History Of Clowns

Joseph Grimaldi as Clown Joey

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A Short History Of Clowns

Ancient Clowns

Throughout history most cultures have had clowns. A pygmy clown performed as a jester in the court of Pharaoh Dadkeri-Assi during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty about 2500 BC Court jesters have performed in China since 1800 B.C and they were given great freedom of speech. Most Native American tribes had some type of clown character. These clowns played an important role in the social and religious life of the tribe, and in some cases were believed to be able to cure certain diseases

The White Face

The traditional white face makeup of the clown is thought to have been introduced by the character of Pierrot, the French clown with a bald head and flour-whitened face. He first appeared during the latter part of the 17th century. He was created as a fool for Harlequin, Pierrot was gradually softened and sentimentalized. The pantomimists Jean- Baptiste-Gaspard Deburau took on the character in the early 19th century and created a famous love-sick, pathetic clown, whose melancholy has since remained part of the clown tradition.

The First Circus Clown

The earliest of the true circus clowns was Joseph Grimaldi, who first appeared in England in 1805. Grimaldi’s clown, called Joey, specialised in the classic physical tricks, tumbling, pratfalls, and slapstick beatings. In the 1860s a low-comedy comic appeared under the name of Auguste, who had a big nose, baggy clothes, large shoes, and untidy manners. He worked with a white face clown and always spoiled the latter’s trick by appearing at the wrong time to mess things up.
Grock (Adrien Wettach), a famous white face pantomimists, evoked laughter in his continual struggle with inanimate objects. Chairs collapsed beneath him. When a stool was too far from a piano, he shoved the piano to the stool. His elaborate melancholy resembled that of Emmett Kelly, the American vagabond clown.

The Auguste Clown

There is a widely told story about the origins of the Auguste clown – where an American acrobat named Tom Belling was performing with a circus in Germany in 1869. Confined to his dressing room as discipline for missing his tricks, he entertained his friends by putting on misfitting clothes to perform his impression of the show’s manager. The manager suddenly entered the room and Belling took off running, ending up in the circus arena where he fell over the ringcurb. The audience laughed and yelled ‘auguste!’ which is German for fool. The manager commanded that Belling continue appearing as the Auguste.  Chuckle The Clown is an example of what an Auguste looks like.

The Tramp Character

One of the most well-known figures is the tramp made famous by Charlie Chaplin. The tramp clown was created by James McIntyre and Tom Heath in 1874, portraying African-Americans made homeless by the Civil War. They based their characters on blackface minstrel clowns which is the origin of the white mouth used by tramp clowns. Their idea may also have been inspired by the travelling hoe boys (hobos) or itinerant farm workers, who rode the rails from one town to another, wiping the soot away from their eyes & mouth.

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