Walk through the turnstile into the fair. You smell the popcorn cooking,
hear the noise of the carnival games and, of course, the scrunching sound
of a clown twisting up balloons. Clowns have always been a favorite part of
a fair, whether they're winding up an antique car at a rodeo event or performing
on the children's stage.
Clowns wear distinctive make-up and colorful clothes and perform set routines
that provide graphic humor, buffoonery, absurd situations and exaggerated
physical action. They make us laugh because they reflect our own foibles.
It may seem like an afternoon lark to paint your face white and dress in
colorful clothes, but clowning actually has a long and rich tradition. Clowns
first originated on the stage in ancient Greece, where face paint was used,
instead of lighting, to exaggerate expressions. In the Middle Ages, traveling
actors copied the court jester's make-up and performed clown skits. The first
true circus clown, Joseph Grimaldi, began performing in 1805.
Today, there are three general types of clowns. The classic white face
clown paints his face much like a court jester and is usually quite intelligent.
The Auguste clown has a white or skin-tone face and exaggerated make-up
and movements. They wear colorful, mismatched and baggy clothing. The Auguste
clown is a buffoon and the least intelligent clown.
The tramp is the third type of clown. This American contribution is best
represented by Charlie Chaplin's tramp. The true tramp is down on his luck
and unhappy about it. The hobo is also having hard times, but isn't unhappy
about the situation.
Clowns can work full time with a traveling circus that can be on the road
for three years or more. Other clowns work at children's festivals, busker
festivals, birthday parties, celebrations, fairs, parades, nursing homes and
at hospitals. Some are booked through entertainment agents, while others prefer
to book their own events.
Other clowns work part time as a hobby and support themselves with regular
work. "Most people start as a hobby, and eventually get enough work to support
themselves," says clown Betty Cash.
Many clowns belong to local clubs, called alleys, to keep in touch with
other professionals in the business. They share ideas and find out about events
and festivals. Clowns also belong to larger associations so they can learn
new skills, go to conventions and read newsletters.