Dottie Lux, a professional clown who performs in San Francisco and Coney Island, claims that people come up to her all the time and say, “I’ve always been afraid of clowns, but I love you.” It probably doesn’t hurt that unlike most clowns, Lux takes her clothes off during her act. She’s part of a growing nightclub subculture called Clown Burlesque, which has taken off in cities from London to New York, Detroit to Santa Cruz. These burlesque clowns don’t just entertain with pratfalls and goofy faces; they also thrill their audiences with suggestive bump-and-grind dances and strategically-placed pink balloon pasties. The growing fan base is loyal and a little obsessive — Lux says at least one of her admirers has tattooed her clown portrait on his ass — but not everybody likes the idea of sexy clowns. Boswick the Clown (aka David Magidson), who’s toured with the world famous Ringling Brothers Circus, wants to make sure that adults-only clown acts are restricted to late night venues, away from family crowds. Exposure to a near-naked clown with balloon breasts could, he says, result in “kids having to see therapists for the rest of their lives.”

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the November 18th, 2011 issue of the New York Times Magazine.)