A surprising history of the creepy clownAs the panic about evil clowns continues to build, Fiona Macdonald finds that the dark side of the modern circus entertainer goes back to ancient Rome.
By Fiona Macdonald
19 October 2016
“Day after day he sat before the mirror, brush in hand, marking his features, wiping them clean, and starting again, until finally a face emerged from the candlelight that bore a grin so incendiary it refused to be erased,” writes Andrew McConnell Stott in his acclaimed biography The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi
“It began with a thick foundation of greasepaint, applied to every exposed inch of face, neck and chest… He fixed it with a cloud of powder, then painted a blood-red wound, a mile-wide smear of jam, to form the gaping, gluttonous cavern of a mouth. The eyes, wide and rolling, were arched by thick brows… each cheek received a red chevron that conveyed insolently rude health while being simultaneously suggestive of some exotic beast of Hindu demonology.”
As a description of a mask, it is disturbing. As a description of the modern clown, it is insightful: when these purveyors of mayhem moved from the stage to the circus ring, they continued to be as unsettling as they were amusing.Joseph Grimaldi is seen as the forerunner to the modern clown – an annual ‘clown’s service’ is held at a church in London in his honour (Credit: Alamy)