"When you want to scream, put away that frown
And never be scared of a clown!
Laugh on, laugh on, laugh on and on and on,
You'll never laugh alone!"
The past 20 years or so have seen a surge in the popularity of evil, Joker
-style Monster Clowns
who deliberately and very effectively invert everything clowns were traditionally assumed to represent - that is, making people laugh, especially children. However, there was
a time when clowns were treated in the popular media as sympathetic figures of whimsy and silly fun. Outside of their early habitats like rodeos and circuses, pretty much the only clown left in the public eye who is still permitted to act at all clown-like is Ronald McDonald
. (And now he's allegedly being phased out of the advertising.) But in days past...
For clarification, it should be noted that a degree of irony
is intrinsic to most clown performances, and indeed to humor in general. The traditional "tears" painted on a clown's cheeks are there to show that he is laughing on the outside but may be crying on the inside
, an acknowledgment by the performer that most humor contains at least some element of laughing at another's pain. This is most played up in old-school, down-on-their-luck "hobo" clowns like Emmett Kelly Jr., though the ultimate artistic expression of the tragic clown concept is probably the title aria in the opera Pagliacci
. The "Non-Ironic" in the trope's name simply refers to the clowns listed here not
being evil or deliberately frightening. The fact that a clown even has to be identified as "non-ironic" is pretty telling.
See The Jester
for a more common type.
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- Batman #528 has yet another tragic, "life's loser" clown that works at a barely-surviving circus. He manages to disrupt the Mexican Standoff between Batman, Two-Face, and the circus' corrupt owner by releasing a lion from its cage, and later informs Batman that he had seen said owner murder his uncle, the circus's previous owner, by loosing a tiger on him. His reason for not revealing this to the cops? He feared that the circus would be shut down, and since he has no savings and few job skills... After reflecting on this for the better part of a few years, however, and getting a chewing-out from the Dark Knight, he decides to go and testify to the cops after all. (For extra irony points, the case was one of the many "ghost files" that Two-Face possessed back when he was still District Attorney - he knew who was responsible, but couldn't prosecute as he had no evidence).
- The clown at Haley's Circus is a recurring character in the New 52 Nightwing. He's a bit cynical, especially about working in Gotham; Gothamites tend not to be fond of clowns.
- Jack-in-the-Box, a clown-themed superhero in Kurt Busiek's comic Astro City.
- Jack-in-the-Box is an interesting case in that, depending on the story, he falls under both this trope and Monster Clown. While Jack-in-the-Box is a fundamentally good person, he's not above using the clown gimmick to scare criminals. Further, his successors Jack and Box are genuinely freaky.
- The heroic White Clown of Borovia from one G.I. Joe story arc.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic micro series Pinkie Pie is a big fan of Ponyacci, an old clown who's on the brink of retirement. Sad to see him go, she goes out of her way to convince him to keep clowning, including singing a song in typical Pinkie Pie fashion.
- Ponyacci, meanwhile, is actually something of a Sad Clown during his stories — literally; he doesn't act a clown to hide how sad he is, he's a clown who loves being a clown and is sad that old age is forcing retirement on him. With Pinkie Pie's help, however, he's able to open a school for more non-ironic clowns and resume his former happiness.
Film - Animated
- The clowns from Dumbo were rather unsympathetic and mean-spirited when out of character, though this came from their stupidity, not their clownish nature. But during their performance, they were very enthusiastic about getting laughs from the audience. One of the clowns does seem to show at least some sympathy for Dumbo, though. However, the other clowns will have none of it:
Sympathetic clown: Be careful, you'll hurt the little guy.
Unsympathetic clown #1: Aw, go on! Elephants ain't got no feelings!
Unsympathetic clown #2: No, they're made of rubber!
- Stubbs the Clown in We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story is the only friendly character in the Circus of Fear.
- Pixar gives us Chuckles in Toy Story 3, though he's more of a literal Sad Clown than a straight example at least until the end.
- Flip from Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland isn't evil, though he is a Cigar Chomper and a Trickster.
- Ulf, one of the pub thugs from Tangled, is into mime. He makes good use of it when he distracts the palace guards to help Flynn escape from prison.
- Zip from Rock & Rule was a fan of the in-universe cartoon "Uncle Mikey's Cow-toon Show", starring a clown named Uncle Mikey. While Uncle Mikey was ugly-looking and his choppy animation could have made him rather disturbing to watch, he was actually a sweet character who tried to teach children the difference between good and bad.
Film - Live Action
- Phroso the clown in Freaks is a textbook example — works hard on new gags for his act, a friend to all the sideshow folk, kind to the pinheads, develops a truly sweet romance with an animal trainer — really a heck of a guy.
- Harpo Marx's persona had most of the characteristics of a clown, if not the face paint.
- Charlie Chaplin's The Circus, featuring Chaplin stock player Henry Bergman as an entirely non-ironic clown.
- Helmut, from Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth, the taxi driver used to be a circus clown in East Germany.
