And we wonder why the stock market nosedived

The increased use of clowns in the national marketplace has begun to make me just a little bit nervous.

They’ve quietly crept up on us until the proliferation of clowns in commercial promotions nationwide appears to have reached epidemic proportions in a relatively short time.

Once relegated to circuses, carnivals and advertising for such products as cotton candy and rubber noses, clowns are have begun appearing with alarming regularity in promotions for supermarkets, auto dealerships, liquor stores and even dental offices.

I first reported on this somewhat unsettling trend last fall when I and jolly party of hardy Solanoans were accosted by a group of clowns gathered around the restrooms of a large Placer County flea market.

Restroom clowns?

And they were only the beginning. Before long, it seemed that the white-faced, red-nosed jokers were turning up everywhere, somehow growing into one of the biggest and goofiest marketing tools of the 21st century.

Think about it, fellow consumers – just how much sense does all this clowning around really make?

Sure, clowns are colorful and silly and fun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to want to buy a station wagon – or a fifth of bourbon – from one of them.

When my car is leaking an ominous stream of transmission fluid onto the pavement and making an ominous “ka-thunk, ka-whunk” sound, the last thing I want to see as I limp into an auto dealership is a grinning lunatic with gigantic shoes and a red fright wig. A cute balloon dachshund isn’t going to do much for my confidence, either.

It’s equally difficult to envision clowns as a symbol of success for liquor stores or supermarkets. Nobody wants to buy a can of chili from a guy with a big red nose only to find out that it’s really a can of compressed pink confetti – plooomph!

And things will only get worse if clowns start infesting liquor stores. Spring-loaded rubber snakes in bottles of Uncle Vanya’s Premium Portuguese Schnapps? Not a pretty picture, amigos.

The appearance of a clown logo on a dental complex I passed while motoring through Contra Costa County gave me even more cause for alarm.

Sorry, no matter how you look at it, clowns and dentistry just don’t mix. There’s something decidedly unnerving about waiting for a root canal while a pop-eyed guy with pink hair chases a basketball-sized inflatable bicuspid around the office with a big rubber mallet…

This kind of scenario could put an entirely different spin on the use of “laughing gas.”

What’s next, America – emergency room clowns, stock exchange clowns, airliner clowns?

“Hi, I’m Beppo and I’m going to be your pilot today. Right now we’re cruising at sea level because nobody’s lit the pilot light yet – honk-honk! – but once we get under way, me an’ my co-pilot, Roscoe the Rascally Rabbit, will be taking you to Miami to see the Grand Canyon and the Space Needle – honk-honk! – Dinner will be served just as soon as we catch that darned pig! Enjoy your – honk-honk! – flight . . . ”

Originally published April 23, 2000