Send in the (Kinky) Clowns!

Barney with clown make-up, leather harness, big red nose and a propeller hat.

Last week, SpacePupSilver’s podcast Fetish Fuel returned with guest host Rubbo the Clown to discuss clown play. Which really got me thinking about how awesome it is to see more of us clowns talking about this peculiar fetish and I decided to circle back to the topic this week! So in case anyone was curious, I thought I’d elaborate on some of the topics covered and add some things that weren’t touched on.

I’ll start by saying that having a clown fetish is difficult. Many people simply don’t get it or decry it as “too weird”. Worse still, clowning’s ‘family-friendly’ associations can draw negative assumptions, including the idea that it is somehow corrupting innocence or that it’s always some type of fear or horror play. A lot of people are also legitimately afraid of clowns, which is something I’m always aware of and that makes me nervous being out in gear in a kink space. Because of this, clown kinksters face a peculiar challenge confronting people’s already-existing cultural associations.

Rubbo briefly touched on the fact that clowning is an art and it’s something I wanted to elaborate on because that is a very unique aspect of this kink. There is a deep well of cultural lore to play with when choosing how to incorporate clowning into play and messing around with some of the established archetypes can be a really handy exploration tool.

The theatrical art of clown has its roots in socio-religious practices and every culture has its own version of the clown as a crucial societal character. Well-documented throughout human history, the tradition of the fool has long been used to handle difficult subject matter through playful physical performance, both as teacher and entertainer. A clown’s traditional role in mediaeval court was to mock the king, a privilege reserved only for the clown as they posed no threat to the monarchy, yet appeased the displeasure of the people by ridiculing the ruler’s faults. Shakespeare’s clowns are especially noted for their narrative importance and often serve as narrators. Usually witty commoners, Shakespearean fools were intended to resonate and connect with the common folk and are coveted comedic roles for many Shakespearean actors.

Clowns have since become associated with their outlandish outfits and distinct makeup, being a core part of any circus. The colourful clothes and exaggerated footwear of a clown were designed to be easily visible to large crowds, paired with their physical comedy. The behaviour of the fool is typically in direct opposition to normal social standards, wherein the mundane becomes extraordinary. Ridiculousness, then, becomes ordinary, harkening back to the topsy-turvy inversion of carnivals, like in the Feast of Fools, where the king is a clown and the clown is a king.

Scholars have long argued that clowns are a human need. A part of all of us, intrinsic to the human condition, which can be demonstrated by their appearance across human cultures and history. Even comedians are a modern form of clown; the use of humour, whether verbal or physical, is the core component of clowning. Like the court jesters of old, comedians too are given licence to mock structures, hierarchy and government through observational humour, which is the power of the clown.

Generally speaking, there are three main archetypes when we talk about traditional Western clowning. There is the whiteface, the auguste and the character clown (also often synonymous with the ‘hobo clown’). Clowning is traditionally based on a power structure of higher and lower status clowns.

The high status clown is the one we laugh along with; usually the smarter, more cunning or responsible clown, who often acts as the ‘straight man’ and may employ many facets of the trickster archetype. This role is usually reserved for the whiteface clown, a makeup style employing a mostly white face to exaggerate their subtler expressions and may even be used to resemble nobility (the origins of the classic motley-style ruffled collar). Fittingly, a whiteface clown will usually employ wordplay, tricks, games and pranks at the expense of other clowns and may be the only clown to actually speak. Within a circus, the boss clown (responsible for the other clowns) is usually a whiteface. In power play, the whiteface clown would be the dominant. In clown play, therefore, a white face could be somewhat likened to a leather cap.

Accompanying the whiteface is the auguste clown; this is the clown we laugh at. The auguste is always the butt of the joke, the recipient of the humiliation inflicted (i.e. the one who gets pied!). From taking pies to the face, being the victim of slapstick violence, getting squirted with water or silly string, being pantsed or having clothing ripped off, the submissive nature of the auguste clown is easily applied to kink. Auguste makeup styles are the most recognisable of modern clowns and are designed to highly emphasise their facial expressions. This usually involves a skin tone or red base, with white around the eyes and muzzle and black used for detail. Large red cheeks and expressive black eyebrows are common features of the auguste clown, as well as a big nose, usually red. Red noses are often called the world’s smallest masks and may come from mimicking the dopey, flushed expressions of drunkenness. As the “stupid” clown, the auguste is usually wearing the most ridiculous outfit, a trait that seamlessly lends itself to humiliation play.

The final of the main three is the character clown. While many beginner clowns (called ‘First of Mays’ at the circus) may start out with more traditionally prescribed clown roles, the character clown is one specifically developed around a common stereotype. This usually adopts some classic profession like that of a baker, fireman or police officer. Character clowns are usually smarter than the auguste and can choose to side with them or the whiteface, adding an unexpected “wildcard” element to a gag. Character clown makeup usually mocks standard facial features, such as glasses, moustaches or blemishes. The most prevalent character clown is the ‘hobo’ or ‘tramp’ clown, which has become its own category outside of other character clowns. Hobo clowns are normally dishevelled with black makeup creating a beard, using white to accentuate the eyes and mouth, often in a sad expression, since this clown is usually a tragic figure for an audience to empathise with.

