"You’re there to make them happy, to make them have fun, and now they are saying, ’Aaaagghh!’" said Cyrus Zaveih, also known as
"You're there to make them happy, to make them have fun, and now they are saying, 'Aaaagghh!'" said Cyrus Zaveih, also known as Cido the Clown. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Creepy craze no joke for real clowns

NEW YORK — Send in the frowns.

This year's nationwide creepy clown craze has become a nightmare before Halloween for actual, working clowns, who say their bookings at parties and other events have dropped sharply, even after many of the social media-fueled scary clown sightings have turned out to be hoaxes.

Some fear going out with their greasepaint makeup and red noses will make them a target of police or even marauding mobs who take to the streets on so-called clown hunts.

"It's definitely a scary feeling leaving your house, and you fear you are going to get jumped because you're dressed as a clown," says Cyrus Zavieh, a New York City hospital administrator who also performs professionally as Cido the Clown.

"You're there to make them happy, to make them have fun, and now they are saying, 'Aaaagghh!'" Zavieh says. "All of a sudden these stories are putting fear into kids. ... Before, they'd just look the other way, but now it's like, 'You're a scary clown and I hate you.'"

The World Clown Association — comprised of more than 2,000 members in 30 countries — has been flooded with calls from scared performers. It's been sending out safety tips, suggesting clowns consider changing into their costumes when they arrive at a party or go with a handler.

Association president Randy Christensen says clowns are also increasingly getting requests for "modified performances" in which they entertain without makeup and traditional clown attire.


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This week, retail giant Target took the step of pulling scary clown masks from its shelves. And McDonald's says its signature clown character, Ronald McDonald, will be keeping a lower profile.

The fallout follows a phenomenon in the U.S. involving dozens of stories, many fabricated, about clowns stalking or attacking people.

Clown sightings, hoaxes and pranks — especially around Halloween — aren't new. In fact, they've become a recurring staple of crime blotters since serial killer and working clown John Wayne Gacy was convicted in 1980 of killing 33 people.

Experts say it's relatively common for people to feel creeped out by clowns.

"It primarily has to do with the exaggerated makeup and features. We recognize it, but there is something abnormal," says Dr. Kristie Golden, associate director of operations for psychiatry and neurosciences at Stony Brook University Hospital. "We can be drawn in by that or we can be repelled."

Pyongyang zoo's smoking chimp doesn't inhale

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Pyongyang's newly opened zoo has a new star: Azalea, the smoking chimpanzee.

According to officials at the newly renovated zoo, which has become a favorite leisure spot in the North Korean capital since it re-opened in July, the 19-year-old female chimpanzee, whose name in Korean is "Dallae," smokes about a pack a day. Dallae is short for azalea.

They insist, however, she doesn't inhale.

Thrown a lighter by a zoo trainer, the chimpanzee lights her own cigarettes. If a lighter isn't available, she can light up from lit cigarette if one is tossed her way.

Though such a sight would draw outrage in many other locales, it seemed to delight visitors who roared with laughter on Wednesday as the chimpanzee, one of two at the zoo, sat puffing away as her trainer egged her on. The trainer also prompted her to touch her nose, bow thank you and do a simple dance.

A chimpanzee at the Central Zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea, has a pack-a-day habit.
A chimpanzee at the Central Zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea, has a pack-a-day habit. (Wong Maye-E / Associated Press)

Another of the most popular attractions that might come as a surprise to foreign visitors is the dog pavilion, which has everything from German shepherds to Shih Tzus. The zoo also has performances featuring other animals trained to do tricks, including a monkey that slam dunks basketballs, dogs trained to appear as though they can do addition or subtraction on an abacus, and doves that fly around and land on a woman skating on an indoor stage.

Renovations for the new zoo began in 2014, as part of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's efforts to create more modern and impressive structures and leisure centers around the capital. The zoo dates back to 1959, when Kim Il Sung, the nation's first leader and the grandfather of Kim Jong Un, ordered it built on the outskirts of the city.

According to its official history, the zoo started off with only 50 badgers.

Associated Press