clown jugglingClownsclown waving

Noggin Bodd , Puppeteer, Sometime Magician and all around Court Jester.
What is a Clown?

Now, Let us begin with a few facts about clowns. What is a clown? A Clown is an artist or performer who pretends to be a fool or foolish and acts out or acts up, in order to amuse his audience. In short, he's a comedian, someone who tries to make you laugh by being funny.

How is he funny? It depends on the clown. Clowns have many things in their bag of tricks. Some do slapstick, pie throwing, falling down stumbling, physical humor. Some do pantomime; they don't speak, they act out their skit or story, instead. Some use magic or juggling. Others tell jokes and still others, like myself, use puppets in their performance.

The Face

The Clown has many decisions to make about his identity. Identity is not only to be found in a clown's name. Mercy no, a clown's identity has a great deal to do with tradition, with costume and with make up. There are many kinds or types of clowns and they each create their own look. Each clown must create his very own, special, Face, 
Face
meaning Character or personality.

The Clown's character, his Face, is created by the use of makeup, as well as his costume and developing his Clown's personality. In other words, he has a certain look and he acts out, in his own, special way. Once the clown establishes this Face, it becomes his trademark, his personal property, and no other Clown may dress or make up exactly like him.

Types or Classifications of Clowns

The many kinds of clowns are all descendants of the white-faced clown.

"I say a big Humph to that as I believe, think they were descendants from me!"

However, there are four basic types or kinds of clowns.

They are:

Whiteface, neat or grotesque,
Auguste
, which became more popular than its predecessor, the whiteface, during the second half of the nineteenth Century,
Character
, and
New Vaudeville.

The whiteface clown with grotesque features.
The Whiteface clown does, as the word implies, use white makeup to cover his face. He is the oldest type of Clown in existence. These clowns evolved from, or grew out of, the theatrical entertainers of earlier times, who wore white faces for their performances. They wore elegant or bizarre, (strange), costumes, and acted as comics during acts or as the butt of the joke to the Ringmaster's performance. They did a lot of physical stunts, like leaping and tumbling in a comical manner.

The Whiteface clown has several different types or variations. The "neat " Whiteface clown uses little color on his face but is costumed in white. The outfit is usually a one piece garment with its sleeves, and pants, tied at both the wrist and ankles. It is decorated with ruffles and with a ruff, a huge pleated collar, around the neck to complete the costume. The "Grotesque" Whiteface clown, also known as Comedy Whiteface, exaggerates everything about himself, his pants, shoes, collars, ears, and wig are bigger, wider, or baggier than is usual. Bozo and Ronald McDonald are two famous "Grotesque" Whiteface clowns.

Auguste clowns became popular during the second half of the nineteenth century. They wear colorful, ill fitting clothing, often mismatched and oversized, have bulbous noses and brightly colored wigs. Their shoes maybe oversized and exaggerated, and from head to toe, color is an important part of the wardrobe. This clown may let his natural skin show, but uses splashes of color around the eyes or mouth to exaggerate his features. These clowns are the butt of the joke, they do slapstick, slapping and stumbling, throwing pies, using seltzer bottles, and tend to be more physical in their performance. Emmett Kelly, sometimes called "the clown's clown," is a variation of the Auguste clown, although he is usually considered to be a Character clown.

By the end of the 19th century, the White Face and the Auguste clown worked together very well. The Whiteface, a more sophisticated clown, playing the straight man and the August, clumsy clown, playing the fool. This combination is still used today in many aspects of theater.

Character clowns are the most realistic looking of the clown types. They exaggerate usual facial features like beards, hair, eyebrows, whiskers, lips, noses or heads in order to poke fun at themselves and the human condition. The Hobo or Hobo tramp clown is a character clowntramp impersonation was created by Otto Grielberg and was introduced in the United States. Dark make-up is used suggesting the need of a shave and tattered or patched multicolor clothing is worn giving the impression of being down on your luck. Character clowns may impersonate a cowboy, fireman, tramp or a policeman. Emmet Kelly and Charlie Chaplin are two famous character clowns. The Character, being the hobo or tramp. Red Skeleton, a famous standup comedian, was well known for his "Freddie the Freeloader" skits. This character was based on the tramp genre.

The "New Vaudeville" clown, usually doesn't wear makeup. He entertains his audience by involving them in his performance. New Vaudeville performers use a combination of skills in their act. Mime, juggling, acrobats, magic tricks and traditional clowning techniques may be part of their bag of tricks. The Karamazov Brothers and Bill Irwin are both well known New Vaudeville clowns.

Popular Clowns

The term clown did not become popular until the late 1800's. Harlequin, a comic personality, associated with the Italian Theater form, commedia dell'arte, in the 1800's was a forerunner to the Whiteface clown. Gradually, Clowns replaced the Harlequin character.

Joseph Grimaldi, generally considered to be the most famous clown, introduced his character Clown, meaning jester, buffoon, fool, in the early nineteenth century in England. English audiences were quick to identity with this character. Grimaldi used white make up, and painted geometric patterns and exaggerated features on his face. His Clown character became so popular, Harlequin was overshadowed in popularity but, it still remains a piece of old world theatrical history. Grimaldi's clown name, Joey became the term associated throughout clowndom as a nick name for clown. Clowns are often referred to as "Joey's."

Another Whiteface figure in clown history of great clown importance is the French performer Jean Gaspard Debaru. His face, or personality, used mime, acrobatics and juggling in his act.

He dressed in white and performed as the character
PierrotPierrot, a 17th Century character white face clown, a mischievous seventeenth century character. Sometimes this clown seemed sly and sinister in comparison to Grimaldi's happy buffoonery. His face was a neat whiteface with naturally proportioned features.

Grotesque whitefaces, which have exaggerated features became more popular in the twentieth century and are common to the American circus. Joe Lewis, Paul A. Jerome, and Felix Adler are all famous grotesque whiteface clowns. 

Felix Adler, whose career ended in 1962, was billed as the, "Twentieth Century King of the Clowns".  Lou Jacobs, and Paul Jung were two other whiteface clowns.

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