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At the forefront of modern-day clowns are Joseph Grimaldi and Jean-Gaspard Deburau who excelled at making people laugh, but in real life, Grimaldi died as a penniless alcoholic and Deburau murdered a boy in the street.
They were not unusual. John Wayne Gacy, a professional clown, turned out to be a notorious serial killer. He used to say "A clown can get away with anything." Since then, the perception of the clown seems to have taken a turn.
People may also feel uncomfortable with clowns because the painted-on and exaggerated face pose a false expression, and that breeds distrust.
Sigmund Freud called this disconnect "uncanny". This "uncanny valley" is something computer animators and robot creators have difficulty with.
When some people think of clowns, they picture brightly coloured hair, big smiles, and lots of laughs.
Others find clowns creepy with evil intentions hiding behind a cheerful, gruesome mask. The intense fear of clowns is called coulrophobia.
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