For a time, I was on the mime side of things, which is a different story. I still wore whiteface, which is the point I’m trying to make, I suppose. But maybe not.
The clowns I admire include circus clowns because their skits confront the high and mighty of the world who control much of our lives, and make fun of their illusions of grandeur. They also probe the stereotypes in society and deal constructively with their problems. Clowns are Jungian archetypes.
Clowns also demonstrate the indestructibility of hope. No matter what happens to them, like getting run over by a car filled with other clowns, they spring back up. “You can’t kill hope!” they say, although grief gives us a good run for the money. Are their grief clowns?
Emmett Kelly, a Ringling Brothers clown, was known as “Weary Willie.” He felt that his character provided needed relief for people who were feeling sad and helped the beaten down by life to smile again. He also poked fun at those who thought too highly of themselves. Black Elk, a Heyoka clown and Lakota Sioux elder, felt the same way.
There is a long history of religious clowns and fools throughout cultures around the world, including tricksters in Native American societies. The Koyemshi clowns of the Pueblo culture even make fun of death because, you know, this really isn’t the end. The Russian and Greek Orthodox Christian Churches canonized 42 of their religious fools as saints.
Humor cuts through the proliferation of pompous prose and gets to the punch line, or enlightenment, as Buddhists would say.
Clowns point out the absurdities of life, like when we do everything right and it still comes out wrong. Or how, on the other hand, we do everything wrong and it somehow turns out right. Clowns remind us that we get through a tragedy by facing it, never giving up hope, and remembering to laugh.
As long as we can laugh when we’re grieving, we know that we’ll be okay. It’s when the laughter stops that I worry.