Clowns have never been pleasant to look at. The further back you get, the creepier the vibe. The suits are uncomfortably baggy, and all the make-up and colours just feel like a convenient facade for something sinister lingering underneath. They never seem truly happy. Something’s just off about them.
Which makes them perfect for professional wrestling, where we get to watch ultra-fit athletes beat them senseless for a 1-2-3 to much aplomb. Pro wrestling is steeped in the traditions of the circus, from the melodrama to the reality-defying premises and over-the-top theatrics. Over the years, a few have made this connection literal, putting themselves out there as actual buffoons for our amusement. Some have been great, some have not, but all have been memorable – for good and ill.
Doink the Clown
As the famous joke goes: In the mid-nineties, a man goes to a doctor, says he’s depressed, that life is harsh and cruel. Doctor says “Treatment is simple. The great clown Doink is wrestling tonight, go see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears, replies “But doctor, I am Doink.”
Introduced in sporadic appearances throughout 1992, Matt ‘Doink’ Osborne made an auspicious in-ring WWE debut in 1993 that heralded a relatively strong run. Using circus pranks and magic tricks, the green-haired jester overcame a number of opponents using traps and misdirects, most famously having an exact body double appear during his match with Crush at WrestleMania IX to cinch the victory.
Unfortunately, playful antics gave way to meandering tomfoolery as the gauche blue-tighted clown was saddled with accomplice Dink and a tiring feud with Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler that led to Doink’s decline. Despite appearing alongside the likes of Bret Hart and The Undertaker in Midway’s WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game in 1995, Doink would wrestle his last major match that year, losing to one Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Osborne spent the rest of his career wrestling part-time across various companies.
English-speaking fans have no doubt noticed muscle-bound luchador Psycho Clown stomping through some of the finest talent IMPACT has to offer as part of Team AAA earlier this year. One of the most popular performers in Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide, Psycho Clown sports a long multi-coloured mohawk and a perpetually grimacing mask. Psycho is one of the most distinctive AAA performers to start making traction globally.
As part of Los Psycho Circus, he’s held the AAA World Trios Championship with the comfortingly-named Murder Clown and Monster Clown twice, but has struck out as a singles competitor in recent years. In 2017, he defeated long-time adversary Dr. Wagner Jr. in the Mask Vs. Mask main event of Triplemania XXV, and was involved in 2018’s headlining fatal-four-way.
As unpredictable as he is brawny, he’s a bozo set for bigger and bigger things, and considering he recently teamed with AEW’s Cody Rhodes, we could be seeing more of him in the States sooner rather than later.
Insane Icon Sting
Speaking of IMPACT, remember when Sting became Heath Ledger’s Joker for a redux of his feud with Hulk Hogan from the Monday Night Wars? The Icon had always dabbled in the heightened theater of wrestling, embracing loud face-paint and maintaining a chiseled physique that made him look and feel like a cartoon character come-to-life. In WCW, this evolved to mirror gothic anti-hero The Crow, when he switched from neon greens, pinks and yellows to a uniform black-and-white, complete with leather trench-coat.
That’d be the look Sting would keep in perpetuity, until 2011 when he and TNA decided to adopt the gimmick of another currently resonant figure, the Joker from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. As the anarchic clown prince of wrestling, Sting would deliver more audacious promos, in sloppier face-paint that now included some red. Week-to-week programming saw him gate-crashing other superstars’ segments, appearing in the rafters to point and snicker and casually laying atop the lockers in the locker-room. His delivery was a mix between Ledger’s own unhinged presentation and Robin Williams’ ever-shifting variety-show as The Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, constantly shifting moods, voices and accents.
Even then the whole thing was questionable, not least because it was Hogan vs. Sting in 2011, but Sting’s dedication gives it an edge. He’s clearly having fun, delivering something different every promo, and there’s an underlying meta to his madness – an old-guard professional finally cracking as he’s forced to go through the motions of a tired angle. There’s an unease to what Sting’s doing, as we wonder whether he’s giving us a show for entertainment, or as a plea for help.
Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope
It may be a stretch to consider the Insane Clown Posse the spiritual successors of Extreme Championship Wrestling, but I’m calling it. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope aren’t just tenured wrestlers, they’re legitimate businessmen of the indie scene, having run Juggalo Championship Wrestling for over two decades alongside their wide variety of other ventures.
In the most E-C-DUB of origins, the pair were asked to appear in the second ECW pay-per-view Hardcore Heaven at the behest of Rob Van Dam as he knew they were fans and former backyard wrestlers. WWE and WCW can knocking after, leading to feuds with the Headbangers and forming stables alongside other alternative weirdos Vampiro and Raven.
Although their reputation as living memes isn’t unjustified, the ferocity of ICP’s cult of personality is equally undeniable, and when it comes to pro wrestling, they’re some of the savviest bookers and performers in the biz. They embrace the down-and-dirty, freak-show roots of the form, and present it without pretension. The self-produced hip-hop regalia and layered on face-mask makes them naturals in front of any wrestling crowd, and if being a white rapper is good enough for John Cena, it’s good enough for the Posse. In fact, the scariest thing about them, really, is what it says about us that we’ll cheer Vince McMahon’s son throwing himself off a 40-foot cage, or a demonic fiend hosting a kayfabe children’s show, but somehow they’re still the weirdos.
Pogo The Clown
Given that Pogo The Clown is a direct reference to serial killer John Wayne Gacy, it’s should come as no surprise that this guy’s the only entry on this list who never wrestled for a major company. That said, Joe Applebaumer is an old-school wrestling road warrior whose career started in the early nineties and continues to this day.
With such a hefty legacy behind the title, Pogo takes his clowning very seriously. Appearing in a plump onesie not unlike Pennywise’s garb in the recent IT movies, Pogo is unsettling precisely because he literally looks like a time-displaced clown from some backwater town in the 1950s trying to wrestle. Not to mention that a lot of his most prolific work is against the likes of Sandman for companies such as Xtreme Pro Wrestling, where the selling is men bloodying each other up by any means necessary.
Dripping with blood, usually gasping for air and sweating profusely, Pogo’s the dime-store clown from your nightmares; a wheezing, psychotic menace that cannot be stopped, no matter how many times you hit him with a chair. He may not be on the road as much as he once was, but rest assured if you’re hanging around the independent wrestling circuit long enough, he’ll find you.