N. Gin: No, no! He's a mime.
Dr. Cortex: Mime, clown, close enough! With the painted faces, and tattoos, and stupid, little honker things that just...
Big Norm: Where do you get off calling me a clown, with your big head and your stupid, springy hair?!
A character wears a flamboyant outfit (and sometimes heavy makeup), sometimes out of a misguided sense of fashion, sometimes due to circumstances out of their control. Another person thinks they are a clown or something similar. The person being called a clown may react in various ways. They may get furious at this perceived insult, they may just be annoyed, or they may be embarrassed.
The person calling them a clown may be Innocently Insensitive, or sometimes an actual Jerkass. What the "clown" is wearing may be an example of Impossibly Tacky Clothing, Fashion-Victim Villain, or Uncanny Valley Makeup.
Starting in the late 2010s, it's become common to call people "clowns" whenever they do or say something that people consider stupid, especially online. This is not the same thing. The person being called a clown has to have something (usually wardrobe/appearance) that can genuinely cause someone to think they're a clown. Even if the person calling them a clown knows that they aren't a clown and is using the term maliciously, there has to be a bigger reason than the "clown" simply being stupid.
Compare Stripper/Cop Confusion for a more risqué variant, and Dreaded Kids' Party Entertainer Job to see why being a clown is so undesirable. See also Your Costume Needs Work, Mistaken for Subculture, and For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself.
- The Red Ranger Becomes an Adventurer in Another World: Tougo Asagaki is the Kizuna Red Ranger, a superhero straight out of a Toku Sentai series, complete with a costume that the modern day kids thought was cool. However, when he gets sent into a fantasy world, everybody thinks his costume looks ridiculous, with Rosie Mist calling him a clown.
- One Garfield strip has a big, tough guy see Jon's ridiculous outfit and assume he's a clown. Jon tries to reason with the guy, but ends up being threatened: "Make me laugh, clown boy." Garfield is somehow ready with a seltzer bottle.
- In another strip a young boy also mistakes Jon for a clown for the same reason. Garfield finds all of this amusing, until the kid points to him saying it's one of those trained circus pigs. The boy's mother then explains that it's just a guy in a bad suit and an overweight cat.
- Zits: Jeremy is looking through the photo album and finds an old picture of Walt. Jeremy says he never knew Walt used to be a clown, and asks him if he used to perform at supermarket openings and children's parties. After Jeremy leaves, Connie looks at the photo and comments that it isn't a clown outfit, but what he wore to their friend's wedding. Walt asks her not to blow his newfound cool.
- In Austin Powers, Austin comes from an exaggerated version of 1960's London to a realistic version of the 1990's, still dressed in a blue velvet suit with a lace dickey and a wildly obsolete hairdo. When he lands in Las Vegas, a tourist quickly asks whether he's in one of the shows. Rather than try to explain, he simply replies "no, actually, I'm English".
- In Back to the Future Part III, before he travels to the old west, Doc gives Marty a colorful cowboy outfit not uncommon in early 1950s pre-Clint Eastwood Westerns. It gets him ridiculed by real cowboys, who think he's a clown or from the circus.
- Big Fat Liar: Marty is tricked into to visiting a house he doesn't realize is full of royally rowdy children (and one shamelessly sadistic boy). He's not dressed like a clown, but his oranged-up hair and blued-over skin are motivation enough for the kids ("It's the clown, let's hurt him!").
- A Kid in King Arthur's Court: Calvin is sent to the Middle Ages in his baseball uniform. The locals mock him because he looks like a jester to them.
- In the series, we have the historical note of Bouncy Normo, "the greatest clown who ever lived". In reality, he was just some normal guy suffering a downright extreme example of The Unwitting Comedian, a man doomed to make everybody laugh with every action he made and word he said, even as he eventually became so depressed from being everybody's punch line that he was Driven to Suicide (and his dangling cadaver was deemed so hilarious that nobody thought of cutting it down for months).
- When Colon and Nobby have to go in "plain clothes" in Jingo they both look fairly ridiculous, Colon because his only civilian outfit is a suit that doesn't fit properly anymore and Nobby because he's wearing absurdly anachronistic Morporkian Civil War era garb from reenactments. Fortunately, they need a better cover story than just denying they're policemen and agree they're clowns once the landlady asks if they are.
- In Old Man Khottabych by Lazar Lagin, the titular character, a Fish out of Temporal Water Arabian genie, sees a circus magician and immediately starts shouting that the audience is being tricked, since it's simple sleight-of-hand, not real magic. The audience just thinks he is a clown and greets him with applause.
- In an Older Than Steam example, Utopia has a scene where another nation sends some ambassadors to Utopia, dressed in fine silks, gemstones and gold. Since in Utopia, gold is used for slave chains, and gemstones are kid toys (because neither should be taken seriously by Utopian adults), people wearing both are naturally mistaken for jesters, and their servants for the real ambassadors.
- In Scarlet's Star Darlings book, because Ophelia didn't blend in on Earth people mistook her for a clown.
- One Running Gag from The Drew Carey Show was Mimi Bobeck, who wore bright colorful clothes and heavy colorful make up, being mistaken for a clown.
- Episode 7 of WandaVision has Vision waking up in the S.W.O.R.D. base, which was transformed into a traveling circus. One of the performers mistakes Vision for one of their clowns, due to his bright red skin and green and yellow outfit.
- The Thrilling Adventure Hour: Played with. "Beyond Belief" antagonist Nightmares the Clown does dress like an actual clown, but does so specifically to invoke Monster Clown as a parody of Pennywise of It. However, Sadie Doyle acts as if he is a standard clown and spends more time laughing at him than being afraid of him, prompting Nightmares and others to constantly try to remind Sadie that no, he is not that kind of clown.
- Crash Nitro Kart: After defeating Small and Big Norm with Team Cortex, Big Norm congratulates the trio. Doctor Cortex dismisses this, however, saying "go away, you filthy clown". Doctor N. Gin corrects Cortex's mistake, to which Cortex says, "mime, clown, it's close enough!"
- In Dragon Quest IX, the protagonist's Celestrian uniform gets them mistaken for a traveling minstrel after suffering from a case of Humanity Ensues. It becomes their default class, making them a minstrel for real.
- Animaniacs: In "King Yakko", Dictator Umlaut storms into Yakko's kingdom in an extravagant outfit with a Regal Ruff and a red cape. The Warners assume he's their court jester and beg him to do tricks, frustrating him.
- In Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Wild", The Joker, after hearing that someone made a casino based on his likeness, goes to said casino to wreak who-knows-what sort of havoc... but another guy dressed as him mistakes him for a fellow casino employee, shoves some chips in his hands, and tells him to man the blackjack table.
- Played with in Justice League Action. In one episode, The Joker, the infamous clown-faced supervillain, crash lands at a kid's birthday party. The kid and his mother think he's the clown they hired for the party. The Joker takes the opportunity to take the kids and the mother hostage, only for Shazam! to save them and force the Joker to do actual clown tricks as punishment.
- In Justice League Unlimited episode "The Once and Future Thing, Part 1", when Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern accidentally travel to the old west, the cowboys that come across them think they're circus folk and proceed to attempt to intimidate them.
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem!", Doofenshmirtz attempts to take over the Tri-State area by pretending to be the ruler of a troop of aliens invading Earth, complete with his own (really tacky) alien costume. As he's setting up for his invasion speech, a little girl walks by and tells her dad that she "want(s) to see the clown", much to Doofenshmirtz's annoyance.