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A clown is a person who uses physical humor to perform comedy and arts in an accepting environment. They usually dress differently and defy conventional wisdom while doing so. The customs surrounding clowns are diverse, with wide variances in appearance and presentation.
Clowns who frequently appear in circus productions are the most identifiable; they are distinguished by their brightly coloured wigs, red noses, and enormous shoes. Clowns, however, have also appeared in theatre and folklore, such as the mediaeval court jesters and the jesters and ceremonial clowns of many indigenous cultures. Their performances represent complex cultural and psychological characteristics by evoking a spectrum of emotions, from dread and discomfort to humour and joy. Elizabeth Arden Flawless Finish Sponge on Cream Makeup, Clowns have remained important members of society over the ages, adapting to new creative expressions and cultural standards.
Clowns dating back to the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt, about 2400 BC, are the oldest known to exist. Clowns, as opposed to court jesters, have historically had a socio-religious and psychological function; in fact, clowns and priests have often been the same person. According to Peter Berger, “It seems plausible that folly and fools, like religion and magic, meet some deeply rooted needs in human society.” Clowning is therefore frequently seen as an essential component of training as a physical performance discipline, in part because it allows performers to tackle difficult subject matter and in part because it demands a great degree of risk-taking and play on their part.
The term “clown” has been used in anthropology to refer to similar jester or fool figures seen in non-Western civilizations. Clown societies are defined as those where these characters play a significant role, while ritual clowns are clown characters that participate in religious or ritualistic activities.
In Lakota and Dakota culture, an individual known as a Heyoka plays the role of a backward clown by living in reverse and living outside the bounds of conventional traditional duties. Sometimes a Winked works best in the Heyoka position. Clowns have long been a part of many indigenous cultures. The Canadian style of clowning that was created by Richard Pachinko and advanced by Sue Morrison, a former pupil, blends Native American and European clowning methods. This is a custom in which clay masks are created with the artist’s eyes closed. For every direction on the medicine wheel, a mask is created.
The clown develops their mythology that examines their individual experiences during this process. Grimaldi, the Homo erectus of clown evolution, was the first known progenitor of the contemporary clown. A clown before him could have had makeup on, but it was generally only a dab of rouge on the cheeks to emphasize the impression that they were comical, florid drunks or rustic yokels. Grimaldi, on the other hand, dressed in odd, vibrant outfits, with a blue mohawk atop a stark white visage painted with brilliant red splotches on his cheeks.
He was a master of satire that lampooned the ridiculous clothes of the day, comedic impersonation, and ribald tunes. He was also a master of physical comedy, having leaped into the air, stood on his head, and engaged in comical fights with himself that had audiences laughing in the aisles.”
—Smithsonian, The Psychology and History of Scary Clowns. Early humorous roles in theatre or Variety acts during the 19th and mid-20th centuries gave rise to the circus clown heritage. This well-known figure has outrageous outfits, unusual cosmetics, vibrant wigs, exaggerated shoes, and vibrant apparel, all of which are usually intended to amuse sizable crowds.
Joseph Grimaldi (who also invented the standard whiteface makeup look) played the first mainstream clown role. He developed the character of Clown in the harlequinade that was a feature of British pantomimes in the early 1800s, especially at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the theatres in Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden. Grimaldi’s whiteface makeup look and the moniker “Joey” were adopted by other harlequinade clowns once he became so prominent on the London comedic stage.
Clowns often play comedic roles, generally as fools whose routine jobs and behaviors take on spectacular qualities—and for whom the absurd temporarily becomes normal. Around the world, this kind of humour has a rich history in several nations and civilizations. Because such comedy has been around for a long time and is widely used, some writers have claimed that it is a natural human desire.
The 21st-century modern clowning style of comedy deviated from the white-face clown tradition by emphasizing increased sexuality and personal vulnerability.
The Zany rustic fool characters of early modern commedia dell’arte, which in turn derived straight from the rustic fool characters of classical Greek and Roman theatre, gave rise to the clown archetype. In addition to other general words for rustic or peasant, rustic clown characters in Classical Greek theatre were known as deikeliktas or sklêro-paiktês (from paizein: to play (like a kid)). Clowns in the Roman theatre were called fossor, which means laborer or digger in English.
The term clown was originally used in English in 1560 when it was known as Clowned or Cloyne, and it meant “rural, boorish, peasant.” Uncertainty surrounds the term’s origin; it could have come from a Scandinavian word related to clumsy. Clown is a term used in Shakespeare’s Othello and The Winter’s Tale to refer to foolish characters in this manner. Based on Elizabethan rustic fool characters like Shakespeare’s, the term “clown” came to mean a professional or frequent fool or jester sometime after 1600.
