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It never occurred to me until recently that someone might want to become a Clown for a living, but when I started this blog, I knew I wanted to interview as many career types as I possibly could.
One of the first places I researched for this article was the World Clown Association. You can only imagine my joy when the person who reached out to me was the President of the association!
Her name is Pam Moody, and she is amazing.
Today’s article is going to cover what it means to practice the art of clown, why you should NOT be be afraid of Clowns, the history of the art form, and how to enter the profession if you choose to do so.
If you want to know what it takes to become a clown for a living, keep reading. I have a treat of an article for you, today!
First Things First, Let’s Discuss The Elephant In The Room – A Fear Of Clowns
I’m not really sure why anyone (including myself) is afraid of Clowns. It might partly go back to the Stephen King Novel entitled It. I never even read that novel, but I know there’s a scary Clown in it.
Subconsciously, I have associated every clown with that one…and though I understand it intellectually, I also feel bad about being uncomfortable around Clowns – especially after talking with Pam Moody.
It is a work of fiction.
On the other hand, the art of Clown is a very real thing, and it’s brought us so much joy over the years. The Three Stooges were Clowns. I used to love watching that show.
And in the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, the late Emmett Kelly became internationally famous for his “sweeping up the spotlight” bit that came at the end of every show for years.
If you’d like to watch, here’s an old recording of him sweeping up the spotlight. See if it doesn’t make you smile at least a little bit:
Here’s another of him appearing on the old television show, “What’s My Line?”
As you can see, people loved him, and he was able to pull emotions out of people without saying a single word.
Clowns aren’t allowed to talk. See if you don’t smile as you watch this one.
Even more, lots of Americans watched Willard Scott on the Today show every day until he retired. He was the previous weather man…and he was also the original Ronald McDonald.
The point I’m trying to make is that Clowns aren’t really scary. They are part of our everyday life, whether you realize it or not. I hope this article is as much a blessing for you to read as it was for me to write.
There Are Many Types Of Clowns, But Only Three Are Recognized In America
Now, this caught me by surprise, but there is a Clown hierarchy. At the top of the chain of command is the white face clown. Second is the Auguste, and at the bottom is the hobo/tramp.
The whiteface clown has a rich history and is descended from two European characters – the Pierrot (the sad, whitefaced clown) and the Harlequin (masked, mischievous, and colorfully-dressed). These two characters originally appeared in the Commedia dell’arte back in 16th century Italy.
The Commedia dell’arte is understood by those familiar with the art of Clown and/or the world of acting to be the very first form of professional theater.
Commedia dell’arte means the “theater of the professional,” and it can trace its lineage all the way back to Greek and Roman comedic theaters.
Anyway…the white face Clown is well-respected. In modern times, this Clown is the “boss.” If someone is going to get a pie in the face, it will NOT be the white face clown.
He or she will have white paint covering the face, neck, and ears, leaving no skin exposed. If this Clown is playing a traditional Pierrot-like role, he or she will be intelligent, sophisticated, and impeccably and ornately-dressed.
Facial features for the Pierrot are in black makeup, though rarely, some facial features will be in red.
The other type of whiteface Clown would be more like a Ronald McDonald type with the same white makeup covering the face, neck, and ears. This Clown is called a Grotesque because his or her facial features are more pronounced.
From what I understand, some professional clowns are annoyed by the Ronald McDonald character for all kinds of reasons, but I think he’s done a lot of good in the world in terms of making children smile.
There’s even a charity named after him, designed to help families with sick children affordably stay together while little ones are being treated in locations that are far from home.
Now, the Grotesque might act a bit more goofy, but he or she is still at the top of the totem pole in terms of Clown hierarchy.
Second In The Clown Hierarchy Is The Auguste
You pronounce this type of Clown “Aw-goost,” and this one is the one we see the most.
Auguste Clowns are generally funny, they are jokesters, and they tend to be pretty agile. They play pranks, wear bright makeup, and have outfits that are outlandish. If they perform with a Whiteface Clown, they will be the brunt of all the jokes.
However, if they perform with a tramp, hobo, or bum, they will be in the middle of the class, and the hobo or tramp will be at the bottom.
Auguste Clowns often display childish behavior. They try hard to achieve goals and usually fail comedically a time or three before having success. One of the most famous Auguste Clowns was the late Lou Jacobs.
Jacobs created the Clown car routine and was a Master Clown with the Ringling Bros. Circus. I’ve pictured him, here. Just reading about Auguste Clowns makes me feel happy.
