A clown's job first and foremost is to make people laugh, although they also may attract attention, sell goods or services, or communicate ideas. Amateur clowns perform as a hobby, often working as volunteers in hospitals and nursing homes. Professional clowns are highly trained and usually have several skills. Their performances may include balloon sculpture, magic, puppetry and ventriloquism, juggling, acrobatics, storytelling, balancing acts, music, stilt walking, or unicycling. Most professional clowns are proficient at word play and must have a quick wit to interact with their audiences.

Mimes are silent clowns. They communicate with exaggerated movements and facial expressions. Marcel Marceau is probably the most famous mime. Auguste clowns use slapstick humor, falling over, getting into trouble, or acting silly for a laugh. The word auguste was a slang term used in Berlin in the 1860s for a stupid, bumbling fool. Whitefaces are characterized more for their clever way of setting up a situation. Named for their white makeup, they usually wear caps that make them look bald. Whitefaces are usually the clowns in charge of a routine. Character clowns have unique routines and usually work alone rather than with a partner or in a large group. A popular type of character clown is the hobo or tramp clown, often called sad clowns. These clowns often wear ragged clothes and appear naive and somewhat sad. Charlie Chaplin was one of the most famous character clowns; Emmett Kelly was a famous tramp clown. Rodeo clowns often dress in oversized western-style clothing. They play an important role in protecting cowboys thrown from bucking broncos or steers in rodeo arenas by distracting the animal while the cowboy moves to safer ground. Like other clowns, they also entertain the rodeo audience. Clowns still work in large circus arenas, usually together with a team of other clowns. More and more clowns, however, are finding work outside the circus. They may work in amusement parks, theaters, shopping malls, and television and video, as well as for birthday parties and business promotions.

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