Clowns have been a part of our culture for as long as most can remember. They are the comic relief in circuses, rodeos, and are often sent in to cheer up the sick. Until recently, most clowns have been good-natured characters. Red Skelton is well known by those who grew up as television developed. Bozo always tried to make children laugh. But the most famed clown ever is probably Weary Willie, created by Emmett Kelly in 1898.
Willie grew to great popularity during the depression. His character was always sad and no matter how bad life got for those during the late 20’s and 30’s, life for Willie always seemed a little sadder. He could bring a smile to one’s face when they had little to laugh about. He always appeared in his typical white face, bright colored clothing, and performed his goofy, sad activities somehow making others feel better about themselves.
When Emmett Kelly grew too old to perform anymore, his son, Emmett Kelly Jr. took over and kept the spirit alive until 2003 when Jr. passed away as well. Now we only have the images left to remind us that not all clowns are bad, scary, or threatening.
I can’t help but think how sad Willie, and Emmett, would really be if they knew how our society has changed the nature of a clown. At a rodeo, a clown saves lives by getting in the way of a charging animal that has thrown a rider or some innocent that happens to be in the way. At a circus, they are there to make young and old laugh and forget their troubles for a while. And if you have ever seen Robin Williams in Patch Adams you will see how a clown can lighten the load of those who are sick.
Now clowns are feared. They are associated with bad things and the rash of weird trespassing Halloween clowns have left everyone afraid of them. It just goes to show how distorted the world is becoming, when we can take something created in fun and turn it into something to be feared.
How to celebrate – Try and remember clowns as a good thing, not something bad. Watch old videos of Emmett Kelly and Emmett Kelly Jr.. Visit a clown school, if you can find one.