Hello Pat, and a very Happy New Year for you and yours !!!.
I'm glad you are interested in clowning "South of the Border"; we certainly have a very interesting and old tradition in clowning down there, and I'll try to tell you as much as I can about it.
I think I told you that we have no big circuses in Latin America. The traditional circus there is the one ring european style. That fact allows the clowns to be heard when they speak, wich means they use verbal jokes as much as visual gags in their routines. The traditional clown act is performed by the European, Pipo Sosman-type of whiteface clown and the easy-on-the-make-up auguste.
By the way, we don't call that type "auguste" but "tony" or "toni". It was always like that, and I found many explanations
for the origins of that name. One theory says that it come from british clown Tony Greace, which wouldn't make too much sense, considering that he was a whiteface clown, not an auguste.
Other possibility that was mentioned was that it comes from "Tonino" Aragon, a spanish clown and grandfather of
Pompoff and Thedy (Did you see them on the Ed Sullivan show? Those really are called Zampa and Nabuco (or Pepe), the original Pompoff and Thedy are their parents).
The only certain thing is that the only other country where augustes are called tonys (or tonies) is Italy. So, it comes from
there. Considering that the very first clown who performed in Argentina, back in 1834, was the italian Pietro Sotora, kind of makes sense. So, the character is called Tony in all South America, except Mexico I believe.
The white face disappeared from Argentina in the early '70s, but the character is still there, replaced by the second auguste or by the ringmaster. The material is, as incredible as it may seem, mostly borrowed from American burlesque (how come?; no idea...). "You Are Not Here", "The Funnel", "The Eggs", "The Sonambule" and many routines Abbott & Costello
perfomed in their movies.
Funny thing; those routines were performed by clowns down there a lot before A & C did them in their movies.
Of course, South American clowns use acrobatics in their acts, as well as lots of music. All clowns coming from the circus are able to play a few instruments, mostly by ear. My mentor, Luis "Luchito" Valenzuela, who was born in the family circus, could play sax, clarinet, keyboards, violin, trombone, trumpet, tuba... and he couldn't read music at all.
Many traditional routines from the European circus are used there too. Routines with a military theme are very popular, most of the time the clowns being dressed as Scottish lancers... why? Your guess is as good as mine. I assume it is because a man wearing a skirt is always funny, specially when the clowns use those tights with the yarn bits looking like hair and crazy
The boxing routine is very popular too, as well as table tumbling, Clark and McCoullogh style.
One thing you'll never see performed by South American clowns are the big production numbers like the Atom Smasher and "Fireman Save My Child" for instance. I guess it is because of economic reasons.
So, most clown teams there include a straighrman (whiteface, second auguste, ringmaster), the auguste and, more often that not, a sexy dressed woman.
Nowadays, many circuses have only ONE clown, an auguste, who does talent contests with children from the audience and some dialogue with the ringmaster... sad.
I remember when I was a kid (I'll be forty in exactly two weeks) that circuses usually carried two or three different clown teams with them, making a total of eight to ten clowns... Not anymore.
Interesting thing: even in cases when the clowns didn't use any special wardrobe for their acts (no soldiers or washerwomen acts, for instance) every time they appeared on the ring for their acts, they would be wearing different suits. I mean, the suits were all cut the same style, and they were carrying the same type of hat and shoe, but always in different colors and prints... And that would mean to have five or six different suits... strange, isn't it?. Again, that doesn't happen anymore. And again, the reason is... no money.
I'll be scanning some photos of South American clowns to e-mail you. Of course, if you think that could be interesting to your readers, please feel free to post them for all to see.
Marcelo "PEPPO" Melison.