The History of Clowns1
The Triassic Period
From the very first singularity, to massive on-rush of energy, the cooling of star matter, to the formation of galaxies, planets and their attendant satellites, through to the formation of the earth, the oceans and the mountains, the development of the species, small fish things, lizards, monkeys and early humans, all of universal history displays a clear design, a manifest destiny, a programmatic end point: the very first clown. Most of us don't associate pre-history with clowns. What we do associate it with is, usually, rocks, fire, funny cars on stone wheels, large black obelisks and apes. However, this point of view has been displaced by the recent findings of cave paintings in, unsurprisingly, a cave, in southern France, which is where all the cave men put their paintings. The scenes depict what is clearly a hunt. On the left is a worried looking mammoth, and on the right are a number of figures chasing it with spears. However, on closer inspection it was revealed that much further right are a small group of figures who are driving around in a circle on a tricycle and making noises with cow horns. These are the very first recorded clowns. The reason for their appearance is obscure, though most scientists theorise that they figured that the whole 'hunt the mammoth and get your soul into the afterlife' thing was being taken a bit too seriously, and that riding around in circles on a tricycle would present spectators with some light relief.
The strict codes and rules of the early medieval church meant that Gregorian clowns had a really hard time of it. The code of silence and complete ban of tricycles and cow horns by Pope Gregory XI made things even worse. Clowns were driven underground and there are few remaining manuscripts depicting their activities. The Bodelian library contains a document by the cousin of the Venerable Bede2 who wrote:
' Much singyng and adoraytion at the church today. We all stood in a lyne and stayed very styll. Except for Co-Co who crossed his eyes and wyggled his ears when the chaplain wasn't lookyng. This same Co-Co has recently entertained the idea of mayking a pye from custard and throwyng it at the parson. I praye to God that he be reedymed.'
The Rennaisance was an exciting time to be a clown. Having discovered that we are not situated right at the center of the universe, and that we are not even situated anywhere important and, in fact, that we are a completely irrelevant chance event which is likely to be as easily extinguished as it began, people soon realised that there was comfort to be found in watching someone with huge red shoes squirting someone else with water. It was also around this time that clowning technology began to improve. The discovery of the rotten tomato in the Dutch East Indies, for example, brought a new dimension to European clown shows.
The Enlightenment was the great age of Rationalism. The philosopher, Immanuel Kant, had developed his notion of the 'Categorical Imperative'. This elevated reason to a supreme governing principle of actions. ' To govern the behaviour of all rational beings everywhere and at every stage of their life ', Kant wrote, ' except for clowns, who should be simply and quietly transformed into cubes by means of mathematics.'. Kant's comment demonstrates that this was the age of the first stirrings of clown criticism. People began to question why, for example, every clown in the world was named 'Co-Co'. Perhaps, it was thought, they had all descended from some common ancestor. Voltaire wrote in his journals: ' I expect that this original 'Co-Co' was about twenty feet tall, with a huge round nose and that he probably lived on a diet of balloons. And, by the way, what's so funny about a pie made of custard anyway? Yeah, ok, maybe it was amusing the first time, but, like five or six times later? Surely custard would be better distributed among the poor of our nation, and the clowns put into trees.'
The Romantic Age
This was the age of the solitary clown. There are many instances recorded of clowns wandering around valleys, frightening villagers and trying to make daffodils laugh. The painter Kasper Willhelm Friedrich famously depicted a solitary clown throwing a custard pie into a vast empty landscape of mountains and cliffs, with no trees or Macdonalds or nothing in it, which was very sad. The clown became the hero of the dispossesed. Karl Marx even flirted with the idea of becoming a clown before he decided that inventing socialism instead would bring him more free beer and peanuts. He kept the hat and the beard though.
The twentieth century saw the rise of the single greatest invention that the clown has ever seen: Television. It began with early silent films. Many clowns found the transition difficult, as producers put increasing demands on them, like throwing themselves off buildings and rolling under trains. In 1924, a number of clowns were killed when the tricycle they were riding accidently rolled off the side of the Empire State Building. They were:
- Co-Co and
With the advent of talkies, many comediens were put out of work. Clowns were luckier, having never really been required to talk much anyway. And now people, for the first time, could hear the sound of a cow horn. Many cinema goers recorded that it was wasn't quite as funny as they had imagined. They had apparently imagined that it went:
With the advent of television, the rise of the celebrity clown was rapid, as exemplified by the career of 'Co-Co' otherwise known as 'Cliff Richard', or even more amusingly, as 'Harry Webb'. Co-Co entertained television viewers by throwing golf balls into a fish tank while screeching 'Searching for a Green Light' at the top of his voice.
Clowns in Space.
In the future, obviously, clowns will colonise all of space. Huge custard pies made from neutronium will be thrown from planet to planet. Vast laser cow-horns will echo around galaxies. Clowns will travel through space and time on water-proof tricycles. A piece of cheese will cost a million dollars. Postmen will use C5 electric cars. A banana will cost the same as a Ford Granada. But clowns will live on. Clowning will always survive. Until 2164 when they will be wiped out by a mysterious virus.