Category Archives: History

Types of Clown

White-face Clown

The White-face clown is the ‘classic’ clown, the oldest and most well-known of the clowns, and is typically the clown - paul-legrand--doublure-de-debureau---gaspard-felix-tournachonstraight clown in skits.

Associated with the circus, the White-face is the most intelligent type of clown with the highest status – typically the ringleader. The make-up base of white grease paint meant distant audiences could see the clown.

This is the oldest style of clown, dating back to Greek theatre. Whiteface is the court jester of the Middle Ages. Commedia del arté popularised several stock clown characters, including Pierrot, Columbine, Harlequin and Clown. Pierrot is a White-face clown. His flour-whitened face is thought to be the introduction of the White-face.

The pantomimist Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard Deburau took on the character in the early 19th century and created a famous love-sick, sad clown, whose melancholy has remained part of the clown tradition.

The ‘Comedy or ‘Grotesque White-face’ is more buffoonish in style.

Grock (Adrien Wettach), a famous whiteface pantomimist, 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.

Auguste Clown

The Auguste clown is the least intelligent, and zaniest of the clowns. The Auguste clown tends to be the silly clown in skits. Make-up is a flesh-Clown fratellinistone base, with features outlined. The costume of the Auguste clown tends to be gaudy, mismatched, over-sized and very bright.

In the 1860s, or so the story goes, a low-comedy comic appeared under the name of Auguste, who had a big nose, baggy clothes, and large shoes. He worked with a White-face clown and always spoiled the tricks by appearing at the wrong time to mess things up.

The two clowns who had the most impact on the development of the Auguste in the 20th century were probably Albert Fratellini and Lou Jacobs. As one of the famous Fratellini Brothers, Albert Fratellini created a character who was an in-between from one brother’s classic White-face and another brother’s tramp character. He also introduced the red nose, which has since become synonymous with clowns. Ringling Brothers circus clown, Lou Jacobs, developed the ‘character’ of the Auguste. They created the foundation of the modern Auguste.

Character Clown

The Hobo or Tramp clown is the most popular character clown, although character clowns can be police officers, women, or babies – any Clown  Charlie Chaplincharacter at all.

The Hobo usually has tattered clothes, a tattered hat, make-up which suggests he is unshaven, exaggerated features and a red nose. The generic Tramp character is ‘down-on-his-luck’. The Tramp clown is an American creation. Charlie Chaplin as the silent ‘Little Tramp’ clown, brought laughter to millions worldwide through film. The Hobo may look similar, but knows that everything will turn out all right so is not unhappy about his situation. Red Skelton’s Freddy the Freeloader and Carol Burnett’s washerwomen are classic Hobo characters.


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A Brief Clown History

Clown - roman - pointy hatThe attributes of a clown are playfulness, irreverence, and the freedom of ‘not knowing’. In ancient Greece comics were bald-headed and padded to appear larger than normal. They performed as secondary figures in farces and mime, parodying the actions of more serious characters. In Roman mime the clown wore a pointed hat and a patchwork colourful robe and was theClown - Italian target for the tricks and abuse.

The clown emerged as a professional comic actor in the late Middle Ages. Court jesters and fools were influences for travelling  entertainers. Italian commedia dell’arte, improvised masked comedy with stock plots also developed many stock clown characters, including Arlecchino (Harlequin) in the 16th century. Harlequin began as a comic valet, or zanni, but soon developed into an acrobatic trickster, wearing a black domino mask and carrying a bat or noisy slapstick with Clown - Frenchwhich he frequently hit his victims. Pierrot was another Zanni, always the butt of jokes and pranks, he was the lowest of low in society. Commedia also had lazzi, or humorous interludes.

The 3 traditional types of clowns are the White-face, Auguste and Character.

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