My Dad the Clown (Clavelito)
Make ‘em laugh! That’s exactly what Lionel Jimenez’s father does. He makes people laugh, young and old alike. Who is Lionel’s dad? He’s El Payaso Clavelito aka Clavelito the Clown! Clavelito wants to make all of Atlanta laugh. Clavelito and his family came to the United States from Chile, South America for the opportunity to experience a richer life. America is a land full of opportunity and Clavelito was not about to let them pass him by. Lionel thinks his father is terrific and is proud to help his father at his shows. However, Lionel doesn’t want to step in to his father’s clown shoes. Lionel wants to be a movie star.
Did you know that the art of clowning has existed for thousands of years? Some of the earliest ancestors of the clown performed as early as 2500 B.C.
The clowns of ancient Greece were bald-headed and padded to appear larger than normal. They performed as secondary figures in farces and mime parodying the actions of more serious characters and at times threw nuts at the spectators. Roman culture included a mime that wore a pointed hat and a patchwork colorful robe and was the target for all the tricks and abuse from fellow actors.
Clowns played an important role in the social and religious life of some Native American tribes; in some instances clowns were believed to be able to cure certain diseases. Clowns who performed as court jesters in the Middle Ages were given great freedom of speech. Often they were the only one to speak out against the ruler’s ideas, and through their humor were able to affect policy.
The clown emerged as a professional comic actor when traveling entertainers began to imitate the antics of the court jesters and the amateur fool societies during the late Middle Ages. Italian Commedia dell’arte, a traveling company of entertainers, developed one of the most famous and durable clowns of all time, the Arlecchino, or Harlequin some time in the latter half of the 16th century. The Harlequin began as a comic valet, but soon developed into an acrobatic trickster, wearing a black domino mask and carrying a bat or noisy slapstick with which he frequently spanked his victims.
Philip Astley created what is considered to be the first circus in England in 1768. He also created the first circus clown act — “Billy Buttons”, or the “Tailor’s Ride to Brentford”. The act was based on a popular tale of a tailor, an inept equestrian, trying to ride a horse to Brentford to vote in an election. The tailor has tremendous difficulty mounting the horse correctly. When he finally succeeds the horse starts off so fast that he falls off. As the circus grew, Astley hired other clowns; they were required to learn “Billy Buttons”. It soon became a traditional part of every circus for 100 years.
Joseph Grimaldi, who first appeared in England in 1805, was exclusively a theatrical clown. He is considered the Father of Modern Clowning because his character elevated the Whiteface clown to a starring role. Grimaldi’s clown specialized in the classic physical tricks, tumbling, pratfalls, and slapstick beatings.
In the 1860s a low-comedy comic appeared under the name of Auguste, who had a big nose, baggy clothes, large shoes, and untidy manners. He worked with a whiteface clown and always spoiled the latter’s trick by appearing at the wrong time to mess things up.
Amelia Butler is considered to be the first female American circus clown of record who portrayed a recognizably feminine clown in 1858 while touring with a show called Nixon’s Great American Circus and Kemp’s Mammoth English Circus.
Before the invention of the phonograph and radio, popular songs were spread across the country by singing clowns who would then sell the lyrics and music following the show. They played an important role in the musical culture of the nation.
Bert Williams, a famous vaudeville clown, broke down several racial barriers for blacks in vaudeville and on Broadway. He starred in motions pictures and his performance on phonograph records are the earliest documentation of blacks on phonograph recordings. The dignity he gave to his tramp clown character humanized the caricature created by white minstrels and perpetuated by black minstrels.
Adrien Wettach was a famous whiteface Panomimist, who evoked laughter in his continual struggle with inanimate objects. Chairs collapsed beneath him. When a stool was too far from a piano, he shoved the piano to the stool. His elaborate melancholy resembled that of Emmett Kelly, the American vagabond clown.
For more information on the history of clowns, visit the following websites.