Having a laugh: is this the end for clowning?

The massive popularity of horror films like Joker and It have been a real downer for happy, family clowns. Mark Wilding hears how the entertainers are fighting back

In the corner of Matthew Indge’s kitchen is a photograph of the entertainer Kerby Drill. For many years, Drill was both a clown and a comic voice of authority. He toured the nation’s schools and appeared on television shows, often promoting road safety, until he passed away last year, aged 97. Indge describes him as his “clown hero”, but he recognises that Drill represents a very different era of clowning. “The truth is,” Indge says, “these days, I don’t know if kids are going to listen to a clown saying be careful on the road.”

Indge has been clowning for 32 years, since he was eight years old. In a way that wasn’t necessary for Drill, Indge must now take steps to prove to his audiences that he doesn’t represent a dark and sinister threat. When we meet, he’s preparing for a performance as Zaz the Clown at a five-year-old’s birthday party, and “just to save me any problems,” he says, “I’ll make up in front of the kids” – an attempt to provide reassurance that there’s a benign performer behind the mask.

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