Clowns: A Very Brief History

Oh, clowns. Thanks in large part to Stephen King, clowns are more closely associated with Halloween and nightmares than they are with satire and making people laugh. Obviously they're not meant to be scary but instead to inspire laughter. 

Clowns have been around for as long as there have been societies. Their purpose has ultimately remained the same: to mirror reality back at itself to highlight problems and/or misdeeds. They do this by showing what is wrong with the ordinary way of doing things or, put another way, a clown shows how to do ordinary things the "wrong way." This can manifest in poking fun at a tribal leader who had committed offenses against the tribe, or by a court jester who highlighted weaknesses of the king and queen. Each one’s goal was - and still is - to show society opportunities to improve itself through humor. These are but a few of the clowns throughout history:

The Hopi clown, known as Kashare, is an important figure in the Kachina religion. The Kashare will act in horseplay and will mock their targets. Kashare is often depicted with a food item, which is meant to show the gluttonous nature of man and helps reduce chaos in a world of over-consumption.

Court jesters are also historical clowns. Though they weren’t referred to as jesters during the Tudor years, they were under the protection of the crown to mock freely. The cap and bells in their hats represent the crown, and the scepter they often carried were symbols of this privilege.

Sacha Baron Cohen is a modern-day clown. He is a bouffon performer, a style of performance that shows reality mirrored back on itself in a grotesque manner. His infamous character Borat has been described as embarrassment humor because his specific style is to interview someone and let the humor come from their often uncomfortable responses.

The tv show, Baskets, features the main character as a drop-out from the famous bouffon school in Paris, L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq.

So really, if they're still inspiring fear, it might be because reality is scary! But it's the wrong season for that blog. Instead, enjoy these books that are deep dives into clowns and books on clowns not mentioned here: 

Medical Clowning

Fools Are Everywhere

Fearless Funnymen

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