Clowning is a centuries-old art form which can be performed in a variety of locations before diverse audiences. What a clown does as part of his or her show depends largely on the audience demographic and the venue, as well as whether or not the clown is self-employed or employed by a circus, theater troupe, or other organization. Self-employed clowns usually perform on an freelance basis for special events such as school assemblies and birthday parties, as well as performing on a recurring basis at seniors’ homes and hospitals. For these types of audiences, the clown will usually incorporate conversational into his or her routine, making jokes and engaging the audience as he or she performs. The performance typically includes such feats as juggling, riding a unicycle, making balloon animals, miming, and magic tricks.
A clown who is employed with an organization such as a circus or entertainment troupe usually performs before a larger audience and is able to incorporate a wider array of props into his or her performance than a self-employed clown. Within a circus, clowns might perform alongside, and occasionally fill in for contortionists, acrobats, trapeze artists, and jugglers. Circus clowns may also perform with animals such as elephants, horses, lions, and tigers. Most circuses require a clown as a ringmaster to act as the host of the show and guide the audience through the different acts. In between performances, the ringmaster will sometimes parody the previous act while the stage is being prepared for the next one.
Rodeo clowns are clowns who work as part of a bull riding show. Rodeo clowns distract the bull at the same moment the rider is thrown or dismounts, which allows the rider to leave the ring safely. If the rider becomes entangled in the bull, the rodeo clown will place him or herself in between the bull’s horns and the rider in order to protect the rider.
There are various schools, workshops, and camps devoted to teaching the performing arts of the circus, including clowning. These classes cover such skills as makeup application, physical comedy, facial expressions, vocals, juggling, balloon artistry, and more. A formal education in clowning is not always required in order to work in the profession, as many professional clowns are self-taught or come from families that have traditionally worked in the circus and passed down performance skills.