The Clown in Popular Culture

25 March 2022, 9:45 am–4:00 pm

Joseph Grimaldi

An event exploring the prominent and controversial figure of the clown between tradition and innovations. Talks by academics and professionals followed by a special tribute to Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837), the London based Anglo-Italian clown, known as ‘the king of clowns".

Event Information

Open to







Dr Marta Niccolai – School of European Languages, Culture & Society / Italian

The figure of the clown seems to be more prominent than ever before in popular culture. Traditionally, the clown is associated with laughter, the relief of pain and sadness, sometimes even described as a modern healer, or shaman. In more recent times, the clown has become a controversial figure, associated with more negative qualities such as horror films like ‘It’ (Andrés Muschietti) and the boisterous behaviour of certain politician, who are accused of ‘clowning around’.  Yet, the clown is a complex figure that deserves closer study. An excellent starting point would be a once popular yet now overlooked figure from British culture: Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837), a London born comedian with Italian roots, also known as ‘the king of clowns’ of the Regency era. Grimaldi defined what we now understand to be the clown, becoming the most popular entertainer of the Regency period. He made his stage debut at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and performed for many years at Sadler’s Wells, as well as Covent Garden theatres.  
The event is manifold, with talks from academics and professionals, a clown workshop and a performed reading of ‘Grimaldi’s Last Act’. For more information on the programme and booking: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/whats-on/clown

This event has been organised by Dr Marta Niccolai (SELCS/Italian) in collaboration with alumni Nadia Ostacchini (Italian 1994), Artistic Director of Tricolore Theatre Company.  Sponsored by UCL Dean of Faculty, The British Italian Society and Struts and Frets Theatre.


UCL Students: £5