This is the History of Clowns.
Mankind has always been quite ruthless, filled with an insatiable greed for power and riches, and blessed with a sense of cruelty matched only by his cunning. He will stop at nothing in his tracks to satisfy his basest desires, and he frequently thins his species in the name of nobility and religion. Man has always had a sense of humor, however, and he loves to laugh. From almost the beginning of time, man has been clowning around in the name of entertainment and good humor.Probably the genesis of “clowning” can be traced to the concept of “the fool”, dating back to ancient Egypt, and usually a misfortunate soul handicapped in one way or another. Early in his history, ,man stopped killing himself long enough to enjoy a good comedy show every now and again. The quickest way to get the laughs coming became the domain of the professional clown.Comic characters in ancient Greece made an appearance in the very first “theater” shows. Court Jesters were the first clowns, and there are recorded instances of Court Jesters going back as far as 2500 B.C. The Court Jester would supply a steady stream of shenanigans, guaranteed with his life, to please and entertain the court. The Spanish explorer Cortez found dwarfs and clowns in the new world kingdom of the Aztecs in 1520. During the Italian Renaissance, bands of roving theater troupes in Italy called the Commedia del Arté introduced several clown characters to an admiring public, among them Pierrot and Harleqin.
Clowns thrived in Elizabethan theater, the fool was a stock player in Shakespeare’s comedies. The clown exists in all manner of entertainment media. But the circus is where clowns have evolved into iconic status. 1768 is the date understood to be when the first circus clown made his appearance, in England.
The clown ran off and joined the circus. When we think of the clown, chances are a white faced buffoon with a red rubber ball for a nose and exaggerated eyebrows and mouth comes immediately to mind. The “whitefaced” clown is one of three acknowledged ‘clown types’ which have been refined thoroughout history. The others are the Auguste and the Character Clown, usually dressed as a hobo or tramp.
In America, the clown branched out from the circus to the minstrelcy and vaudeville. Comic ‘acts’ would include clown characters, in and out of makeup. Clowns seemed to proliferate with the invention of the motion picture, and the most popular of the filmed entertainment featured the many “clowns” of the silent movies.
Today the clown is firmly entrenched, finally coming into our living rooms in the 50s with the advent of television. My generation was the first to pay heed to an army of “birthday clowns” who descended on the local airwaves. The birthday clown has now been franchised, and appears at the local restaurant on Saturday mornings twisting baloon animals, is found at birthday parties everywhere, and can frequently be spotted driving down the freeway in a station wagon filled to the brim with helium baloons.
Famous vaudeville “clowns” of an earlier era were given a fresh start on television, and the clown became more popular than ever. Clowns are frequently used as advertising icons, like Ronald of McDonald’s fame. The clown has a varied and storied career in popular culture. Sometimes the wacky buffoon turns a bit evil however, and there has become a large movement of people who claim they “hate clowns” because they feel clowns give them trauma. One of the interesting dilemmas concerning the comic clown is his ability at an instant to turn evil.