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Column: Will clowning around cook up a longer life?

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Want to get healthy? Get happy. At least, that is the takeaway I get from author Julie Beck’s short article in the latest issue of The Atlantic.

She surveys 12 studies that argue that laughter, while maybe not the best medicine, is really good for you. The studies show that the more you laugh, the better you feel, the longer you live and the easier it is to cope with difficulties. Oh, and it’s easier to get pregnant when you laugh.

Especially if you are entertained by a clown. Especially if he is dressed like a chef.

Maybe I should explain. Author Beck cites a study conducted by Friedler et. al. titled “The Effect of Medical Clowning on Pregnancy Rates After in Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfer” which was published in the May 2011 issue of Fertility and Sterility (Do you think the magazine has cartoons? If not, why not?). She explains that according to the research, “Women undergoing in vitro fertilization were 16 percent more likely to get pregnant when entertained by a clown dressed as a chef.”

Uh, OK. I totally trust the results of the research, and I am sure the researchers followed all of the rigorous scientific protocols for such a study. At the same time, I can’t help wondering what was going through Friedler et. al.’s heads as they were designing the experiment. I get the clown. A clown is supposed to be funny. A clown is a traditional symbol for humor.

But why dressed as a chef? Does that make the bit funnier? Maybe Friedler et. al. were thinking, “Clowns are funny, sure. But a clown dressed as a chef? That is comedy gold, my friends!”

Actually, I’m not sure if clowns are considered all that funny these days. I know more than a few people who claim to be afraid of clowns. These people suffer to one degree or another with “coulrophobia,” or the irrational fear of clowns. (For you word junkies out there, the prefix “coulro” comes from the ancient Greek and means “one who goes on stilts.”)

Psychologists say it is not clear how many people are afflicted with coulrophobia, but one study conducted in England in 2008 on more than 250 children ages 4 to 16 revealed that kids overwhelmingly dislike clowns, finding them “quite frightening and unknowable.”

Makes me wonder if the kids would have been more positive if the clowns had been wearing chef costumes.

I blame the author Stephen King for much of this. Back in the 1980s when I was going through my Stephen King phase, I happened upon the book “IT.” The evil character in the story is a clown named Pennywise. King has a talent for making his evil characters really frightful, and Pennywise was spot-on creepy. I’m not saying I freaked out after reading the novel, but the image of Pennywise did stick in my head for a while after I read it.

In 1990, Hollywood turned the book into a movie, which no doubt created an entire new set of coulrophobics.

I don’t remember anyone expressing clown fear when I was ages 4 to 16. Ronald McDonald wasn’t a big presence back in those days, but he is a pretty benign brand mascot even if he is a clown. Ruffles the clown was a TV host for a local children’s show when I was growing up.

I didn’t figure out until later that he probably took the name Ruffles from the potato chip company, which was one of the sponsors of the afternoon show.

To me, the way corporations manipulate us with advertising is scarier than a clown car bursting with Bozos.

Anyway, back to my original point: If you want to live longer, if you want to be healthier, you should laugh more often. But you might want to stay away from clowns — unless they are dressed like a chef.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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