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Published April 11 2013

Benshoof: Go ahead and send in the clowns - just make sure they’re nice

A particular group of people will be in town this weekend, and it’s one that I’m afraid has gotten something of an unfair reputation of late.

Where these people once used to be almost universally adored for the job they did, they’re now feared by many and portrayed unfavorably in movies and television.

You may think I’m talking about politicians, but actually I’m referring to circus clowns – although some might say they’re one and the same.

Indeed, as the El Zagal Shrine Circus sets up in the Fargodome for its annual performances, it brings with it the usual high-wire acts of death-defying feats, show elephants and, of course, the clowns.

Back in the day, clowns used to be beloved cultural icons. From Bozo the Clown to my personal favorite, the always entertaining Bim Bom of early 20th-century Russia, clowns brought smiles to our faces.

And in the case of Ronald McDonald, they’d occasionally bring us some delicious food as well.

But somewhere along the way, clowns’ makeup, big red noses and adorably tiny cars started to turn sinister in our minds.

Perhaps that negative perception had partly to do with John Wayne Gacy, the Chicago serial killer who dressed as a clown at parties and events. Or maybe it was films like “Killer Clowns From Outer Space” or Stephen King’s “It” that hurt their reputation.

Whatever the reason, many Americans are now afflicted by coulrophobia – the fear of clowns. The word comes from the Greek prefix “coulro,” which means “stilts,” or “stilt-walker.”

According to various news stories on the condition, it seems to be a fairly legitimate thing. Sufferers, from children to adults, actually experience symptoms similar to other phobias, like increased heartbeats, sweating, nausea and more.

But like many phobias, coulrophobia is ultimately an irrational fear. Aside from Gacy and the ones that come from outer space, clowns really don’t mean you harm. They just want to entertain you with their wacky shenanigans.

That being said, if you count yourself among the coulrophobic, perhaps this is the weekend for you to get over your fear. All you have to do is head over to the Fargodome to take in the circus and watch the clowns’ act safely from afar.

I recently took a close-up approach to facing my fear, phobophobia, or the fear of phobias by writing this column.

It wasn’t so bad except for the creepy clown with a butcher knife hanging out near my computer.

If you go

WHAT: El Zagal Shrine Circus

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday; noon and 4 p.m. on Sunday

where: Fargodome, 1800 N. University Drive

tickets: Tickets range from $12 to $17 and can be purchased online at www. inforumtix.com or by calling (855) 694-6367.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535