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A Short Talk With the Original Viral Clown

He regrets nothing

‘The Local Clown’ screenshot via YouTube
‘The Local Clown’ screenshot via YouTube

What’s up with the clowns, though? Reports of spooky clown sightings are on the rise, to which NBC has asked: “America Under Siege?” At least some of the clown reports are hoaxes. Is it an overhyped fad, fueled by hysterical, Facebook-baiting blog posts? CNN recently hypothesized that the clowns could be “an expression of human anxiety,” and to that I say: Are you just allowed to vape the good shit at CNN now? I tried to ask Stephen King about it, but his assistant said that he “feels he has said as much as he has to say about clowns.”

I do know where and when the fad started — in England three years ago, a simpler time before America’s scariest clown was the one in the promos for American Horror Story, when Jeb Bush had a more viable political career than an orange-sherbet-tinted reality TV con goblin. Back in 2013, an odd phenomenon had gripped Northampton, a small English town northwest of London. A clown, resembling the creature from Stephen King’s It, skulked around the area and said “beep, beep” a lot, which is exactly what the clown from It said. And that (fictional) clown straight-up killed children. Spookiness ensued.

People wanted the clown gone. The Atlantic called it “Europe’s greatest mystery” — The Atlantic needs to relax — and the menacing clown became a media staple as amateur detectives and reporters searched for the perpetrator and motive. The Daily Mirror figured out the identity of the man behind the horrifying prank, a 22-year-old student named Alex Powell. I thought talking to the person behind the original media-attention-grabbing creepy-clown prank might possibly shine some light on our nation’s dumbest trend since hating gluten.

Powell, who currently works in the film business in Northampton, does not think this is the work of a guerilla PR team. “I disagree that there’s any viral marketing going on, it seems it’s just university students having fun,” he told me, via Facebook, when I asked if he thought it was a viral stunt.

The way Powell tells it, his clown cosplay started as an attempt to make people happy, not to scare them shitless. “It all started from a film I made about a clown,” he said. “People began noticing the film which then sparked the appearances and I had to keep it going because people really enjoyed it … at first. I was cross when the newspapers revealed me because they didn’t do it in a nice way.” (You can see the film on YouTube.)

“The best part of my clown was the secrecy. Everyone was intrigued and that’s what made it unique,” he said.

He still thinks Stephen King had it right on the creepiness scale: “Pennywise has to be the creepiest clown of all time.”

Although he has not been in contact with anyone involved with this most recent spate of people reportedly dressing up like clowns in the U.S. or the U.K., Powell is skeptical of reports that the clowns in the recent wave are violent or dangerous. “It’s crazy how quickly this ‘Killer Clown’ phase has escalated,” he said. “I don’t believe for a second that the reports are true about clowns carrying knives.

“I would advise anyone clowning to be safe because a lot of people don’t take kindly to this sort of thing.”