In the circus, a clown might perform another circus role:
- Walk a tightrope, a highwire, a slack rope or a piece of rope on the ground.
- Ride a horse, a zebra, a donkey, an elephant or even an ostrich.
- Substitute himself in the role of “lion tamer”.
- Act as “emcee”, from M.C. or Master of Ceremonies, the preferred term for a clown taking on the role of “Ringmaster”.
- “Sit in” with the orchestra, perhaps in a “pin spot” in the center ring, or from a seat in the audience.
- Anything any other circus performer might do. It is not uncommon for an acrobat, a horse-back rider or a lion tamer to secretly stand in for the clown, the “switch” taking place in a brief moment offstage.
Frameworks are the general outline of an act that clowns use to help them build out an act. Frameworks can be loose, including only a general beginning and ending to the act, leaving it up to the clown’s creativity to fill in the rest, or at the other extreme a fully developed script that allows very little room for creativity.
Shows are the overall production that a clown is a part of, it may or may not include elements other than clowning, such as in a circus show. In a circus context, clown shows are typically made up of some combination of Entrées, Side dishes, Clown Stops, Track Gags, Gags and bits.
Gags, bits and business
“Business” is the individual motions the clown uses, often used to express the clown’s character. A “gag” is a very short piece of clown comedy which when repeated within a bit or routine may become a “running gag”. Gags may be loosely defined as “the jokes clowns play on each other”. Bits are the clown’s sketches or routines made up of one or more gags either worked out and timed before going on stage or impromptu bits composed of familiar improvisational material. A gag may have a beginning, a middle and an end to them, or they may not. Gags can also refer to the prop stunts/tricks or the stunts that clowns use, such as a squirting flower.
Entrées are feature clowning acts lasting 5–10 minutes. They are typically made up of various gags and bits, and usually use a clowning framework. Entrées almost always end with a blow-off. (The blow-off is the comedic ending of a show segment, bit, gag, stunt or routine.)
Side dishes are shorter feature acts. Side dishes are essentially shorter versions of the Entrée, typically lasting 1–3 minutes. Side dishes are typically made up of various gags and bits, and usually use a clowning framework. Side dishes almost always end with a blow-off.
“Clown Stops” or “interludes” are the brief appearances of clowns while the props and rigging are changed. These are typically made up of a few gags or several bits. Clown Stops almost always end with a blow-off. Clown stops will always have a beginning, a middle and an end to them. These are also called reprises or run-ins by many and in today’s circus they are an art form in themselves, originally they were bits of “business” usually parodying the act that had preceded it. If for instance there had been a wire walker the reprise would involve two chairs with a piece of rope between and the clown trying to imitate the artiste by trying to walk between them with the resulting falls and cascades bringing laughter from the audience. Today they are far more complex and in many modern shows the clowning is a thread that links the whole show together.
Among the more well-known clown stunts are: squirting flower; the “too-many-clowns-coming-out-of-a-tiny-car” stunt; doing just about anything with a rubber chicken, tripping over ones own feet (or an air pocket or imaginary blemish in the floor), or riding any number of ridiculous vehicles or “clown bikes“. Individual prop stunts are generally considered to be individual bits.
- Clown Hats
- Clown Noses
- Ruffle Collars
- Color Suits
- Baggy Pants
- Big Shoes