Put down that rubber chicken and pay attention! National Clown Week—yes, it’s a real thing—has been observed the first week of every August since President Richard Nixon signed a joint resolution into law back in 1971. To mark the occasion, we took a look back at some classic examples of one of clowning’s most iconic props.
Klowns In A Car
Here’s a bit of trivia for you: The clown-car routine (where an implausibly large number of clowns emerge from an impossibly tiny car) was first made popular by Cole Bros. Circus performers in 1950. But the seeds of inspiration for this classic gag actually go back to the silent film era and the now iconic memories of the Keystone Kops tumbling out of a classic Model A paddy wagon.
If Ringling Bros. Circus (which closed its tent flap for good this past summer after 146 years) was the world’s best known circus, then this little car has to be in the running for clowning’s most famous car. Lou Jacobs first popularized his version of the clown car gag during the 1950s. Instead of recruiting a bunch of his clown cronies to pile into a car with him, Jacobs achieved comedic effect by cramming his 6-foot frame into a 23-inch tall custom and performing a number of solo sketches for audiences throughout his 60-year run with The Greatest Show on Earth. Jacobs built his original car around a washing machine engine. A replica is now on display at the Ringling Bros. Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida.
A Car Named Peggy
According to this brief history in The Old Motor, (click here to read it) “Peggy,” the flying red horse of Mobil Oil fame, was the “King of Clown Cars” in 1939. Built by members of the American Legion in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the car was made popular in parades all across America for its gravity-defying antics. Two men seated in back provided a counter balance for Peggy’s frontend. The car also featured a custom braking system that allowed the driver to spin the car in place by engaging one brake at a time. Peggy is on permanent display outside the David McAllister American Legion Post #239 in Lawrenceburg.
Cruising The Strip
If you ever wondered the secret of cramming the maximum number of clowns into a car (and c’mon now admit it, Who hasn’t?), check out Car and Driver, which expertly unlocked the secret formula of the classic stunt in a feature story you can read by clicking here. According to Car and Driver‘s 2011 interview with Greg DeSanto, executive director of the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center, it’s not about false floors and traps doors in the bottom of a car. And it’s not about using a kit car customized to look smaller than it really is. The real trick, instead, is in the stripping. By fortifying the springs (to prevent drag) and stripping the seats, liners, panels and the barrier to the trunk, you can “easily” squeeze anywhere from 15 to 20 clowns into a standard MINI Cooper, Fiat or the ever-popular Volkswagen Beetle
World Record Cram Car
If you want to set the world record for number of clowns in a car, you would first need to attain the standard automobile with which such a record can be set. And it’s not a Volkswagen Beetle. In 2013 in the French town of Castries, 31 clowns shoehorned themselves inside a Citroën 2CV. Citroëns (of which the one above, modified by U.K. car customizer Andy Saunders is based) were manufactured from 1948 until 1990.