But Seriously, Though…

Today, with approximately ten clowns still active in London offering themselves for parties, delivering office-bound doughnuts, as models for drawing classes, and much sought-after escort services satisfying closet coulrophiliacs, you might think that in a city populated by ten million souls, the days of clowning are rapidly becoming numbered.

However, a little known clown fact reveals: Usually, on average and at any given time, there aren’t more than ten officially registered working clowns per city, across the entire globe. Obviously, this statistic excludes and remains unaffected by visiting clowns or events such as hallowe’en at the end of October, or the Feast of Fools every New Year’s Day.

Travel back in time to 2,400 BCE to a location approximately 51.1789° N, 1.8262° W, and you will meet with the first clowns. Yes, unsurprisingly, they were English, or to place into more accurate ancient historical terms: Celtic-English.

In 1978, an excavation of a burial mound in South-West England unearthed evidence of a ball-shaped representation of a nose, forged from copper. From the same grave, a significant amount of red and white pigments indicated a face heavily adorned with theatrical make-up. Also, and in common with contemporary clowns, lab analysis of trace hair follicles found preserved in compacted clay, confirmed that this particular Neolithic clown, had auburn hair.

As you would expect, little is known of these clowns. Left to our imagination, we can only guess to their purpose and standing. However, it would seem fair to assume that they injected some fun, into the otherwise drab druidic lives of the Ancient Britons.

Fast forward 1,600 years and amongst the great thinkers, warriors, writers, actors, athletes, artists, architects and politicians of Ancient Greece, clowns were there too, right at the centre of civilisation. Archaeological digs at the Parthenon have uncovered decorated fragments of pottery that when pieced together, show aspects of religious ceremonies. Invariably, clowns are featured, pretty much resembling what we would recognise today as a clown and depicted as providing light relief for those in attendance. Very much like a warm-up act.

All that remains as evidence of clown activities from the Early Middle Ages, Early Medieval Period, and the Dark Ages, is an unknown clown-author’s joke book. Shown below, are some entries.

What doon ye call a ponie with a sore throat?
A litel hoarse.

Howe doon ye make holy water?
Ye boil the hell out of it.

What doon ye call someone who poynts out the obvious?
Someone who poynts out the obvious.

What doon ye geten whan ye combyne a rhetorical question and a jape?

It’s believed likely by historians researching this era, that the confusion caused by the last joke on this list, might well have served as a death sentence, if delivered to the royal court in the presence of a Queen or King.

Swiftly moving past Shakespeare and his dire comedies and later still, Joseph Grimaldi with his dilution of the clown with the pantomime dame, it’s not until we reach the beginning of the 20th century, that clowns actually became funny. Although, this was not always to be without exception.

For example and to everyone’s disappointment, a combination of Japanese Noh theatre mixed with East Mediterranean classical tragedy, metamorphosed into the awful French Mime we still have to put up with today. Jean-Gaspard (“Baptiste”) Deburau regarded as the godfather of all the Pierrots, bears much of the blame for this abhorrence. French Mime may have looked “clownish”, but it was never regarded by the public as funny and clowning is meant to be funny.

Although, to its credit, the “Gallic Movement” may have been responsible for a schism, resulting in the “Sad Clown”, unseen until (appropriately enough) The Great Depression in the United States. Emmett Kelly, switched from drawing cartoons, to becoming a cartoon, as the unfortunate hobo clown, Weary Willy. In another twist of irony, by the end of his career he had established himself as the most famous clown of the time, accruing a large fortune before retiring to Sarasota, Florida.

At risk of distorting the narrative, we constantly witness modern-day psychologists pointing to “The Sad Clown Paradox”, characterised by a cyclothymic personality, encouraging light-hearted humour to obscure an inner turmoil.

So then, what can we take from this? That happy clowns are actually really sad and that sad clowns are happy? Is there a lesson to be learnt when we consider how this manifests in our own lives?

The baring of teeth in the animal kingdom of which we are members, indicates aggression, whether defensive or offensive. And there-in lies the eternal connection: Our teeth are often on display when we laugh. When we are unsure how to react in confusing social interactions, what do we do?

There is a clown in all of us. Which is the same as saying that we are all clowns and goes some way to explain why so many of us feel an intense and overwhelming temptation to apply the make-up and wear the red nose.

Arguably, worse articles than this end in similar fashion: To encourage you to release your inner clown, own it, clone it, dog and bone it at every opportunity that swings your way. Go find yourself! Go raise an army of clowns… and take on the world!

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