The Pierrot, mime and bouffon are other types of clown that employ white faces, as do cirque styles of clown that use more dramatic and elaborate makeup, although these each have their own artistic significance. Auguste makeup styles are also employed more intricately in Latin cultures by the payaso. Examples of this style can include Los Wapayasos; a Mexican musical group originally formed as children’s entertainers who have since transitioned to the adult market as male strippers. Employing a similar style of clown makeup, Payasos LA are a Los Angeles-based club who wear leather gear whilst go-go dancing and fundraising to spread awareness of queer issues, support youth programs and promote Latin presence within the Arts.

Of course, the presence of clowns extends to televised media. As is the theme of Fetish Fuel, I want to acknowledge the huge role cartoons played in the development of my kinks (if my assortment of huge cartoon gloves wasn’t enough of an indicator). As well as slapstick physics and transformation scenes, many of the shows I watched growing up employed strange clowns, pup play power dynamics and even ABDL themes. Teen Titans, Scooby-Doo, Pinocchio, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, Ben 10, The Simpsons, Batman, Codename: Kids Next Door and Goosebumps all had memorable impacts. Adding to what was discussed in the episode, Digimon (my first and only true love) actually had a whole forced regression scene as well as Piedmon and Totally Spies! had a clown transformation episode in addition to the mime ones! So much of my internal world was built upon kid’s TV, much of it crossing over with other kinks. I certainly know plenty for whom the Oompa-Loompa scenes in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory left similar impressions…

One thing that really resonated for me throughout all of these scenes was the forced element or sadism with which characters had fates inflicted upon them. This freaked me out so much as a kid, but would all go on to form a core part of my sexuality. A sentiment I’m not wholly inclined to agree with is the notion that fetish is a redressing of early trauma, although there is definitely an element of kink that involves working through something safely. For me, it feels as if the things I couldn’t understand became fixations, for which reason I completely relate to Silver’s feeling like a kink Rubik’s Cube. Every event I have attended, I’ve come away with a whole new host of kinks and all of my hard limits, and even my strong dislikes, have since become huge turn-ons.

I think that clowning in kink simply needs more recognition, if it can ever one day be as ubiquitous as something like pup play. Kink-specific gear may certainly help with that, although there is already a large market of professional clown gear priced similarly to popular kink items. Professional clown shoes are expensive because they are handmade leather pieces that require a particular craft and more material than regular shoes. Likewise, professional clown costumes are tailor-made and take time. Though they can often be made from cheaper materials such as cotton, as professional gear they go through a lot and may only be intended for certain performances.

Of the many guys I’ve now turned into clowns, few may consider clowning around more than a bit of fun, but for some of us it’s more than that. I think it’s important to remember that when we relate anything to kink, we are talking about more than just a fetish. It is an identity, it births community, it is a part of us. There is more to clown play than gags and blow-offs. Clowning is an identity, akin to pup play. It’s not some weird thing, it’s who we are. Some of us are clowns. One of the greatest and most relatable aspects of kink is being able to find our tribes - our clown alley, if you will.

Some people feel strongly about their identities within kink and they want to be open about them with friends and family. For some, I’m sure that’s the greatest of coming out experiences. I myself find this to be the whole core and root of my sexuality, not a branch from which it sprung. I think respecting and honouring that is important, even if it does not relate to our own experiences. Wearing a pup hood or a fursuit or being padded in front of those close to us in muggle settings is no different and has nothing to do with discussing particulars, it’s just being who we are.

Clowns in kink suffer from how rare clown fetishes are perceived to be, a vicious cycle that keeps most Joeys in the circus closet. Few people will realise they’ve met a clown kinkster and even those more open with their clowning are oftentimes still shy about it. Despite this, clown kinks seem to be a lot more common than anyone realises. In the podcast, Rubbo mentioned that ‘niche kink’ is a relative term and he’s definitely right. My goal in making kink my full-time job is to help others like me realise it’s not that they themselves are a niche, just that no one has made their kink “cool” yet. Having dressed as a clown at events, I’ve so far only received positive, often very excitable, reactions. Some kinks venues have even expressed interest to me in hosting clown-themed nights. The secret popularity of kinky clowning continues to astound me. The number of people who confess their desires or express interest in trying it is mind-blowing. Next week I happen to be having my first group clown session that I’m very excited for!

It seems it’s not actually that unusual.

You can listen to the Fetish Fuel podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen.

Follow SpacePupSilver & RubberShadow on Twitter and Instagram:

SpacePupSilver: Twitter/Instagram

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Barney

Barney

London, England