Becoming A Professional Clown – Is Clown College Real?

If you’ve ever thought about becoming a professional clown, you’ve probably heard of clown college and you may be wondering if it’s a real thing. I was wondering the same thing and decided to do a bit of research. Here’s what I found out.

As of 1997, the original clown college created by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in 1968 is no longer in existence. But there are still several clown schools available to train those interested in becoming professional clowns.

Clown schools have a lot to offer. You can learn how to entertain as a clown through juggling, physical comedy, tricks, and more. Here’s everything you need to know about clown school to decide if it’s right for you.

Clown College Basics

The Ringling Brothers Clown College was the premier training environment for anyone who wanted to become a professional clown. The full-time 13-week program trained clowns in basic clowning, make-up, costuming, some circus skills such as juggling and stilt walking; and the basics of physical comedy.

Students also learned how to define their character and created clown gags that were often used in actual shows.

Today, clown schools offer classes similar to those taught at Clown College. The essentials of clowning that were taught in Clown College still hold up for modern-day clowns to use to entertain a broad audience.

7 Best Clown Schools & Camps

  1. The Circus Center’s Clown Conservatory in San Francisco, CA. The Clown Conservatory focuses on teaching physical comedy.
    • Cost: $6,900
    • Curriculum: Foundations of Funny; The Human Cartoon Studio; Professional Development; includes performance opportunities throughout the course.
    • Course descriptions: Foundations of Funny focuses on techniques that you will use as a clown, such as slapstick, using props, puppetry, and physical comedy. In the Human Cartoon Studio you will develop your clown character and signature performances in a collaborative workshop. Professional Development will give you an opportunity to receive one-on-one career coaching.
    • Length of program: 24 weeks
  2. The Clown School in Los Angeles, CA. The Clown School offers core classes and specialty classes. The core classes are for anyone who wants to move into being a performer. The FAQs indicate that there are no birthday party techniques being taught at The Clown School; so, if this is where your interest lies, consider another school. Online classes are also offered.
    • Cost: Not listed.
    • Curriculum: Clown 1, Clown 2, Clown 3
    • Course descriptions: Clown 1 teaches you through free play. In Clown 2 you will create a clown character. Clown 3 will give you the opportunity to try out what you’ve learned in front of an audience.
    • Length of program: Core – 22 weeks
  3. Northeast Clown Institute in Plymouth, MA. NCI strives to introduce its students to all aspects of clowning. Its stated mission is to help anyone who wishes to develop and/or improve their clowning skills. It holds a two-day workshop with students who are grouped together by their years of clown training.
    • Cost: $125
    • Curriculum: 1st year students – Finding the Clown in You; Basic Whiteface Makeup; Basic Tramp Makeup; Basic Auguste Makeup; Props, Parties, and Parades: Costumes On A Budget; Introduction to Balloon Twisting; Costumes,Wigs & Shoes; Face Cheek Art; Legal Issues for Clowns; Fear of Clowns: Types of Make-up; Glitter Tattoos; and Makeup With Mentors.
    • Course descriptions: Not provided.
    • Length of program: 2 days
  4. Clown Camp at Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI. This camp is directed by former Ringling Bros. Clown College graduates. The camp is designed to help you improve your clowning skills.
    • Cost (includes optional housing): double occupancy – $1,024 ; single occupancy – $1,274; commuter – $499
    • Curriculum: Choice of 70+ hours of classes which include physical comedy, ventriloquism, magic, character, stage craft, improv, juggling, movement, mime, making props, and bubble-ology.
    • Course descriptions: Not provided.
    • Length of program: 1 week
  5. Cheerful Clowns Alley’s Clown College in Houston, TX. Cheerful will help you develop the confidence it takes to be a first-rate clown.
    • Cost: $185 + $22 for a background check
    • Curriculum: Make-up application, costuming, juggling, balloon twisting, and face painting
    • Course descriptions: Not provided.
    • Length of program: 6 class time sessions, an all-day workshop, and a funfest conducted over the course of 8 weeks.
  6. Circus Smirkus All Around Circus Camp in Greensboro, VT. This is a circus camp for kids ages 8-16. There are various circus skills taught beyond just clowning.
    • Cost: 1 week – $1345; 2 weeks – $2475
    • Curriculum: Juggling; Clowning; Unicycling; Acrobatics; and Aerials
    • Course descriptions: Not provided.
    • Length of program: 1 or 2 weeks
  7. Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp in Buffalo, MN. Mooseburger offers an intensive camp that focuses on all areas of clown arts.
    • Cost: There are 4 packages available – Day Pass (includes education only) – $75; Commuter Package (includes education and food) – $900; Lodging Package (includes food, lodging & education) – $1,100; VIP Package (includes food, lodging, education & VIP treatment) $1,250.
    • Curriculum: Students are given a personal education plan. After a phone consultation with the founder, students are provided with a list of recommended classes.
    • Course descriptions: These are a few of the main courses that are offered at Mooseburger. Clowning 101 is an introduction to make-up, costuming, character development, and performance skills. Clowning & Storytelling With Puppets is an immersion in puppetry. Creating Comedy helps you develop comedic instinct through exploring theories and engaging in comedy exercises.
    • Length of program: 6 days
The Clown School

