A Brief History of Clowning

Clowns have been bringing people joy for hundreds of years. Once called jesters and fools, the term “clown” didn’t emerge until the 16th century. These jesters would perform tricks, sing songs and put on acts in order to entertain and amuse communities. Today, clowning is used as a performance tool, a therapeutic exercise and, of course, as entertainment.

At Lionheart Theatre Company, we offer clowning camps for those who want to accept and show off their inner ridiculousness. The following article will tell you all about the history of this hilarious practice so that you can get excited to start clowning around! 

The Power of Clowning

Clowning can be traced throughout medieval history. Clowns were present within North American tribes, European royal courts, Asian societies and a variety of other civilizations. These comic performances were a valuable form of entertainment that often infused social and political critiques. During ancient times, clowning was also used to reinforce fundamental religious and cultural values and to encourage change. The ability to make people laugh was a valuable tool.

Clowns were usually playful and irreverent. They had freedom of speech during a time that many others didn’t, meaning that jesters and clowns had a certain power and influence among people and royalty. For example, it is said that Chinese Emperor Shih Huang-Ti was convinced to not paint the Great Wall of China by his jester, Yu Sze. This resulted in thousands of lives being saved. Ultimately, jesters and clowns were often the only ones who would dare to challenge or criticize ancient leaders, making them powerful figures of our history.

Types of Clowns

Of course, not all clowns attempted to initiate change. Many were solely there to entertain the masses and make people laugh. Clowns would perform acrobatic stunts similar to ones seen in modern circuses, do slapstick comedy routines, mime, juggle and play as stock characters. As clowns emerged as professional comic actors and actresses, three traditional types developed: the White-face clown, Auguste clown and character clown.

The White-face clown is the oldest and most well-known of the three. These clowns were the court jesters of the Middle Ages, but are now associated with the circus where they perform as ringleaders. They paint their face white so distant audiences can see them.

The Auguste clown is the zaniest of them all. It is said that a comic named Auguste with a big nose, baggy clothes and large shoes appeared in the 1860s as a partner to White-face clowns. The Auguste clown’s make-up outlines facial features and the clothes tend to be very bright and gaudy. This type of clown first introduced the signature red nose.

Character clowns can take on a variety of different personas. The Hobo and Tramp clowns are perhaps the most popular type of character clown. Charlie Chaplin was a famous Tramp clown that brought laughter to millions. This type of character is always down on his or her luck.

Clowning has a long history and has been given many different names throughout time. Despite these changes, the goal remains the same: to share humor and wit with people in your community. Clowning not only spreads laughter, but it allows for people of all ages to learn about themselves, open expression and enjoy the moment. If you kid is interested in clowning, sign up for one of our hilarious summer clowning camps!

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