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Clowns are comical performers, stereotypically chraacterised by their grotesque appearance: coloured wigs, stylistic makeup, outlandish costumes, unusually large footwear, red-nose, etc., who entertain spectators by acting in a hilarious fashion. The types of their acts varies greatly. Although some find clowns to be scary, their intended purpose is to entertain people, especially young children. Peter Berger writes that "It seems plausible that folly and fools, like religion and magic, meet some deeply rooted needs in human society." For this reason, clowning is often considered an important part of training as a physical performance discipline, partly because tricky subject matter can be dealt with, but also because it requires a high level of risk and play in the performer. Clowning was developed from a broad tradition of historical performances, and it is difficult to point out a singular tradition or even a few different ones as being the primary precursors to clowns. However there are a few past prominent forms of entertainment contemporarily linked to clowning as its possible antecedents.
Examples of historical, "clown-like" comedic performers have been the pantomimus in ancient Greece, the Lazzi of Commedia dell'Arte, bouffons, court jesters, as well as the French mime tradition. On top of this there are many non-European clowning traditions (including clown-like figures in Japanese Kabuki theatre) to consider which may or may not have influenced what we now think of as a clown. It is important to note that a whiteface character does not always wear the classic whiteface makeup. Additionally, a character can wear traditional whiteface makeup and be an auguste.
Classic appearance. Traditionally, the whiteface clown uses "clown white" makeup to cover his or her entire face and neck with none of the underlying flesh colour showing. In the European whiteface makeup, the ears are painted red. Features, in red and black, are delicate. He or she is traditionally costumed far more extravagantly than the other two clown types, sometimes wearing the ruffled collar and pointed hat which typify the stereotypical "clown suit". Character. The whiteface character-type is often serious, all-knowing (even if not particularly smart), bossy and cocky. He is the ultimate authority figure. He serves the role of "straight-man" and sets up situations that can be turned funny.
Some circus examples include Pipo Sossman, François Fratellini (the Fratellini family), Felix Adler, Paul Jung, Harry Dann, Chuck Burnes, Albert White, Ernie Burch, Bobby Kaye, Jack and Jackie LeClaire, Joe and Chester Sherman, Keith Crary, Charlie Bell, Tim Tegge, Kenny Dodd, Frankie Saluto, Tammy Parish, David Konyot (Circus Barum and The Toni Alexis trio), Jay Stewart and Prince Paul Albert. A rodeo clown is a cowboy, or animal wrangler, dressed in wild costumes. They are used in bull riding riding competitions where their primary job is to distract the bull from the rider when the rider dismounts either at the conclusion of the ride (typically 8 seconds) or by being thrown before the conclusion of the ride. Rodeo Clowns are also referred to as bull fighters and cowboy protection within rodeo circles. Rodeo Clowns usually work in pairs or in threes and move towards the bull, waving and yelling to attract the bull's attention to themselves as soon as a bull rider dismounts or is thrown from the bull. This action allows the rider to escape to safety. In situations where a rider becomes entangled and unable to free him or herself from the bull, the Rodeo Clowns put themselves at risk by rushing to the bull and placing themselves between the bull's horns and rider while at the same time attempting to free the rider from bull. Many modern rodeos will showcase Rodeo Clowns by featuring them in a segment separate from bull riding where the 'clowns' demonstrate their bull fighting prowess by directly confronting bulls, jumping over them and using other specialised evasive manoeuvres. There are two distinct types of clown characters, which originated in Commedia dell'Arte but which still hold some favour today, Pierrot and Arlecchino.
Pierrot/Pirouette. Derived from the commedia dell'arte character Pedrolino – the youngest actor of the troupe, deadpan and downtrodden. Although Pedrolino appeared without mask, Pierrot usually appears in whiteface, typically with very little other colour on the face. Like Arlecchino, Pedrolino's character changed enormously with the rising popularity of pantomime in the late 19th century, becoming Pierrot. This clown character prefers black and white or other a simple primary colour in his or her costume. (le Pierrot is often female, and has also been called "Pirouette" or "Pierrette". When Bernard Delfont was made a life peer, he chose "Pierrot and Pierrette" as the heraldic supporters of his coat of arms.). The tragic Robert Hunter song "Reuben and Cerise" mentions Pirouette twice, in symbolic colours:
...Cerise was dressing as Pirouette in white
when a fatal vision gripped her tight
Cerise beware tonight...
