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The Clown Is No Fool

Nov 21, 2018 | 695 videos
Video by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

“When I was a child, I was fascinated by the spontaneity and the freedom of the clown,” says Reinhard Horstkotte, a performer who is profiled in Emmanuel Vaughn-Lee’s short documentary, Laugh Clown Laugh. Horstkotte embraces these virtues in his work as a clown. Over the course of his life, he has cultivated a rich philosophy of clowning—one that transcends sheer entertainment value.


Like many people, Vaughn-Lee was exposed to clowns in a culture that emphasizes their roles at children’s parties. This, he said, is partly owing to the widespread influence of Ronald McDonald. “I always felt this was skin-deep and offered only one aspect of the clown,” the filmmaker told The Atlantic.


The film explores the complex role of the fool in reflecting humanity’s many contradictions. For Horstkotte, clowning requires a deep well of both empathy and vulnerability.


“Clowning is a rich and ancient art form,” Vaughn-Lee said. “Clowns descend from jesters, who have been fixtures of cultures around the world for a very long time. They were valued for their ability to express the shadow side of culture and society. They were commentators and critics, entertainers and artists.”


Vaughn-Lee said that he finds it “deeply saddening” that modern culture often minimizes the depth of the clown. “Clowns are much more than entertainers,” he said. Horstkotte “brought me into a magical and lyrical world—a world that is nuanced and profound.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of short films curated by The Atlantic