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The past 30 years or so have seen a surge in the popularity of evil, Joker-style Monster Clowns who deliberately and very effectively invert everything clowns were traditionally assumed to represent - that is, making people laugh, especially children. However, there was a time when clowns were treated in the popular media as sympathetic figures of whimsy and silly fun. Pretty much the only clown left in the public eye who is still permitted to act at all clown-like is Ronald McDonald. (And now that he's being phased out of the advertising, we don't even have him anymore.) But in days past...
For clarification, it should be noted that a degree of irony is intrinsic to most clown performances, and indeed to humor in general. The traditional "tears" painted on a clown's cheeks are there to show that he is laughing on the outside but may be crying on the inside, an acknowledgment by the performer that most humor contains at least some element of laughing at another's pain. This is most played up in old-school, down-on-their-luck "hobo" clowns like Emmett Kelly Jr., though the ultimate artistic expression of the tragic clown concept is probably the title aria in the opera Pagliacci. The "Non-Ironic" in the trope's name simply refers to the clowns listed here not being evil or deliberately frightening.
See The Jester for a more common type.
- McDonald's mascot Ronald McDonald. In recent years he's very much subject to Alternate Character Interpretation, especially since he's become the defacto symbol for Peace and Love Incorporated.
- Jack Box is an unusual variant, since his head resembles a simplistic Jack-in-the-Box toy. His personality in newer ads isn't clownish at all, but rather that of a slightly unorthodox yet very effective businessman.
- Krinkles the Clown from the long-discontinued Sugar Krinkles cereal. He's supposed to be a happy and cheerful clown, but...
- Batman #528 has yet another tragic, "life's loser" clown that works at a barely-surviving circus. He manages to disrupt the Mexican Standoff between Batman, Two-Face, and the circus' corrupt owner by releasing a lion from its cage, and later informs Batman that he had seen said owner murder his uncle, the circus' previous owner, by loosing a tiger on him. His reason for not revealing this to the cops? He feared that the circus would be shut down, and since he has no savings and few job skills... After reflecting on this for the better part of a few years, however, and getting a chewing-out from the Dark Knight, he decides to go and testify to the cops after all. (For extra irony points, the case was one of the many "ghost files" that Two-Face possessed back when he was still District Attorney - he knew who was responsible, but couldn't prosecute as he had no evidence).
- Jack-in-the-Box, a clown-themed superhero in Kurt Busiek's comic Astro City.
- The heroic White Clown of Borovia from one G.I. Joe story arc.
Film - Animated
- Stubbs the Clown in We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story is the only friendly character in the Circus of Fear.
- Pixar gives us Chuckles in Toy Story 3, though he's more of a literal Sad Clown than a straight example at least until the end.
- Earlier, there was Heimlich from A Bug's Life.
- Flip from Little Nemo in Slumberland isn't evil, though he is a Cigar Chomper and a Trickster.
- Ulf the pub thug from Tangled.
Film - Live Action
- Phroso the clown in Freaks is a textbook example — works hard on new gags for his act, a friend to all the sideshow folk, kind to the pinheads, develops a truly sweet romance with an animal trainer — really a heck of a guy.
- Harpo Marx's persona had most of the characteristics of a clown, if not the face paint.
- Charlie Chaplin's The Circus, featuring Chaplin stock player Henry Bergman as an entirely non-ironic clown.
- Helmut, from Jim Jarmusch's Night On Earth, the taxi driver used to be a circus clown in East Germany.
- Deconstructed in The Greatest Show On Earth, with a nervous clown named Buttons (who is played by an actor whom we know from his voice to be Jimmy Stewart, although Stewart's unpainted face is never revealed). Buttons is actually a doctor who is wanted by the police for "putting his wife to sleep" when she had a terminal illness. The police suspect the truth, but they can't arrest the man because he is never seen out of makeup and always careful not to display medical knowledge. Buttons finally has to give himself up when the owner of the circus nearly bleeds to death following the film's famous colossal train wreck and the circus needs a doctor to perform a blood transfusion. Buttons saves the owner's life (having by this point removed his wig and red nose but not his whiteface) and is immediately afterward arrested for murder. He is still a beloved figure in the eyes of the children at the circus, though, and some of them plaintively ask where Buttons is going as the police take him away.
Live Action TV
- Clarabelle on Howdy Doody.
- Bozo, the "World's Most Famous Clown," had the distinction of being portrayed both by a live actor and as a cartoon on his television program.
- Red Skelton's most famous character, Clem Kadiddlehopper.
- Or, more obviously, Freddie the Freeloader.
- Or, even more accurately, Red, himself, was the clown, able to take on may persona - Mean Wittle Kid, Clem, Freddie, Gertrude and Heathcliff, and on and on.
- The entire cast of The Big Comfy Couch.
- Fizbo on Modern Family.
- Cameron takes it into Serious Business territory.
- Russian kids' green screen show Komedya Klowna (??????? K?????) (mostly) features these.
- JP Patches, who to this day, decades after his show was cancelled, he still performs as his clown character.
- Barnaby, an English sheepdog in a bowler hat and baggy pants who regularly performed on Disney's Dumbo's Circus. He was shown to be friendly if kind of stupid, and he was actually more of a jack-of-all-trades than a clown, also performing magic and the like.
- Charlie Cairoli briefly had a TV show in Britain.
- The Two Ronnies once did a Tear Jerker song "People Don't Want Clowns Any More" about how this trope is dying.
- The tragic clown opera Pagliacci (although it must be said that, even if nobody in it is a modern "monster clown" psycho, none of them are nice people).