Cerise is Reuben's "true love", but Ruby Claire was a temptress:
...Sweet Ruby Claire at Reuben stared
At Reuben stared
She was dressed as Pirouette in red
and her hair hung gently down...
Both women have names which translate as "red", but Reuben's true love is dressed in pure white. The other, to whom he played his fateful song, is the "lady in red." This symbolism might imply that Reuben was Pierrot's companion, Arlecchino:
Harlequin, or Arlecchino, is a "motley" clown. In the Commedia, Arlecchino always carries a cane with which to strike the other performers, although this cane is normally taken from him by the other performers and used against him. This is believed to be the origin of the slapstick form of comedy. A slapstick (battacio in Italian), is a prop with two flat flexible wooden pieces mounted in parallel so that the two sticks slap together when the implement is struck, causing a slapping sound, exaggerating the effect of a comedic blow. Despite the slapstick, Arlecchino is not malicious, but mischievous, the slapstick being a classic example of carnivalesque phallic imagery (see also the commedia masks' noses). Like a cross between the characters of Puck and Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Arlecchino is nimble and adept at the same time as being clumsy and dim, and is normally the 'messenger' character in a comedy — the catalyst for mayhem. Arlecchino has a female counterpart, Arlecchina, or Rosetta, but more often he is in love with the character of Columbina, a straightforward and intelligent maid, who is usually given the prologue and epilogue. Arlecchino has other derivatives with slightly different features: Traccagnino, Bagattino, Tabarrino, Tortellino, Naccherino, Gradelino, Mezzettino, Polpettino, Nespolino, Bertoldino, Fagiuolino, Trappolino, Zaccagnino, Trivellino, Passerino, Bagolino, Temellino, Fagottino, Fritellino, Tabacchino, whose names could all be considered funny-sounding names, even to an Italian. Arlecchino's name is probably derived from "hellech" plus the diminutive suffix "-ino", meaning little devil. In the same way, "Trufflino" is "Little Truffler", Trivellino is (Arlecchino's) "Little Brother", and so on. The Harlequin often loses much of Arlecchino's character in pantomime, as he becomes more of a ballet character, to a large extent stripped of dialogue and subversive content. Egg Register
When a clown joins Clowns International in England, which claims to be the oldest clown society in the world, he can register his individual make-up. An eggshell is decorated as a miniature version of the clown's head and added to the "Egg Gallery" which then acts as sort of clown copyright.
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 centre 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.
Joey, the Auguste and the ringmaster
In clown duos, Clowns often rely on the Joey & Auguste framework, or Manipulator/Victim. The Joey & Auguste Framework is often used widely in such comic works as Looney Tunes. Simply put, the two clowns who, for whatever reason, are competing for survival, desperately rely on each other; without each other, they live a meaningless and, perhaps, even more perilous adventure. For example, when Sylvester finally catches Tweety Bird (or thinks he does), he becomes so ridden with guilt that he nearly commits suicide.
The Ringmaster relationship is the addition of an ur-manipulator, or ur-victim to this chemistry. This often takes the form of a mutual enemy or nemesis. An example of this situation might be as follows:
A husband comes home late, he's drunk, and has a collar covered in lipstick. His wife wants to know where he's been and a manipulator-victim relationship occurs. Suddenly their child enters the scene and the dynamic changes in an attempt to avoid traumatising him/her. The child wants to know why there's a strange man in their bedroom, and the manipulator-victim dymnamic shifts during the next argument. Then it turns out that the child has constructed this elaborate ruse in order to steal cookies and watch late-night TV without notice, giving him ur-manipulator status.
This is an example of a ringmaster situation. Clowns in the ringmaster position are often character clowns, where Joey and Auguste duos are typically made up of a Whiteface Clown and an Auguste.
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 appearance 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. Caulrophobia - Many people find clowns disturbing rather than amusing. It is common for children to be afraid of disguised, exaggerated, or costumed figures — even Santa Claus. Ute myths feature a cannibalistic clown monster called the Siats.
Clown costumes tend to exaggerate the facial features and some body parts, such as hands and feet and noses. This can be read as monstrous or deformed as easily as it can be read as comical.
Some have suggested, however, that a fear of clowns may stem from early childhood experience, when infants begin to process and make sense of facial features. The significant aberrations in a clown's face may frighten a child so much that they carry this phobia throughout their adult life.
Description Source Wikipedia