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Comic character of mime and pantomime and the circus. The clown developed from the bald-headed, padded buffoons who performed in the farces and mimes of ancient Greece and from the professional comic actors of the Middle Ages. The Italian commedia dell'arte introduced the harlequin, and the clown's whiteface makeup was introduced with the 17th-century French character Pierrot. The distinctive clown costume of oversized shoes, hat, and giant ruff around the neck was established by the popular German clown character Pickelherring. The first circus clown, Joseph Grimaldi, appeared as Joey in England (1805) and specialized in pantomime, pratfalls, and slapstick. Famous 20th-century clowns included the Swiss pantomimist Grock (Adrian Wettach), the U.S. circus star Emmett Kelly, and the longtime star of the Moscow circus, Oleg Popov.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on clown, visit Britannica.com.