Inspired by Arlecchino and the commedia dell’arte, the harlequinade emerged in England during the 17th century. This is where the term “Clown” was first used to refer to a stock character. Clown, who was originally meant to provide a counterpoint to Harlequin’s cunning and skill, was a buffoon or bumpkin idiot, more like a funny idiot than a jester. He was a figure from a lower social level, clothed in worn servants’ uniforms.
Joseph Grimaldi, who played Clown in Charles Dibdin’s 1800 pantomime Peter Wilkins, or Harlequin in the Flying World at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, is credited with creating the now-classic aspects of the clown character in the early 1800s. Grimaldi developed the character into the central figure of the harlequinade.
The 19th century saw the development of the circus clown. The London riding school founded by Philip Astley in 1768 served as the model for the contemporary circus. In between equestrian scenes, Astley would include a clown in his presentations to keep the audience entertained. In the 1860s, American comic George L. Fox rose to fame for his clown persona, which was heavily influenced by Grimaldi. Around 1870, Tom Belling Senior (1843–1900) created the red clown, also known as Auguste (Dommer August), to counterbalance the more refined white clown.
Belling was employed by Vienna’s Circus Rebelling’s outfit, which was modeled after a lower-class or hobo persona and included a red nose, white makeup around the eyes and mouth, and large clothing and shoes, became the model for the contemporary stock character of a circus or children’s clown. The opera Pagliacci (Clowns), written by Ruggero Leoncavallo in 1892, reflects the development of the clown persona during the late 19th century. In the 1920s and 1930s, Belling’s Auguste persona gained even more popularity thanks to Nicolai Poliakoff’s Coco.
Many other languages, including French clown, Russian (and other Slavic languages), Danish/Norwegian klovn, Romanian cloven, etc., adopted the English word clown along with the circus clown performance.
The Commedia dell’arte character Pagliaccio is still present in Italian[b]. Other Romance languages have their own variations of the Italian term, including French Paillasse, Spanish payaso, Catalan/Galician pallasso, Portuguese palhaço, Greek παλιάτσος, Turkish palyaço, German Pajass (via French), Yiddish (payats), Russian οaя́ц, and Romanian paiață.
20th-century North America
With the demise of the commonplace rural simpleton or village idiot character in the early 20th century, North American circuses created characters like the hobo and tramp. Emmett Kelly’s Weary Willie, which is based on Depression-era hoboes, Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp (1914), and Marceline Orbs, who played at the Hippodrome Theatre in 1905, are a few examples. Otto Griebling portrayed another significant tramp figure from the 1930s through the 1950s. Dodo the Clown, played by Red Skelton in the 1953 film The Clown, presents the circus clown as a tragicomic stock figure who is “a funny man with a drinking problem.”
Since the late 1950s, Bozo the Clown has been a well-known Auguste figure in the United States. The Bozo Show debuted in 1960 and had its national broadcast debut on cable in 1978. Ronald McDonald, McDonald’s trademark clown, was inspired by the Bozo figure from the 1960s. Television advertisements from 1963 used Willard Scott, who portrayed Bozo from 1959 to 1962, as the team’s mascot. The character’s 1967 trademark application was filed with McDonald’s.
The US tradition of birthday clowns, private contractors who volunteer to perform as clowns at children’s parties, originated in the 1960s and 1970s and was modeled after the Bozo pattern. By the mid-1980s, Clown Care, or hospital clowning, had become popular in children’s hospitals due to the strong link of the (Bozo-derived) clown figure with children’s entertainment as it has developed since the 1960s. These groups, which were founded in 1984 by Clowns of America International and in 1987 by the World Clown Association, consist of semi-professional and professional clowns.
The evil clown character emerged in children’s entertainment during the 1980s when the Auguste or red clown character transitioned from his role as a counterpoint for the white in circus or pantomime shows to a standalone character derived from Bozo. Small children find clowns frightening or threatening. The term “coulrophobia” refers to the fear of clowns, especially circus clowns.
Evil and terrifying
The frightening clown, often referred to as the evil clown or killer clown, is a parody of the comedic clown archetype, where the lighthearted theme is replaced with a more ominous one through the employment of gory details and dark humor.
One may argue that the figure is making fun of people who have coulrophobia, or a fear of clowns. The Joker from DC Comics, who first appeared in 1940, and Pennywise from Stephen King’s novel IT both contributed to the current public’s familiarity with the concept of the evil clown. The title character of the book is a pan-dimensional monster that preys mostly on youngsters by tricking them into thinking they are a clown by the name of “Pennywise” and then taking on the form of whatever dread the victim has the most of all.
An international association for face painters, jugglers, magicians, and clowns is called the World Clown Association. Every year, it hosts a convention, mostly in America.
“To share, educate, and act as a gathering place for serious-minded amateurs, semiprofessionals, and professional clowns” is the mission statement of the non-profit membership organization for clown arts, Clowns of America International, situated in Minnesota.
An association of British clowns, Clowns International was founded in the 1940s. It is in charge of maintaining the Clown Egg Register.