Send in the Clowns … TO HELL!

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What’s new in the world of clowns? Two are dead and one had his stupid tiny bicycle stolen, that’s what!

I’m sure you’ll agree that circus clowns are ghastly, nightmarish beings whose unfunny mirth destroys all the happiness it comes in contact with. Ironically, the only time they are ever funny is when they don’t intend to be — when a car full of them overturns on the highway, for example, and 30 sad-faced harlequins come crawling out, bleeding and wounded, their red noses honking as they collapse face-down on the pavement. Or when someone bursts into a Colombian circus and shoots two of them.

That’s what happened in February in the town of Cucuta, Colombia. The Circo del Sol de Cali (rough translation: “Circus of Clown Slaughter”) was performing to a crowd of a few dozen people when a gunman barged into the place, opened fire, and killed two clowns. Other clowns shot back, but their guns only spat out little signs that said “BANG!” when they fired them.

Ordinarily, I would not make jokes about someone’s death unless the death occurred in a particular amusing manner or unless the person was a heinous villain. (Ann Coulter, I am looking at you, albeit through protective goggles.) What makes the story of the two dead Colombian clowns funny is what local police chief Jose Humberto Henao told the press afterward:

“The killings had nothing to do with the show the victims were performing at the time of the incident,” he said.

In other words: “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking someone hated the clowns’ soul-sucking, joyless merriment SO MUCH that he shot them. But for real, it had nothing to do with that. I SWEAR.”

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Artist’s rendering of a typical, everyday circus clown, just before it feasts upon the blood of the living.

The police chief was well aware of people’s attitudes toward clowns, and he wanted to nip that theory in the bud. But I call bullcrap. I say the gunman had simply had enough of their clownery and put a stop to it with a little old-fashioned Colombian justice. He had the guts to do what the rest of us only fantasize about. I want to buy that man a drink, and tickets to Cirque du Soleil.

(Some news articles about the killings mention that another clown was shot and killed in Cucuta last year, too. As much as I would like to believe that someone is systematically killing all of the world’s clowns, I suspect the truth is much more mundane: It’s Colombia, and people get shot all the time.)

The other recent item in clown news does not, sadly, involve any clown murders. But the good news is that there was one less stupid tiny bicycle being ridden this weekend, after a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clown had his bike stolen in New York City.

According to the Associated Press, the circus was at Madison Square Garden on Friday when, before the show, Bello the clown was out walking the streets with some of his clown brethren. Then they ran into a gang of mimes, and “West Side Story” broke out!

No, just kidding. That would be awesome, though. (“When you’re a mime, you’re a mime all the way, from your first guy-in-a-glass-box to your last man-climbing-up-a-rope!”) What happened was that Bello and his buddies paused to do a little impromptu show on the street, just to annoy passersby. He had to set down his miniature bicycle in the process, and then he forgot it. When he realized he didn’t have it with him, he hurried back to the scene, but of course it was gone. You couldn’t leave a paper bag full of snot on a Manhattan sidewalk for 30 seconds without someone stealing it.

The AP article is disappointingly short on details of the incident. For example, when Bello and his comrades burst into their spontaneous street performance, were they already in full clown regalia? Do they look like that all the time, like Krusty the Clown? Or were they in street clothes? Which is sadder: clowns who walk around in full costume and makeup even when they’re not doing a show, or normal-looking people who suddenly start engaging in acts of clownery on city sidewalks?

Bello was heartbroken over his loss. The stupid tiny bicycle was built in Mexico City 12 years ago and was one-of-a-kind. (Except for all the other stupid tiny bicycles that clowns ride in circuses.) He loved that bike. Not enough to, you know, not leave it sitting unattended on a busy New York City sidewalk, but still. The circus offered a $1,000 reward for the bike’s safe return, and Bello was optimistic.

“I don’t believe anybody stole the bike,” he said at a news conference — and yes, a news conference was held to report the loss of the bike. “I think someone took it so they could return it to me.”

The sad postscript to this story is that, as lame as Bello’s optimism was, it turns out someone really DID find the bike and really DID return it to him. He was reunited with it on Sunday, two days after losing it. That means he had to do Friday and Saturday’s circuses bike-less. I wonder what that was like for him. How nerve-racking, to have to go on without your favorite prop. He might have had to resort to doing comedy.

When I read the news story about the clown murders, I hung onto it, figuring it would come in handy sooner or later. It's sad when people get killed, of course, but ... well ... we didn't know them, and they lived far away.

The Associated Press article about Bello's lost bike mentions that Time magazine once named him "America's Best Clown." That is one of the more dubious honors I've ever heard. It's like being named "World's Cruelest Tyrant" or "Most Efficient Burglar."

I was surprised to learn, in the course of writing this column, that "clownery" is an actual word. I thought I had made it up, back when I wrote about the circus exactly six months earlier.

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