- Another tragic example (and a more sympathetic character) is Jack Point from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Yeomen of the Guard (the pair's only non-comedic work, done at Sullivan's insistence because True Art Is Angsty).
- William Shakespeare's various jester characters, such as Feste from Twelfth Night (and alas, Poor Yorick, who never appears on stage from the neck down).
- Cirque Du Soleil, as noted under the Real Life listing, uses lots of these — and Corteo is actually about them; most of the major characters are turn-of-the-20th-century circus clowns. A stated goal of this show was to present funny and lovable clowns to audiences, especially children, who may never have seen them as such.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All features Moe, a friendly clown who loves to laugh... and we don't mean like that. Sadly, most of the fandom sees him as The Scrappy, mainly due to him being That One Witness.
- The fact that he tells horrible jokes doesn't help, although his determination to restore the circus, and teach Regina the truth about death, restores his worth in a lot of fans eyes.
- The Sims: The clown who hassles your Sims is a nuisance, but he's not particularly evil. He's just bad at his job.
- Hitman: Blood Money has a clown at a kid's birthday party whose clothes you can steal. The protagonist, 47, even once won a 'Clown of the Year' award. Of course, given the nature of the game, you may end up a Monster Clown instead.
- Dark Cloud 2 goes both ways. While you do spend the early portions of the game fighting an evil clown and his circus troupe....
- you can also unlock a clown outfit for the male protagonist, build clown themed parts for his Ridepod, and be greeted a perfectly friendly jester fond of hiding in dungeon treasure chests. He might even hook you up with above average loot!
- Most of the clown-like Pokémon are this, such as the Mr. Mime line and Poppilio. While Mr. Mime is a little creepy with the way it moves, it is a genial creature. Clowns are also Trainer classes in many games (though a Team Rocket-aligned juggler appeared in Generation 1).
- Owing to the game franchise's more Lighter and Softer Slice of Life style of gameplay, there is a Sheep-type character named Pietro who, as implied by the name, has a rainbow colored wool and resembles a clown, complete with face paint, and frequently honking as a catchphrase. Other than being somewhat smug at times, he's actually one of the nicer and laid-back characters in the series.
- Atop the Fourth Wall: Sick of the proliferation of Monster Clown characters, Linkara created Boffo the Clown to be a recurring character. Unfortunatly for him, he was created at the beginning of The Entity's arc and as such promptly was kidnapped by The Entity. He returned at the end of the arc. He's also Linkara's accountant!
- A CollegeHumor short parodies The Dark Knight by having Batman get the wrong room and start obliviously beating the crap out of a real clown (who had, admittedly, been arrested for public intoxication) while rattling off lines from the movie without context. At the end, Gordon finally gets him to stop; come time to really get one facing the other... there's another mistake and Batman's doing it all over again with an ordinary (besides being improbably in-character) mime.
- The Powerpuff Girls has Rainbow the Clown, who is this except for the one time he was temporarily turned into an Enemy Mime. The girls still beat him up and toss him into jail after he turns back though.
- In a later episode he appears at the Powerpuff Girls' birthday party, so it seems he's back into freedom and as cheery as ever.
- Disney's clay-animated series Jojo's Circus.
- The 1980s Sugar Bowl series The Little Clowns of Happy Town.
- Jester in Jane and the Dragon.
- For that matter, any court jester in a medieval setting.
- The Jerry Lewis-esque clown in the Animaniacs episode "Clown and Out." (Certain of the characters view him as a Monster Clown, however, as they have "clownophobia.") He's eventually tricked into entering a rocket ship and blasted to Mars, where he finds he's much more popular among Martian children than Earthling children.
- Krusty is a cynical parody of this (more specifically, Bozo), yet despite his being greedy and disinterested, his merchandise being low-quality and dangerous and his show's shrinking budget, he manages to bring joy to children and we occasionally see hints that even after everything, he still loves comedy. Even if he is a hack.
- Sideshow Bob on the other hand...
- Binky the Clown is another parody. Unlike Krusty, he's passionate about being a clown; he's just obnoxious. Played far straighter in the comics, where Garfield genuinely enjoys Binky's antics. That is, when he isn't the target of Binky's antics.
- Max Fleischer's Koko the Clown, one of the earliest cartoon characters.
- SpongeBob SquarePants generally portrays clowns in this light:
- Dougie Williams, first seen in Squirrel Jokes, and later retruning in Mall Girl Pearl, is an honest comedy act.
- Squidward hires a friendly-looking clown to keep his staff entertained as he films a commercial.
- An entire episode, "Don't Feed the Clowns", is centered around one.
- Squidward's medieval ancestor is Squidly, the king's favorite jester, who is a bit of a snarker like his decendant, but otherwise a honest and wise messenger to the king.
- Krabs makes himself a clown in "Krabby Land", with SpongeBob as his sidekick. Overlaps slightly with Villainous Harlequin in the former's case, as he was trying to scam children with it.
- In the 19th Century, Joe Grimaldi (Joey the Clown).
- Emmet Kelly, Jr.
- Sad clowns in general usually avoid the Monster Clown treatment, since a painted-on smile is what tends to freak people out the most.
- Avner the Eccentric
- Any traditional circus clowns, be they part of Ringling Bros., Cirque Du Soleil, or other troupes.
- While the mere fact that they are ball-jointed dolls might push them into Creepy Doll territory for most people, the Iplehouse Tania Pierrot is seemingly clown-themed and played for Rule of Cute.
- Patch Adams.
- Charlie Cairoli. Look, I am old enough to remember him all right? Anyway, his son Charlie Junior is still working.
- But not enough.
- The actual word for an irrational fear of clowns is "coulrophobia".