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The Clowning Tradition

Throughout the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, jesters or fools perpetuated the art of clowning in the palaces of kings and great nobles. Jesters played an important role in the social culture of Medieval Europe by serving as "safety valves" or the "social conscience." They could answer back to kings, bishops, and all in authority. By making fun of anyone and satirizing social customs and more, jesters were often catalysts for social change.

It was also during this period that the colorful costumes associated with today's clowns had their beginnings. During this period, Jesters adopted a standard uniform of bright green and saffron coloured coats, hose and a hooded cap which was topped by tiny bells designed to tinkle whenever the wearer moved.

Although many clowns entertained at court, the vast majority continued to be street performers. They were adept at a variety of skills, such as magic, contortion, juggling, acrobatics, story telling, puppetry, tightrope walking, exhibiting trained animals, ballad singing, and clever dialogue.

"Zany," "jester,"fool," "minstrel," and "mime" are but a few of the historical synonyms for "clown." The English equivalent used today did not appear until the sixteenth century. "Clown" originally meant "clod" and was often used to denote a clumsy country bumpkin. These rustics were considered very funny, and comedic actors soon imitated their ways. These actors were called clowns.

Whatever term is applied, the medieval clown's ability to perform unusual acts of skill in a daring yet comic manner became and important part of modern circus clowning.

Joseph Grimaldi - The Father of Modern Clowning

Joseph Grimaldi (1778 - 1837) was exclusively a theatrical clown. He is considered the Father of Modern Clowning because he is the entertainer who elevated the Whiteface clown to a starring role replacing Harlequin. Grimaldi's clown, called "Joey," specialized in the classic physical tricks, tumbling, pratfalls, and slapstick.

Chris Philpott as "Kristoff the Clown" is proud to carry on the tradition of clowning.