today in 1778, the birthday of the OG of modern clowning, Joseph Grimaldi.
(Did I just say “OG of modern clowning”?!?)
The man sometimes called the King of Clowns or the father of clowns was actually the son of a pantomimist and dancer.
He made his first appearance onstage at age three.
Now when we say Grimaldi was the father of clowns, this doesn’t mean he was the first person to ever step in front of an audience and clown around to get laughs.
Grimaldi’s ancestors were from Italy, and some of them took part in the long-running tradition of commedia dell’arte.
This theater tradition featured actors playing a series of characters turning one of a number of standard storylines into farces.
But in most cases, the actors playing these stock characters wore clothes and makeup that was somewhat similar to what people wore in real life.
Grimaldi went in a very different direction: he covered his entire face with white greasepaint, bright red lipstick and red shapes drawn on his cheeks.
And he pushed his hair way up into a kind of wild mountain.
He went out of his way to look as unrealistic as possible.
Onstage, this clown character was everywhere at once: he was doing acrobatics, jumping on and off parts of the stage, contorting his body, making weird expressions with his face and shouting out his catchphrases, like “Here we are again!”
He was like nothing the theater crowd in London had seen before, and they loved it.
Grimaldi was in such high demand that he sometimes performed at two different theaters a night, just running from one to the other in his costume and makeup.
In the UK, some people still call clowns “joeys” in tribute.
Despite the success onstage, offstage life was hard.
Grimaldi had lived through an abusive childhood, and his adult life wasn’t much easier.
He used to do a pun about his last name that went “I am grim all day, but I make you laugh at night,” which, if you think about it, is a pretty depressing statement!
Grimaldi only lived to be 58, his mind and body worn out by the demands of all those performances as well as his offstage tragedies.
He left behind a memoir about his life and work, which ended up being reworked and sent out into the world by a longtime fan of his: Charles Dickens.
Today almost every clown in the business owes something to Joseph Grimaldi.
And if you visit London’s Joseph Grimaldi Park, you’ll find a gravestone with his name on it.
His actual remains aren’t there anymore, but nearby there’s a spot that looks as if you’re invited to dance on his grave.
The stones make musical notes when you step on them!
Congratulations to the winner of the 2023 International Wedding Photographer of the Year Contest.
Canadian photographer Tara Lilly won top honors for a photo of a scenic spot on a mountaintop where the bride has just noticed she has a bird on her head!
10 STRANGE LONDON MEMORIALS AND THE HISTORY BEHIND THEM (Look Up London)
Image via Wikicommons