No laughing matter: 'Bizarre' creepy clown craze comes to Alberta

A creepy clown hysteria which has swept North America has made its way to Edmonton.

'I think it's kind of motivated by social media and how people are so paranoid about who is behind the mask'

Clowns of all shapes and sizes have been terrorising people in the United States all summer. Now the pranksters have moved north of the border. (Erik S. Lesser/EPA)

Michael Kennard refuses to wipe off his pancake make-up even though a creepy clown craze that has swept North America has made its way to Edmonton. 

"I find it kind of bizarre," said Kennard, an Edmonton man who has made a career out of professional clowning.

"I think it's fascinating, this fear of clowns. It's been around since I started, but I still managed to make a career out of being a theatre clown and no one has run away from the theatre."

The frenzy around creepy clowns has led to countless reports of children and adults being terrorized by strangers dressed in wiry wigs and white masks.

"I think it's kind of motivated by social media and how people are so paranoid these about who is 'behind the mask,' " Kennard said in a Friday morning interview on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"This feels like a new thing. A lot of the sightings aren't necessarily true.They've been made up,  and that provokes the paranoia."

Reports of clown sightings started flooding into police agencies in the United States early this summer, but now Canada appears to be in the grips of the deepening delirium.

The trend has proven to be no laughing matter for law enforcement.​

Harry Ainlay High School in Edmonton was locked down this week after an alleged threat was made online by someone who used the name YEG Clown.

Fort Saskatchewan RCMP were concerned enough to issue a press release after a red-haired clown was spotted "hanging out" at a spray park in the city northeast of Edmonton Wednesday night.

An apologetic teenaged boy later turned himself in to police.

Fear of clowns

Although Kennard acknowledges that the paranoia around clowns has been especially powerful in recent months, he says pranksters have always been around, waiting for an excuse to scare the public.

"Most of these clown 'scarings' are just people in a mask, and with it being Halloween, they're just going out and buying these masks and putting them on," he said. 

"And that's being going on for 50 years, if not longer."

Kennard is a professor at the drama department at the University of Alberta, where he's taught generations of new clowns. He's also one half of the critically-acclaimed clown duo, Mump and Smoot, often referred to as the "Clowns of Horror."

When he performs, he's a demonic creation with stumpy red horns. Both authoritative and pompous, his character Mump is a bully which erupts in violent rages of gibberish on stage.

Edmonton's Michael Kennard performs as Mump in the critically-acclaimed clowning duo Mump and Smoot. (EPIC Photography)
Kennard wasn't always a creepy clown.

During his university years, he softened his persona while begrudgingly working children's birthday parties to make ends meet. It was during these excursions that he realized bad birthday clowns were the source of so much fear. 

Kennard would get strange looks as made his way to these gigs, navigating the city streets in full clown make-up, but never heard a scream of horror until he introduced himself to children.

He stopped showing up to the birthday parties in full make-up.

Kennard says performers who show up in costume can startle children into permanent revulsion for the colourful jesters.

"Younger kids can be scared of clowns a lot easier than adults," Kennard said. "Adults are more able to make the judgement call that its just actually somebody in a mask ... that's part of what's created this phenomenon."

Despite the recent paranoia, Kennard refuses to be a sad clown about it all.  He knows his adult-only audiences are seeking out a good scare.

"The audience knows we're performers doing a clown show, so there's that separation, and they know who is behind the mask,"  Kennard said.

"Whereas,on the street or out in the public, someone puts a mask on and you don't know who it is or what they could be up to."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca