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What They Do

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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.

At a Glance

Put a smile on your face

  • Clowning has a long history
  • Many clowns work only part time
  • Circus camps are great training places


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