Rethinking What it Means to be a Clown

a picture of thirty different clown faces

There are many types of clowns, most adhering to 4 main categories

As a Denver clown myself, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and thinking about clowning. Like most people, I think of several classic features first: a white face, colorful clothes, wild hair, giant props, etc.. Clowning has traditionally been taught by other clowns and can be categorized into a few different types. The World Clown Association has competitions based in the primary subcategories of clowns, as they have for many years. Clowns outside the mold are hardly even considered clowns,especially by their peers.

So where does that leave Smiles, the newest Denver Clown? The way I see it, I have an opportunity to expand what clowning really means and to redefine it in the 21st century. As a young, self-taught clown, some might say that I’m not a real clown or that I don’t fit in in the larger industry: that’s fine with me. In many ways, I want to leave the traditional concept of clown behind. I want to break new ground and create a new type of clown while retaining some of the most important features that have always made a clown stand out.

Certain core concepts will never leave clowning. I can’t deny that being silly, making people laugh, and doing outrageous things is important to being a clown. Facial and physical expression are powerful and valuable to a clown, and I would be remiss in leaving them behind. At the same time, clowns have grown stale in many regards and are primed for a change. It’s trendy nowadays to be “scared of clowns,” or to think that clowns are lame. In my opinion, some of these stereotypes are based in truth.

Bridging the Gap Between Generations

child clown in denver at his birthday partyI’ve grown up in a generation that prides itself on being different from the ones before. We live in an age where we are able to see some of the greatest artists, comedians, and performers from around the world from the comfort of our homes. A clown with a few goofy gags and a handful of magic tricks just isn’t going to cut it. In order to really stand out, I feel that it’s important to bridge the gap between the old and the new: between artist and clown.  The time to specialize solely in clowning has passed: clowns must rely on a larger set of skills and talents to flesh out the silliness that defines their character, combining these talents with their character to push their performance to new heights.

I’m sure that every generation identifies their own as the most significant. In the case of clowning, I believe that my generation really is crucial to the survival and expansion of the art. Clowns are dying, retiring, and not replenishing their ranks. Adults and children alike are finding that with more options, clowns are less attractive than ever. Some people see tragedy, and some people see cause for celebration. I see opportunity, and lots of it.

Denver's Smiles the Clown doing a magic show

Doing a 4th of July show in Avon

As one of few 25 year old clowns, I find myself bridging the gap between today’s children and their parents. Many parents that I speak to voice concerns that their child or friends will be afraid of clowns. Luckily, I am entertainer that clowns rather than a clown that entertains- the distinction seems small, but is really quite drastic.

Creating a Denver Clown Fit for the 21st Century

Denver Clown smiles the clown doing an illusion

Doing some illusions for the kids

In creating Smiles the Clown here in Denver, I’ve tried to strike a balance. I went with a nontraditional face mask so that I’m easily recognizable as a real person too. I’ve opted against traditional dress in order to bridge the gap between clown and spectator. In many ways, I’m only half a clown. That’s the beauty of this day and age: I don’t have to be a classic clown to be identified as a clown. By touching on some of the major clowning points (white face, bright colors, silly socks) I’m able to be a clown to those who wish me to be, and just an entertainer to those who don’t.

Rarely do I stop and think about how I could be a better clown. Instead, I think about how I can be a better entertainer, and how clowning can be a piece of that puzzle. I’ve been working consistently to become a more competent juggler and illusionist. My newest project is working on the comedy that I prepare and deliver to my audience. Clowning is just a part of the entertainment that I do: it is vital for the energy and expression that gives life to my shows, but it doesn’t define who or what I am. I choose to adopt the parts of clowning that help me break down barriers and be more accessible to others, rather than the parts that build those barriers back up.