5 Essential Clowning Skills Described

Becoming a clown will require you to create a character that you will become when you get into costume and began performing. That character will look a certain way, dress a specific way, and act a particular way. These 5 essential skills (which are usually taught in clown schools) are necessary for becoming the clown character you want to be.

Make-up & Costuming: Determining your clown character will guide you in your make-up choices. There are three types of clowns. The Auguste clown wears white make-up but with a pinkish flesh color still showing. The Auguste clown character type is a joker or trickster who usually falls down a lot.

The white face clown tends to be a bit more elegant and is in charge of the clowns, giving them directions and instructions which the Auguste clown struggles to follow.

The character clown (a.k.a. the hobo clown) takes on an eccentric character. The make-up for the character clown starts with a flesh tone base then uses objects such as freckles, glasses, or a mustache to finish out the look.

This video gives a good tutorial on applying make-up for becoming a whiteface clown.

Prop Stunts (Gags): One of the most well-known prop stunts is having an endless number of clowns coming out of a tiny car. Another is having a clown squirt water from a flower. These are classic stunts that are almost synonymous with clowning. Creating or adopting a set of stunts that fit your clown will be a very important part of developing your act.

Gags (like the squirting flower) are short little tricks that clowns play on each other throughout the circus. These gags can often become a running joke in the overall performance.

Juggling: Juggling is definitely an essential skill for clowns. You’ll often see clowns juggling everything from rings to bowling pins because it can be a fun part of any clown’s act.

This video will give a basic lesson on juggling.

Bits: Bits usually involve more than one clown or a clown involving another person from the show or audience. Think of the classic pie in the face routine or confetti in a water bucket being thrown on someone. Developing a bit routine should definitely be something you add to your repertoire.

Check out this bit routine as a good example of what you’ll be doing in your bit acts.

Physical comedy: If you want to be a clown, get ready to fall — a lot. Clowns sacrifice their bodies for the sake of the big laugh. In addition to slapstick falling, physical comedy for clowns usually involves tripping, falling over chairs, slapping, colliding with other performers, and making funny faces.

Best Online Clown Courses

  1. Clown for Fun and Profit: Learning The Art Of Clowning is offered on Udemy. It contains 22 lectures, which include the following topics: An Introduction on the types of different clowns; What to Wear; Make-up; Your Clown Personality; Props; and more.
  2. The Clown School offers several online classes. Some of these classes include Circus Skills and Parlor Tricks; Virtual Clown En Espanol; Trickster; and Create Your Own Clown Show.
  3. The Clown School’s Certificate Program: The Clown is a comprehensive online program. There are 10 units that are taught one-on-one through Zoom. The units include:
    • A History of the Clown;
    • Emotion;
    • An Innocent Abroad;
    • Exploring Failure (The Auguste);
    • Exploring Success (The White Clown);
    • The Body of the Clown;
    • Your Clown Song;
    • The Shape of Things;
    • Your Own Routine; and
    • The Public