We recognize them all: the clown with the pretty white face and the almost aristocratic bearing; the tramp with his bindle ("blanket stick"), so sad, never catching a break; the everyman with the oversize shoes, who trips and causes the man on the ladder to fall into a tub of water.
We enjoy their antics, but we may never have noticed that all clowns can be traced back to one of these three clown types: the Whiteface, the Tramp, and the Auguste (or 'fool'). Each type has its own history, its own set of clown characteristics, and a typical look.
The Whiteface Clown
The oldest of all clowns, the Whiteface can be traced back through commedia dell'arte and medieval court jesters to the theaters of ancient Greece, where comedic actors frequently painted their features white so they could be better seen.
The Whiteface is the big brother of the clowning world: in charge, a know-it-all, a straight man setting up the situations that other clowns, like the Auguste or the Tramp, turn funny. The customary features of the Whiteface include a full white face, red-and-white features (often quite beautiful and delicate), a colorful outfit, and a wig.
The Whiteface can be further divided into three groups:
The Classic (European) Whiteface,sometimes called the 'most majestic and beautiful' of the Whitefaces; an elegant clown, like the Pierrot or Harlequin of commedia dell'arte;
The Straight Whiteface, similar to the Classic but more colorful, more cheerful; and
The Grotesque Whiteface, similar to the Straight Whiteface in color and cheer, but zanier, with exaggerated features and clothes.
The Mime, also an elegant clown, known of course for not speaking but emoting through body language and facial expressions.Famous Whiteface clowns include Frosty Little, Bozo the Clown and Ronald McDonald.
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The Auguste Clown
The Auguste (pronounced ah-GOOST) is a mixture of Whiteface and Tramp — not so hapless as the Tramp, but wilder and broader than the Whiteface. He is sometimes the Whiteface's helper, almost always the brunt of his jokes, and certain to mess up any assignment.
The classic Auguste appearance is the opposite of the Whiteface, with prominent fleshtones and black-and-white features, a large ball-shaped nose, and extravagant mismatched costumes (oversized neckties, very small hats, etc.).
A common variation on the Auguste is the Contra-Auguste, sometimes described as an Auguste trying to be a Whiteface. He mediates the conflict between the Whiteface and the Auguste, often with funny results.
Famous Augustes include Cookie (from the Bozo Show) and Coco.
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The Tramp Clown
A uniquely American clown, some believe that the idea of the Tramp originated with the hobos who rode the rails during the Great Depression. The classic Tramp look a sooty face, with white around the eyes and mouth may refer back to the coal smoke from America's rail yards.
The Tramp is the brunt of every joke, the one whose rear gets kicked, the one whose face gets wet from a squirting flower. The customary features of the Tramp include a flesh-toned face, a beard of stubble, a ruddy nose, tattered suit and hat, and fingerless gloves.
The Tramp can be further divided into three groups, though the basic costume remains the same for each:
The Classic Tramp, forlorn and downtrodden, shuffling through life with a rain cloud over his head;
The Hobo or Vagabond, his manners are often elegant and refined; he's happy to be free of society; and
The Bag Lady, a female version of the Tramp or Hobo
Tramps have been made famous by such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Emmett Kelley, and Red Skelton.
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