To celebrate reaching the end of this year, we asked our reporters to look back on 2019 and pick one thing they thought stood out from the rest of the cultural chaos and cursed images. You can find the complete selection of our choices here.
2019 was undoubtedly my year of clownery.
This year I picked up yoga, started meal prepping in earnest, and got a new job — to humble brag a little bit. In terms of dating, however? I honked my big fat red nose.
It seems that on Jan. 1, 2019, I enrolled in clown college, red wig and oversized shoes in tow. I liked people who did not like me back, texted people I should’ve blocked, and ignored hints that slapped me in the face.
Thanks to the internet, though, I know I’m not alone — and misery loves company. Clown University brought in a large freshman class in 2019, and most of the students appear to be people who like men. (As a side note, being bisexual is, in my opinion, the ultimate clown move — I don’t have to date men, yet here I am, pining over some who’s “here for a good time, not a long time.”)
I propose that 2019 was not only a year of legendary foolishness for me, but also the year of what I’m calling the “dating clownery meme.”
Clown memes and characters, such as Pennywise and the Joker, have existed long before this year, of course. But I believe that self-identifying as a clown is currently having a moment. The fact that 2019 saw the release of Joker and IT: Chapter 2 fanned the flames of the dating clownery fire, but it did not start it. Many of these memes do not involve either character, and some even use reaction images featuring figures like in Photoshopped clown makeup to prove their point.
Instagram even made it easy to turn yourself into a clown, with filter on filter to choose from:
Nikita, a 24-year-old Los Angeles resident, agrees that while “clowning” existed prior to 2019, this was the year where it reached its apex. “I definitely have noticed a lot more dating clown memes in the past year, but my friends and I have used clown as a verb (variations include clowning, clownery, etc.) for the past couple of years,” she said. “So I’ve loved watching it become more of a cultural thing.”
“Everywhere I turn I am seeing so many of those memes,” said Karine, a 25-year-old living in Seattle who believes she “embraced the clownery” more in 2019 than in previous years.
And it’s not just anecdotal: “boo boo the fool” has reached a peak of U.S. Google searches this year:
It’s difficult to parse out exactly why dating clownery memes soared this year in particular, but memes, as Gretchen McCulloch discussed in her book , can be seen as in-jokes that take off when they’re scalable. The “in” groups for , using an example from her book, are huge: People who are on the internet, and people who agree the cat has a grumpy look on her face.
“Creating, sharing, or laughing at a meme is staking a claim to being an insider,” McCulloch wrote. Thinking about the “in-groups” for clown memes, they’re far and wide: People on the internet, and people who feel foolish or hopeless in the dating sphere.
McCulloch continued, “Like how typographical irony creates space for sincerity, jokes are also claims to cultural space. Laughing at an in-joke says, ‘I too was there when this happened.’ Laughing at a joke about shared struggles says, ‘We’re all in this together.’”
We’re all in this together. There is a solidarity element to memes; just look at the inundation of . Affinity groups, sports teams, colleges — you can find a meme page for basically anything, because we all want to know we’re not alone.
Dating clownery is no different. “I enjoy them [the memes] because it is nice to know I’m not alone in my foolishness,” said Renee, a 38-year-old attorney who said she tries to not get feelings get in the way of dating — but that did not happen this year.
your clown name is your first name + your last
— jabucchi giovanotto-bianco (@jaboukie) September 13, 2019
In my experience, I sought out and celebrated clown memes specifically because they made me feel better. I am not proud of my clownery — as I’m sure many of my fellow clowns are not — but the fact that I’m not the only Boo Boo the Fool ‘round these parts is, in a way, comforting.
It is a strange thing, being foolish for love. We . We go to people’s apartments at 2 a.m. knowing damn well they would not do the same for us. We block then unblock then snoop social media then accidentally like an Instagram post from 103 weeks ago and then want to throw our phones in the nearest body of water.
“We all know dating is awful, now imagine you’re interested in someone that just makes you do the dumbest stuff just to get their attention and affection,” said Trevor Begnal, a post-production manager based in Brooklyn — and the creator of one of my favorite clown memes:
“I think that’s basically the definition of a clown, someone that’s willing to humiliate themselves just to make someone else happy,” he continued.
At some point, according to Begnal, it’s healthy to check yourself. Clown memes are his way of checking himself and being self-aware. He said, “You’re like, ‘hey I know I’m being stupid over this stupid cute boy but I can’t stop.’”
And why can’t we stop being stupid? It is, unfortunately, science. Researchers have , and there’s further evidence that it . The good news, though, is that there is also evidence that this decrease in cognitive control does not last forever. It’s the honeymoon phase, the new-relationship goggles that make us see what is not there — and may make us think that we are acting rationally when… *cue circus music*
While the tomfoolery will (hopefully) pass, it still occurs. Then the shame follows, as we further self-reflect on our actions. Dating clownery memes provide an opportunity to laugh at ourselves and others as well as force us to confront what we did and how it makes us feel. They put a mirror up to us, complete with face makeup and maybe even a red wig.
“I think why clownery is so popular is it’s generally something we are ashamed of doing, and don’t like to admit that we do,” Karine said. “But having a space to admit your feelings or be brutally honest about who you are as a person is really … nice? It’s nice to feel that solidarity with men and women all around.”
I gathered stories from my sources about their bozo dating moments from this year. These people reside in different areas, are different ages, with different professions. I asked them to provide these stories as examples for this article, and intended to provide my own experience as well.
I discovered quickly that not only would this article be the length of a novella if I printed them, but also that the individual stories were, in essence, the same: We wanted so badly for something to work out, and it didn’t, and now we feel bamboozled/hoodwinked/duped/like a damn fool.
But that’s not all: The common thread is that we realize our errors. We are conscious and mindful and intelligent human beings. And that is why we feel like clowns now.
Memeing will not solve our problems, and it will also not prevent us from the . But maybe we clowns will pause the next time we want to send that triple (or quadruple) text. Maybe we’ll question why that person only wants to see us at 1 a.m. on a Thursday and not 6 p.m. on a Saturday. Maybe — with the support of fellow clown memers — we’ll do better.
Begnal mused that he may leave his red nose in 2019. He said, “Maybe 2020 will be the year of NonClownery for me.”
Let’s hope that by next year, we’re all clown college dropouts.