Truth be told, “we are way past clowns being figures of innocent pleasure,” says Andrew McConnell Stott, an English professor at the University of Buffalo and author of The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, the definitive biography on the Regency Era clown and actor. “They have been sinister figures for so long it is impossible to remember when they weren’t.”
Stott argues that they were somewhat questionable figures to begin with. “Really, it existed since middle ages,” he says. “There was the sense of the clown being embodiment of frailty and the absurdity life. The subtext of the clown is that life is a joke and can be snatched away at any moment.” The concept of the bifurcated clown was solidified with Joseph Grimaldi, the celebrity clown from the early 1800s who was also well known for his depression, alcoholism, sacrificing his body for comedy, and dying in penniless obscurity.
If they have been around forever, why are they all over the place right now? It’s the economy, stupid.