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Clown chili peppers.jpg
Clown at a Memorial Day parade, 2004
Medium Physical comedy, acting, mime
Types Circus, contemporary circus, comedy, theatre, television, film
Ancestor arts Jester
Descendant arts Harlequinade, comedian

Clowns are comic performers who employ slapstick or similar types of physical comedy, often in a mime style.

Clowns have a varied tradition with significant variations in costume and performance. The most recognisable modern clown character is the Auguste or "red clown" type, with outlandish costumes featuring distinctive makeup, colourful wigs, exaggerated footwear, and colourful clothing. Their entertainment style is generally designed to entertain large audiences, especially at a distance.

Modern clowns are strongly associated with the tradition of the circus clown, which developed out of earlier comedic roles in theatre or Varieté shows during the 19th to mid 20th centuries.

Many circus clowns have become well known and are a key circus act in their own right. The first mainstream clown role was portrayed by Joseph Grimaldi (who also created the traditional whiteface make-up design). In the early 1800s, he expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes, notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden theatres. He became so dominant on the London comic stage that harlequinade Clowns became known as "Joey", and both the nickname and Grimaldi's whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns.

The comedy that clowns perform is usually in the role of a fool whose everyday actions and tasks become extraordinary—and for whom the ridiculous, for a short while, becomes ordinary. This style of comedy has a long history in many countries and cultures across the world. Some writers have argued that due to the widespread use of such comedy and its long history it is a need that is part of the human condition.

The "fear of clowns," circus clowns in particular as a psychiatric condition has become known by the term coulrophobia.

See Harlequinade
  • The Hobo: Migratory and finds work where he travels. Down on his luck but maintains a positive attitude.
  • The Tramp: Migratory and does not work where he travels. Down on his luck and depressed about his situation.
  • The Bum: Non-migratory and non-working.
  • Walk a tightrope, a highwire, a slack rope or a piece of rope on the ground.
  • Ride a horse, a zebra, a donkey, an elephant or even an ostrich.
  • Substitute himself in the role of "lion tamer".
  • Act as "emcee", from M.C. or Master of Ceremonies, the preferred term for a clown taking on the role of "Ringmaster".
  • "Sit in" with the orchestra, perhaps in a "pin spot" in the center ring, or from a seat in the audience.
  • Anything any other circus performer might do. It is not uncommon for an acrobat, a horse-back rider or a lion tamer to secretly stand in for the clown, the "switch" taking place in a brief moment offstage.
  • Business — the individual motions the clown uses, often used to express the clown's character.
  • Gag — very short piece of clown comedy that, when repeated within a "bit" or "routine," may become a running gag. Gags are, loosely, the jokes clowns play on each other. A gag may have a beginning, a middle, and an end — or may not. Gags can also refer to the prop stunts/tricks or the stunts that clowns use, such as a squirting flower.
  • Bit — the clown's sketch or routine, made up of one or more "gags" either worked out and timed before going on stage, or impromptu bits composed of familiar improvisational material.
  • Entrée — clowning acts lasting 5–10 minutes. Typically made up of various gags and bits, usually within a clowning framework. Entrées almost always end with a "blow-off" — the comedic ending of a show segment, "bit," "gag," "stunt," or "routine."
  • Side dish — shorter feature act. Side dishes are essentially shorter versions of the "entrée," typically lasting 1–3 minutes. Typically made up of various "gags" and "bits," side dishes are usually within a clowning framework. Side dishes almost always end with a "blow-off."
  • Berger, Peter L. (1997), Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience, Walter de Gruyter, ISBN  
  • Callery, Dymphna (2001), Through the Body: A Practical Guide to Physical Theatre, Nick Hern Books, ISBN  
  • McConnell Stott, Andrew (2009). The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi. Edinburgh: Canongate Books Ltd. ISBN . 


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