Send in the Clowns

Americans have a peculiar Manichaean relationship with clowns. This dualism sees us hiring them for kids' birthday parties and cheering a clown-packed car at the circus while simultaneously relishing the spectacle of a clown gone bad. Malevolent, evil-doing clowns take center stage in many popular plot lines, from Batman's archenemy the Joker and his homicidal sense of humor to Stephen King's Pennywise (from It), who created an entire generation of adults afraid to walk within an arm's length of storm drains. Coulrophobia is a punch line on Web sites such as clownophobia.com and ihateclowns.com, which sell vitriolic, clown-bashing merchandise. There even exists a Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army that "aims to make clowning dangerous."

We feel a little sad about this trend toward clown corruption. Some of our fondest childhood memories involve whiteface clowns making balloon wiener dogs or rodeo clowns being chased down by angry mules while wearing a barrel. Those were good times. If you're with us on this emotion, then Slappy and Monday's Jingle Bell Jamboree at the Puppet Playhouse will bring a sentimental tear to your eye starting Friday at Galleria Dallas. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey veterans Tiffany Riley and Dick Monday have created what they call "The Ed Sullivan Show for a new generation," a variety show with magicians, marionettes and circus features. This is classic clowning in all its vaudevillian splendor, combining physical comedy, puppetry and holiday themes to create a family-friendly production, something that might be much needed the day after Thanksgiving. So leave your "Can't Sleep--Clowns Will Eat Me" T-shirts at home and indulge in an afternoon of innocent pleasures.

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Leah Shafer