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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

"The Carnival is Over" - the Book that Tears the Clown Union Apart

The annual Clown Service has taken place at Holy Trinity, Dalston. Each year at a different church they hold this celebration of a tradition of unity, slapstick and being unable to get out of the car park. Where the Church Wardens struggle to work out who are the clowns and who are the clergy - the same as they do the rest of the year.

And yet the number of self-identifying clowns has fallen. There has been a long decline since the Victorian heyday of confidence and expansion, when clowns were sent to Africa and the big circuses opened enormous Big Tops in the new London suburbs. And over the last 20 years the number of people saying they find clowns "irrelevant",  "scary" or "boring" has risen sharply.

Now a new book - "The Carnival is Over: Slapstick in an Unfunny World" examines the causes of decline, while also indulging in what some have claimed to be fairly scandalous gossip.

Among the authors' claims are that:

* The Chief Clown's "Year of Slapstick" in 1994 wasn't at all amusing.
* A leading English clown in the 1970s was openly unfunny.
* Marcel Marceau, believed to know the dark secrets of the Clown Union, was begged not to talk.
* People experimented with balloon modelling.
* Some clowns refused only to cry when there was no-one around - resulting in the forensic discovery of trace amounts of lachrymal fluid in custard pies.

Very few Under 25s now identify as clowns. One pioneering clown in the East End who would only be identified as "Ditzi " said, "We have been trying to "reach out" to the unclowned. That's why we've had Clownish Play, Hipster Circus, "Godly Custard Pie Throwing" and even have had joint performances with jugglers and mimes. We thought of adopting the idea of "Messy Church" but "Messy Clowning" - well that's just clowning, isn't it?"

The rise of the "New Humourless" has also taken its toll on clowning as, especially on Social Media, Ricky Gervais has become popular - taking up the baton from formerly unfunny people such as Rowan Atkinson.

Nor is Britain an exceptional case. In the United States, there is now a nationwide shortage of clown vocations - and a rift with the wider Clown Union over their occasional habit of attending Church without shaving foam, giant bubble-makers or balloons.

But there are still staunch defenders of traditional clowning. A spokesclown for a breakaway group, "The Clowning Association of North America", told the book - " He who gets in a car with the Spirit of the Age will soon have his wheels fall off and the bonnet fly up. Sure, the trendies will do Frozen or Adele covers, but what will they do next year?"

These traditionalist clowns are themselves reaching back to Harlequin and Pantaloon as they look for "true clowning as delivered unto us by Grimaldi." They may look a strange, tiny group to the world outside. But they believe that by staying true to the roots of clowning, they will remain even as - for clowning in the mainstream - the Carnival is Over.

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