- Louison in Delicatessen used to be a clown, but he quit when his chimpanzee partner was eaten.
- Babe: Pig In The City has Fugly Floom, a kind elderly clown who does shows for children in hospitals despite his failing health.
- Helena's family's circus in MirrorMask features several clowns, who are friendly and likeable both in and out of makeup.
- Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away: Has several — Le Vieux, the Sad Clown, and another in the big top who mimes what the ringmaster's saying.
- Gelsomina from La Strada is the clown and comic relief in Zampanň the strongman's act.
- Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault) in Les Enfants du Paradis. He's also a non-ironic mime. Of course, in his off-stage life he is not always jolly...
- Paul Reubens' signature character Pee-Wee Herman could be considered this type of clown.
Live Action TV
- Clarabelle on Howdy Doody.
- Bozo, the "World's Most Famous Clown," had the distinction of being portrayed both by a live actor and as a cartoon on his television program.
- Many personas of Red Skelton: Mean Wittle Kid, Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, Gertrude and Heathcliff, and on and on.
- The entire cast of The Big Comfy Couch.
- Fizbo on Modern Family.
- Russian kids' green screen show Komedya Klowna (??????? K?????) (mostly) features these.
- JP Patches, who to this day, decades after his show was cancelled, he still performs as his clown character.
- Barnaby, an English sheepdog in a bowler hat and baggy pants who regularly performed on Disney's Dumbo's Circus. He was shown to be friendly if kind of stupid, and he was actually more of a jack-of-all-trades than a clown, also performing magic and the like.
- Charlie Cairoli briefly had a TV show in Britain.
- The Two Ronnies once did a Tear Jerker song "People Don't Want Clowns Any More" about how this trope is supposedly dying.
- Bassie from the Dutch childrens series Bassie & Adriaan.
- Pipo De Clown: another Dutch example.
- Baxter from The Great Space Coaster is an alien clown, and a very nice guy, who ran away from the circus because the ringmaster was mean.
- On The Benny Hill Show Benny sometimes played a circus clown of the Emmett Kelly style.
- Justin Fletcher's character Mr. Tumble on The BBC's Something Special is an old-school physical clown.
- One of the titular "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" from The Twilight Zone is an interesting take on this trope. He's not scary in any sense of the word—but he is extremely cynical and borderline depressed, making darkly humorous comments about the group's situation and occasionally breaking down, revealing that he's just as frightened and confused as the rest of the four.
- All the clowns that appear in a Belgian children's show called Dobus by Studio 100.
- Another Studio 100 example, would be the two clown characters from another Belgian children's show called "Bumba".◊
- The Billy Joel song "Lenningrad" tells the story of Viktor (an actual person whom Joel met while touring the Soviet Union in 1987), a former member of the Red Army who, after seeing the horrors of war, became a clown, and found happiness bringing joy to children.
- Japanese Women's Pro-Wrestling Project and All Japan Womens Pro Wrestling's Command Bolshoi is fun, not evil, and no attempts are made to make her look scary. She is among the most competent veterans on around and as such, not the butt of many common clown jokes but she's still used to appeal to children.
- Originally, Doink the Clown was portrayed as a sadistic and tricky evil clown. He eventually turned a new leaf and tweaked his pranks to be less cruel and more comedic.
- Crazy Steve in TNA is an unorthodox wrestler but is otherwise a just a silly clown who only scares Robbie E, who has a long standing fear of clowns. The other two clowns of the Menagerie are monster clowns however. Their only purpose is to intimidate.
- The tragic clown opera Pagliacci (although it must be said that, even if nobody in it is a modern "monster clown" psycho, none of them are nice people).
- Another tragic example (and a more sympathetic character) is Jack Point from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Yeomen of the Guard (the pair's only non-comedic work).
- William Shakespeare's various jester characters, such as Feste from Twelfth Night (and alas, Poor Yorick, who never appears on stage from the neck down).
- Cirque du Soleil, as noted under the Real Life listing, uses lots of these, but Corteo is actually about them; most of the major characters are turn-of-the-20th-century circus clowns. A stated goal of this show was to present funny and lovable clowns to audiences, especially children, who may never have seen them as such.
- The LEGO Collectible Minifigs line includes a variety of clowns, all of them sincere performers of comedy. Even the Sad Clown.
- Gauntlet: Dark Legacy has a Jester as one of the main classes. While a zany prankster who fights with slapstick, the Jester is portrayed as a well meaning hero who wants to undo the Big Bad's corruption of his realm into a Circus of Fear. One of the Jester titles is even Clown.
- Dropsy has a particularly sad example. The main character, Dropsy the Clown, is bloated, ugly and monstrous-looking, having all the visual features necessary to be a Monster Clown. But he clearly suffers from some sort of mental disability, has an innocent and child-like demeanor, and is always trying his hardest to make people happy, even when everyone thinks he's a demented freak.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All features Moe, a friendly clown who loves to laugh... and we don't mean like that.
- The Sims: The clown who hassles your Sims is a nuisance, but he's not particularly evil. He's just bad at his job.
