I have always been a sucker for weird, gimmicky stunts—particularly when there’s a movie attached. So last month, when I saw the opportunity to attend a Clowns Only screening of It Chapter Two at the Alamo Drafthouse—during which every theatergoer was expected to dress as a clown—I bought my ticket without thinking much about what wandering around as a clown in downtown Los Angeles would actually entail.
Two days ago, I stepped into the cheapest, most easily acquired clown costume I had managed to find and walked out the door and into a different kind of nightmare. I wasn’t even a scary clown. Just your run-of-the-mill, bargain-bin, all-in-one clown costume: Patchwork waistcoat, rainbow wig, red nose. ( GQ.com: For all your men’s fashion needs! )
I’m not in the habit of going out dressed as a clown, so I didn’t fully realize how weird my night was going to be until I pulled up to a stoplight, glanced over at the car next to me, and saw the other driver staring at me with a perplexed frown on his face. I smiled. He did not smile back.
I have previously argued that clowns aren’t scary, and I stand by that. But let me tell you: It is terrifying to be a clown. Everybody instantly distrusts and hates you. After pulling into the parking garage in the mall where I attended the It Chapter Two Clowns Only screening, I was almost immediately stopped by a security guard, who was (understandably) unnerved by a lone clown wandering aimlessly around the mall. He didn’t seem any happier when I told him there would be a few dozen more arriving within the hour.
As I waited for what must have been the slowest elevator in all of North America, I watched, cheeks reddening, as person after person looked me up and down and decided they’d rather take the stairs. And when I walked past a part of the mall that includes a small playground, a small child literally took one look at me, screamed, and ran away. When a couple walked by me, a husband teased his wife: "Look, it’s a clown! Do you want a picture?" She shook her head and started speed-walking.
It was around this time that I realized that I might have unintentionally boxed myself into a corner with this whole clown thing. In 2019, pretty much nobody is happy to see a clown (and It Chapter Two and Joker aren’t exactly helping matters). But an actual clown, with a degree from a Clown College, has something in their arsenal that I didn’t have: The ability to do clown stuff. Real clowns can defuse clown-haters by telling a good joke, or spraying you with water from a fake flower, or get together with 12-16 of their brothers and sisters and squeeze into a tiny car. As a clown-for-a-night with zero clowning techniques under my belt, I could… smile and wave at people? Do a half-hearted little jig? Awkwardly explain why I was dressed as a clown to confused onlookers?
Reader: I tried all of those things. None of them helped much.
As you might expect, things improved immensely as soon as entered the theater, surrounded by my fellow clowns. My costume turned heads in the normal world, but I was easily one of the least impressive clowns at the movie theater. As soon as someone arrived in a staggeringly impressive Pennywise costume—seriously, this thing was functionally identical to what audiences all over the world saw in It Chapter Two this weekend—no one even glanced at me for the rest of the evening.
We all took our seats in the theater, but there were still a few snags before the movie actually began. Did you know it’s very hard to drink a beer when you’re wearing a big red clown nose? And then there was the small saga of one enthusiastic fellow clown in the front row, who released a red balloon to cheers from the rest of us—until we realized the balloon was just going to hover right in the center of the screen for the whole movie. (During the previews, a theater employee came in with a long metal rod and pulled the balloon back down. "Does candy come out if you pop it?" one clown shouted. "Blood, actually," the employee deadpanned.)
And then we were ready to watch It Chapter Two—a movie I don’t like that is, admittedly, more enjoyable when you can turn your head and see Pennywise sitting next to you, grinning at his own on-screen antics. The servers in the theater were also dressed as clowns, and it was marginally unnerving to see them darting around the theater over the corner of your eye—particularly when they silently crab-walked down the aisles, dropping complimentary fortune cookies for each of us during Chapter Two’s own fortune cookie setpiece.
Mostly, though, being dressed as a clown doesn’t change your experience of actually watching It Chapter Two. Why would it? You’re in a dark theater staring at a movie screen. It’s not like watching Jaws in a swimming pool.
No matter. By the time the credits rolled, I was just relieved that I all three hours were over, and that I could drive home and put my short-lived clowning days behind me for good.
Until the movie ended, and I walked to my car and drove to the parking garage exit… and discovered that I’d lost my parking stub somewhere along the way. I still can’t figure out what happened to it. Call it one last malicious parting gag from Pennywise. And if you’ve ever had to talk your way out of a parking garage to a skeptical security guard, let me tell you: It is not any easier when you’re dressed as a clown.
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Originally Appeared on GQ