Charlie The Juggling Clown
Creating Happy Memories that Last a Lifetime
Types Of Clowns
by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson
The major clown organizations recognize three types of clowns for their competitions. They are Whiteface, Auguste, and Tramp. For costume competition, they include a fourth category, character clown. There are also other types of clowns not accepted in competition.
A Whiteface Clown covers all their flesh with either make up or clothing. They start by covering their face and neck with a coating of clown white greasepaint. Then they add features to that. Some people divide Whiteface Clowns into three subgroups. The Neat Whiteface paints small features using red or black, and wears carefully color coordinated clothing. The Grotesque, or Comedy, Whiteface paints large features with a variety of colors, and wears outlandish clothing. In clown competitions in America, a European Whiteface clown paints delicate features, uses a skull cap to appear bald, and wears elaborate glitzy costumes. In Europe, a true European Whiteface clown accents their ears with red, uses their own hair or a black wig, and wears a specific style of spangled costume.
During most of the twentieth century, the whiteface clown was the "straightman," either trying to get a task down correctly or being a clever rogue pulling tricks on their partners.
The Auguste clown wears white around their eyes and mouth, and covers the rest of their exposed skin with a flesh colored greasepaint base. They generally use a large imitation nose. They may paint their lower lip red or black, and frequently have exaggerated eyebrows. They may wear a colorful wig, or a bald top wig with a fringe of hair around the sides. Their costume usually has very bright colors, and is frequently too large.
During most of the twentieth century, the Auguste clown was a stupid and clumsy character. The Auguste either couldn't figure out how to get anything right, or they were the victim of pranks pulled by the Whiteface clown. Clowning is a creative art form that constantly evolves. By the end of the century the Auguste clown has evolved to the point where it is sometimes interchangeable with the Whiteface clown in actions. For competition, however, a strict adherence to the character's "traditional" role is necessary.
The Tramp clown was inspired by homeless people late in the nineteenth century. A Tramp clown paints white around their mouth, and may also paint white near their eyes. They paint an artificial beard using greasepaint. Their clothing is either patched or tattered.
A Tramp clown can be happy or sad. During the early twentieth century there was more variation within the Tramp clown then any other type. There were singing Tramps, juggling Tramps, Tramp magicians, silent Tramps, Tramp monologists, skating Tramps, Tramp artists, and even Tramp pianists.
The best known examples of this type of clown are Emmett Kelly and Red Skelton as Freddy the Freeloader.
The Character category of clown exists only in clown competitions. In make up competition, there is often a category for those whose costume depicts a specific occupation, hobby, or easily identifiable individual. Their make up can be Whiteface, Auguste, or Tramp style. In reality, costume does not determine character type. The clown's personality is their character. A clown can be a cop, baseball player, doctor, and a boxer at different times without changing character as long as their personality doesn't change.
Auguste Lite aka European Auguste
In America, a naturalistic style of make up is becoming increasingly popular. It was originally called European Auguste, although that title is not entirely accurate. Clowns of America, International has started using the term Auguste Lite for this variation. They have added an Auguste Lite category to their make up competitions. It is similar to the style of make up used by Auguste clowns early in the twentieth century and the style developed by clowns in the Soviet Union. It is used most often either in theatrical settings or by hospital clowns. This character often is portrayed as either an average person trying to cope with everyday problems or as an innocent discovering the world for the first time.
The best known examples of this style of clown are Bill Irwin, working in theaters and as Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street, and Loonette on TV's Big Comfy Couch.
Some clowns combine the art of mime with clowning. Often they wear a mime style make up which ends at the jaw line, leaving their neck uncovered. (Some clowns view this as an amateurish style of make up, and refer to it as dirty neck clowning. If you use this make up style, you create the expectation that you will perform mime illusions.)
The best known Clown Mimes are Marcel Marcau, appearing as his clown character Bip, and Nola Rae.
Rodeo performance is a very specialized branch of clowning. Some rodeo clowns use Tramp or Auguste style make up. There is also a very distinct style of rodeo make up based on geometric shapes instead of the performer's natural features. There are two types of rodeo clowns, the barrel clown and the bullfighter.
The barrel clown uses a large padded metal barrel as a home base in the center of the arena. They may lure the bull into attacking the barrel, and then brace themselves curled up inside to survive the impact. Tramp clown Jasbo Fulkerson was the original barrel clown.
A bullfighter clown will often wear a skirt made from taking out the inseam of a pair of jeans and then sewing the two halves together. This skirt is held up by one suspender. The purpose of the bullfighter skirt is to be able to slip out of it quickly if a bull hooks the material. Most rodeo clowns have protective pads hidden under their costume. They also wear track shoes with cleats.
Rodeo clowns have the very serious job of protecting cowboys during the bull riding contest. The best rodeo clowns are also all around entertainers. They help fill breaks in the action and perform featured acts. Many rodeo clowns use trained animals in their act.
Ice Skating Clown
Another clown specialty is providing comedy in ice skating shows. These clowns may use Auguste, Tramp, or Auguste Lite make up designs. They combine traditional clown routines with outstanding technical skating skill.
The most famous figure skating clowns were Frick and Frack. Kurt Browning is currently continuing the tradition of ice skating clowns.
Clowns who specialize in visiting hospitals and nursing homes are known as caring clowns. They are adept at one-on-one entertainment, and may use close up magic, puppets, juggling, and music. Two well known programs of caring clowns is the Big Apple Clown Care Unit™ and Clowns For Children's (co-sponsored by the International Clown Hall of Fame).
You are likely to find clowns any place there is an audience. Auto Thrill Shows had their own clowns. (Jackie LeClaire is perhaps the best known auto thrill show clown.) The Indianapolis Clowns was a professional baseball team combining traditional circus clown acts with baseball. Al Schacht and Max Patkin were famous baseball clowns. The Harlem Globetrotters feature a Clown Prince of Basketball in their games. (Goose Ausbie, Meadowlark Lemon, and Geese Tatum were their most famous clowns.) Some clowns specialize in appearing in churches using their skills as a teaching tool.
Most cultures have had their own type of clown character. For example, the Mudhead clowns of the Hopi tribes wore a mask over their head and painted their body. These clowns play an important role in the life of their tribes. For more on clowns of various cultures click below.