- Hitman: Blood Money has a clown at a kid's birthday party whose clothes you can steal. The protagonist, 47, even once won a 'Clown of the Year' award. Of course, given the nature of the game, you may end up a Monster Clown instead.
- Dark Cloud 2 goes both ways. While you do spend the early portions of the game fighting an evil clown and his circus troupe... you can also unlock a clown outfit for the male protagonist, build clown themed parts for his Ridepod, and be greeted by a perfectly friendly jester fond of hiding in dungeon treasure chests. He might even hook you up with above average loot!
- Boomer, the air-humping clown from Ballz.
- The title character in the classic arcade game Mr. Do!
- The title character in the Kid Klown series of games.note
- Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask features a whole circus of legitimate clowns, including Juggles, a philosopher clown who spends his free time pondering clown tropes. When you first find Juggles, he's wondering why clowns spraying seltzer is funny when spraying water has the same effect.
- Atop the Fourth Wall: Sick of the proliferation of Monster Clown characters, Linkara created Boffo the Clown to be a recurring character. Unfortunately for him, he was created at the beginning of The Entity's arc and as such promptly was kidnapped by The Entity. (He returned at the end of the arc). He's also Linkara's accountant!
- The Powerpuff Girls has Rainbow the Clown, who is this except for the one time he was temporarily turned into an Enemy Mime. The girls still beat him up and toss him into jail after he turns back, but in a later episode he appears at the Powerpuff Girls' birthday party, so it seems he's back into freedom and as cheery as ever.
- Disney's clay-animated series JoJo's Circus
- The 1980s Sugar Bowl series The Little Clowns of Happy Town.
- Jester in Jane and the Dragon.
- The Jerry Lewis-esque clown in the Animaniacs episode "Clown and Out." (A few of the characters view him as a Monster Clown, however, as they have "clownophobia."note ) He's eventually tricked into entering a rocket ship and blasted to Mars, where he finds he's much more popular among Martian children than Earthling children.
- The Simpsons: Krusty is a cynical parody of this (more specifically, Bozo), yet despite his being greedy and disinterested, his merchandise being low-quality and dangerous and his show's shrinking budget, he manages to bring joy to children and we occasionally see hints that even after everything, he still loves comedy. Even if he is a hack.
- Garfield and Friends: Binky the Clown is another parody. Unlike Krusty, he's passionate about being a clown. And although he's not monstrous or evil, he's incredibly obnoxious and irritating to just about everybody. Played far straighter in the comics, where Garfield genuinely enjoys Binky's antics. That is, when he isn't the target of Binky's antics.
- Max Fleischer's Koko the Clown, one of the earliest cartoon characters.
- Despite having been a Jerk Ass to everyone in the series (and even expressing unexplained hatred of clowns), Ed Bighead inadvertently discovers his passion for clowning around, and takes on a second job as a clown. He winds up being the most popular one in O-Town, even more so than his boss. Because he's afraid of what others will think, he tries to hide his second job as a clown in one of the most spectacular displays of Does This Remind You of Anything? on television.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has a clown-based imaginary friend named Jokey as a one-shot character.
- Francois the clown flea in the Tex Avery-directed MGM cartoon, "The Flea Circus".
- In the 19th Century, Joe Grimaldi (Joey the Clown).
- Also in the 19th century, Gaspard Baptiste Debureau, who was turned into one of the main characters of Marcel Carné's classic film, Les Enfants du Paradis.
- Emmet Kelly, Jr.
- Avner the Eccentric
- Oleg Popov.
- Any traditional circus clowns, be they part of Ringling Bros., Cirque du Soleil, or other troupes.
- While the mere fact that they are ball-jointed dolls might push them into Creepy Doll territory for most people, the Iplehouse Tania Pierrot is seemingly clown-themed and played for Rule of Cute.
- Patch Adams. Although he is still a doctor first, and clown second.
- Charlie Cairoli. His son Charlie Junior took over his dad's role after he (Charlie Senior) passed away. Junior is currently still working.
- Late Quebec performer Marc Favreau's most iconic character, Sol the clown, who was very much of the "sad hobo clown" variety. Notably, his shows were almost completely non-physical one-man-shows where the naive but optimistic Sol would describe, with puns and malapropers, a world filled with seemingly happy and positive things that were actually anything but. The kicker? It was OUR world, with all its social injustices laid bare. A case where both the clown and his audience had to laugh so as not to cry.
- Wavy Gravy is an old-school hippie peace activist clown.
- There are actual clown organisations in Real Life for professional, non-ironic clowns, and they take offence at their negative portrayal in the media.
- The Patati-Patatá duo of Brazilian clowns are completely non-ironic and family-friendly. They are also very well-liked by Brazilians.
- Rodeo clowns, also called bullfighters, traditionally dress as clowns and are responsible for distracting an angry bull while the bullrider can get to safety. They also often engage in clowning to entertain the crowd during downtime. Sometimes the jobs are split so that the bullfighters wear more normal clothing and the clowns just focus on comedy.