If you asked me to name the three things English people are most afraid of, I’d say bad table manners, spicy food and Nazis.
But I’d be wrong.
A recent poll found that the top three most frightfully frightening things in Britain are spiders, needles and clowns.
Well knock me down with a feather!
Spiders and needles I understand. Nobody likes animals that have eight legs and yet can still sneak up and kill you with a single venomous bite. And needles hurt. But clowns?
I’ve never understood coulrophobia, the irrational fear of middle-aged men who like to paint their faces and wear bright-orange wigs. I don’t particularly like clowns, but I’m not afraid of them. They’re silly. What’s the worst they can do? Throw a bucket of multi-colored confetti at you? Squirt water in your face with the plastic daisy they keep tucked in the oversized lapel of their polka-dotted jumpsuit? Repeatedly honk a giant bicycle horn in your ear?
Still, coulrophobia is a real fear for many people.
Recently, for instance, I was surprised to discover that one of my co-workers has been petrified of clowns since 1960. He’s an American citizen and successful professional who appears to be perfectly rational in every other way. Well, maybe not in every way. He eats day-old cake donuts by the box full and tucks in his Hawaiian shirts, for instance, and that’s not normal. But he’s mostly normal.
So why is this grown man afraid of clowns?
Because when he was about 6 years old, his parents came home from work one night and did what all good parents did back in those days: They sat him down in front of the television to shut him up while they drank martinis, smoked Marlboros and conversed like adults. Unfortunately, that night’s thrilling episode of One Step Beyond was titled The Clown and featured a killer circus clown. A creepy killer circus clown named Pippo. A mute creepy killer circus clown named Pippo who uses his bizarro clowny mind-control powers to force the Big Top’s wife-murdering strongman to throw himself off a bridge into a river and then confess to his foul crime after the police save him from drowning by fishing him out of the water. And that one black-and-white television show scared my co-worker so much, he still wets his pants some 50 years later whenever he hears the Ringling Bros. circus is coming to town.
If I was afraid of clowns, I’d try to get some professional help. Not counseling, though. Counselors use their bizarro counselor mind-control powers to get you to calm down, and I don’t need any of that crap. If I want to calm down, I’ll do it the old-fashioned way, by overdosing on Benadryl and Tanqueray.
No, I’d call the sales department at the ACME Box Co. and ask them to make me an invisible cardboard box. Then if a clown started bothering me, I’d trick him into the invisible box. At first, the clown would think he was doing the very best trapped-in-an-invisible-box routine of his life. But then he would realize he was actually trapped in an invisible box, and panic. And that’s when I’d make the clown promise to quit clowning around and start behaving like a normal person.
Unless the clown was an insane Nazi clown, of course.
Then I’d just shoot him, or throw some poisonous spiders and extra-sharp needles at him.
Because the British are right about one thing, even if they’re too scared to discuss it with pollsters: Nazis are terrifying.