The term Clownland conjures up images and a landscape at an almost mythological level, and indeed clowns are legendary creatures in their own right. Many are undeniably afraid of the concept of ‘Clown’, whether by association with horror characters such as Stephen King’s IT or by the unpredictability given through costume and action.
This being said, there has always been since time a recorded fascination with this ancient profession, and a sense of mystery to what lies behind the smiles, appearance, and at times insane humour that is combined with acrobatic prowess.
Judith Lanigan documents her journey across this landscape as part of her Higher Degree in Research in the Creative Industries and opens herself up with her own experiences and life in the process. To explore the notions of Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) and that a clown needs to be a ‘fresh willing idiot’ with a sense of fearlessness, Lanigan includes with her travelogue, interview notes and definitions to guide the reader through Clownland.
While the interviews with clowns across Clownland (both in Australia and overseas) make the bulk of the text, the reader is given but a taste of what life must be like for these fascinating individuals and their thoughts and feelings on this concept of Clown.
There are moments where the mythology comes alive, with stories of staple guns, burlesque and musical clowns “of a different sort” that creates a world of its own, but then only through the expected outrageousness of a clown, not through their inner workings behind the gimmick and routine. Sections such as how Andy Forbes and Andy Mac become ‘Wacko’ and ‘Blotto’ each evening makes for a compelling, albeit brief read, and it is that briefness of the interaction and afterthought that makes one feel that the lights went on in each tent too early.
Whether or not the intent of Lanigan, the book itself is rather like a clown routine with each chapter comprises of many separate acts that seem to change without notice both in length and narrative style. This style of approach may indeed stop the voyage into Clownland sooner than later for many, though perseverance does have its rewards to learn about the many different types of Clown that comprise the Clownland in which we all live, whether we are aware of it or not, and as a ‘guided tour’ Lanigan gives a personal edge to many of the encounters.
Clownland does not claim to be a definitive guide on clowns, circuses and carnival culture, but with all my travels, I wished to become immersed in the culture of this seemingly mythological landscape. As a short read, Clownland gives several fascinating stories and anecdotes from characters you may see on your next visit to places such as the Garden of Unearthly Delights in Adelaide, and is a good starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about clown culture, particularly in Australia.
Clownland is now available from all good booksellers, and the usual online platforms. For more information, visit: www.judithlanigan.com.au for details.
Image: Clownland by Judith Lanigan
Review: Jimmy Twin