The Hobo/Tramp/Bum Is At The Bottom Of The Clown Hierarchy
I’m not sure why it makes me sad that this Clown type is lowest in the profession’s class system. Of all the Clown types, this one is the one who makes me smile the most. I think that’s because I fell in love with Emmett Kelly’s character while I was researching.
This category is also the only American-created Clown type. The Hobo/Tramp/Bum comes out of the great Depression era and is meant to represent someone who is down on his or her luck for one reason or another.
- The Hobo: Moves from place to place, finds work when he (or she) can, and tries to stay as positive as possible. Emmett Kelly was a famous Hobo Clown.
- The Tramp: Moves from place to place and doesn’t work or even try to work. He is completely depressed about his life, and his acts are just as hopeless. Otto Griebling was a famous Tramp clown.
- The Bum: The Bum doesn’t move or work. I don’t know any Bums and could not find one online. If you do, lease feel free to let me know in comments.
All these clown types wear clothes that are worn down and tattered. The makeup makes their faces look unkempt and usually at least a little sad.
What I like the most about this clown type is that they don’t try to make you smile. They are pretty pitiful, and their flaws are on display – just like humans flaws are on display in real life.
I find them to be the most artistic and empathetic of all the clowns, though I might like the Pierrot type just as much if I were to ever see one perform in public.
There Are Other Kinds Of Clowns, Too, Though Not Formally Recognized By Any Clown Association That I Could Find
Though Whiteface, Auguste, and Hobo/Tramp are the three, primary categories, there are also other people who consider themselves clowns professionally.
Mimes are an offshoot of the Pierrot Clown and Greek comedy. Charlie Chaplin was a Mime and was formally trained as a Clown. He’s quoted as saying, “I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.”
I’m not really sure how to categorize Bello Nock, but he calls himself a Daredevil Clown. He doesn’t wear traditional clown makeup, but his hair is styled to stand straight up on his head, and his facial features are accentuated a little bit with stage makeup.
He does stunts that are mortally dangerous and is a seventh-generation circus performer. I think he’s created a category all his own, and I hope he’s trained an understudy so his craft will go on with him.
There are also character clowns who dress up as firefighters, police officers, nurses, etc. As their name implies, they play characters for various reasons, ie elementary school assemblies, parties, and other events.
Finally, there are Rodeo Clowns. Rodeo Clowns. They typically serve to help protect a bull rider who’s been thrown from a bull. They also provide the audience some comic relief.
I can only imagine it’s a dangerous job…but I guess someone has to do it as long as bull riding remains a sport.
So, How Do You Become A Clown If You Decide This Art Form Is One You Want To Pursue?
I looked all over Internet, and it seems that it’s tough to find the best place to learn how to become a clown. Eventually, I found that physical theater and physical comedy are great places to start if you want a classic education.
After that, you can find workshop-level education in lots of places. Below are all the places I found that will offer you a solid foundation education in the profession.
Training For Clowns
- Second City: This place has lots of comedic training, but the link I’ve shared is specific for learning the art of clown.
- The School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts: If you love the idea of performing in a circus or related form of entertainment, this school looks like a great option!
- Julliard’s Drama Division: If you can get into Julliard, take physical comedy. It seems to be a highlight of the drama school, and it helps students to really understand how to be effective in physical comedy.
- Clowns Without Borders: This is a list of schools here in the United States.
Jobs for Clowns
- Big Apple Circus: This circus is in New York City, and they do a lot of community work as well as entertaining the regular public.
- Hospitals. The example provided shows how clowns work in hospitals to help bring laughter and creative/performance arts to sick people.
- Comedy – There is a lot of work for comedic actors and physical comedy is a big part of learning how to be funny. So is sketch comedy. Some modern clowns don’t wear any makeup at all, but they still use the art to help their comedy be more effective.
Pam Moody Told Me That The Art Chooses You
When I talked with Pam (again, she’s the President of the World Clown Association), she shared her story with me about how she entered the profession.
Originally, her daughter wanted to participate in the clown ministry at church. Pam was the parent chosen to attend practice with her…
…and she ended up getting an outfit along with her daughter. As a child, Pam was afraid of clowns, but as she participated in the ministry at church with her daughter, she found a calling.
Many years later, she offers school fire safety programs in her local school district and runs a thriving business as a clown – something she could have never predicted in a million years.
Ultimately, she feels that the art chose her, and she’s blessed to be a professional clown.
Have you ever considered the art of clown?
Or are you interested in some other type of performance art?