggling clown” to being “Flippo the juggling magician.”

“They say, ‘I love you, but could you keep the makeup off,’” said Rettig, who is based in West Boylston.

Edward C. Dugan, a Berkeley-based performer who, for more than 30 years, has donned colorful makeup and gone by the name Ollie the Clown, is also predicting a fresh wave of clown-related prejudice as the film’s release nears.

“I definitely think it affects people, and I do, in fact, blame people who are involved with that culture,” he said. “It’s a cultural thing.”

Dugan said he only recently cleared the hurdle of negative attention born from the spate of clown scares that dominated the news cycle just before Halloween last year.

Roughly thirty-three states had reported “incidents” of clown encounters, many of which were copycat pranks mirroring the earliest sightings.

Several occurred in Massachusetts. On Oct. 3, a dorm at Merrimack College in North Andover was evacuated after a report of an armed clown on the campus. It proved to be a hoax. Two reports just like it came soon after, which were also ill-timed gags.

As reports cropped up, Dugan noticed that some people — typically adults — had negative reactions to his attire. At a function hall where two parties were going on at once, a woman once chastised him for showing up in full costume.

Now, Dugan said he’s sort of mentally preparing himself for the debut of “It”.

“I think I do have to — all of us have to — when we know that something is coming,” he said. “We kind of toughen up a little bit.”

Dugan said he’s not a fan of King’s, but he did enjoy “The Green Mile,” a mystical tale that was somewhat of a departure from the author’s scarier works.

“Clowns should get together,” Dugan said, laughing, “And write him a letter and say, ‘Do more of those [stories]!’”

To people once again getting sucked into a vortex of clown-induced paranoia, he offered this: “Remember, a movie is just a movie.”

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.
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