The concept of the evil clown is related to the irrational fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia. The cultural critic Mark Dery has theorized the postmodern archetype of the evil clown in "Cotton Candy Autopsy: Deconstructing Psycho-Killer Clowns" (a chapter in his cultural critique The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink).
Tracking the image of the demented or deviant clown across popular culture, Dery analyzes the "Pogo the Clown" persona of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy; the obscene clowns of the neo-situationist Cacophony Society; the Joker (of "Batman" fame); the grotesque art of R.K. Sloane; the sick-funny Bobcat Goldthwaite comedy Shakes the Clown; Stephen King's IT and the graphic novel Arkham Asylum.
Using Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque, Jungian and historical writings on the images of the fool in myth and history, and ruminations on the mingling of ecstasy and dread in the Information Age, Dery asserts the evil clown is an icon of our times. Clowns are often depicted as murderous psychopaths at many American haunted houses.
- The Joker, the archenemy of Batman, is a murderously insane and an evil, wicked super villain with a disturbing clown-like appearance. The character first appeared in Batman #1 (1940). However, his appearance was inspired by the character of Gwynplaine from the film The Man Who Laughs, played by Conrad Veidt. Gwynplaine had been a victim of gypsies who had cut off his lips so it appeared as if he were always smiling. Many of the Joker's henchmen in turn dress up like clowns.
- The Stephen King novel It, as well as the TV miniseries starring Tim Curry, revolves around seven children who are haunted by an evil shape-shifting creature that primarily takes the form of an evil clown named Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
- Musical groups such as the Insane Clown Posse, Mr. Bungle, Dangerous Toys, Esham, Shawn "Clown" Crahan of Slipknot and Tech N9ne aka "killa klown" all have impersonated clowns in a "creepy" manner.
- In the 1987 film, The Brave Little Toaster, there was an evil, wicked firefighting clown who appears from right out of the floor of the fire and smoke. His plan is to try to destroy the toaster with his firehose, making the water transform into forks and makes the toaster fall into an indoor bathtub.
- In the early 1990s, an evil clown character was featured in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Doink the Clown was portrayed as a villain early on in his career. He would do cruel things such as pop children's balloons with a cigar, splash water on the audience, and use a fake prosthetic arm to attack opponents. Once he even attacked an opponent with a car battery. His entrance theme music was a typical happy circus tune ("Entrance of the Gladiators") which would quickly segue into dark and menacing music, complete with evil cackling sound effects.
- The science fiction, Horror Comedy 1988 film, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) features carnivorous aliens who resemble as evil clowns from outer space.
- In the British comedy series Psychoville a sinister, and bitter, clown (Mr. Jelly) plays an integral part.
- Kefka Palazzo, the main villain of Final Fantasy VI, is an insane clown who manages to destroy the world by the first act.
- Sweet Tooth, from the video game series Twisted Metal.
- Adam MacIntyre, a boss character in Capcom's Dead Rising is generically a psychopathic evil clown who went insane after his audience was killed by zombies.
- In The Sarah Jane Adventures episode Day of the Clown the villain is Oddbob the Clown; an entity created by emotion of fear; based on the irrational fear of clowns.
- In the 2011 video game Mortal Kombat, Shang Tsung transforms into an evil clown as part of one of his fatalities.
- Jack Attack from Demonic Toys is an evil Jack-in-the-box that has the appearance of an evil clown.
- Charles Band's film series Killjoy features an evil entity with the appearance of a clown.
- Both the Harlequin and the Ottoman Jester from the Assassin's Creed series take on the appearance of evil jesters.
- In the horror film Amusement the main villain, The Laugh, dresses as an evil clown doll in one scene, and is seen on the cover of the movie dressed as the clown.