These past few weeks have been rough for clowns.
Creepy clown sightings and threats have cropped up around the country, resulting in school lockdowns and costume bans. And the performers who make a living by slathering on grease paint and wearing a red nose have had enough.
"These people are dressing up as clowns for their own satisfaction to scare people," said Bruce Hyman, of Berkshire County, who performs as Bowey the Magic Clown. "These are not real clowns. These are what I call imposters."
Fear of clowns isn't a new phenomenon, of course. For decades before Stephen King's 1986 novel "It," terrifying clowns have been a cultural staple. But as clowns in pop culture have grown more sinister, many of those who work as clowns have been forced to alter their personas to book gigs.
Larry Rettig, who has been in the business for 27 years, used to be called Flippo the Clown. But about a decade ago, the West Boylston performer realized that he was more likely to be hired if he referred to himself as a magician rather than a clown. He now goes by Flippo the Juggling Magician.
"I started getting calls: 'Flippo, we heard how good you are and we'd love to have you come to Suzie's party next Saturday, but could you leave off the makeup?' . . . I gave up 15 years of postal service to be a full-time clown, and then shortly after that, the evil clown stuff with the media started coming out," Rettig said. "It sure did affect my business."
Others have had to develop skills to reassure frightened children. David "Davey the Clown" Holzman, of Roslindale, said he avoids eye contact with kids who seem afraid. This allows them to get comfortable with him on their own timetable, a goal generally reached by the time he starts making balloon animals.
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"I think it's important to validate kids' fear and not make them feel like there's something wrong with them for being afraid," Holzman said. "I have a saying that I always say when I notice a child is acting shy around me. I always say that fear of clowns is a sign of intelligence. I just try to make them feel like whatever their emotional response is to the situation is OK."
Perhaps the most frustrating side effect of scary clowns in the news, though, is that it can spark unfounded suspicion about the costumed performers.
Christina Paquette of Watertown performs as Rainbow the Clown in a toned-down costume and minimal clown makeup. While her business hasn't been affected by the recent reports, she's concerned about the public's perception of clowns.
"Sometimes I get to a party early and I have to wait in a car," Paquette said. "I probably worry a little more about that. People might be like, 'Who's that clown?' I've had people call the cops on me a couple times."
Hyman points out that there's a difference between people who work and perform as clowns and those posing as clowns.
"If someone was dressed as a doctor or policeman and tried to lure or scare kids, people wouldn't say a real doctor tried to scare kids," Hyman said. "They'd say someone dressed as a doctor or policeman was posing as them. . . . These are costumes, these aren't real working clowns. Most clowns are good-natured people who want to share laughter and spread fun and good will. That's what clowning is all about."
Quincy's Sally Monroe, known as Silly Sally, has worked as a clown for most of her life and runs her own academy. She echoed Hyman's sentiment.
"You go into this field because you want to do something nice for people," she said. "Since I was a child, I loved making other people laugh and smile. That's what's it's all about."
Even author Stephen King chimed in Monday on behalf of clowns by tweeting: "Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria — most of 'em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh."
Sonia Rao can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @misssoniarao.