The compelling story behind the Georgian clown, celebrity and comic icon Joseph Grimaldi
‘I make you laugh at night but am Grim-All-Day’
The son of a deranged Italian immigrant, Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) was the most celebrated of English clowns. The first to use white-face make-up and wear outrageous coloured clothes, he completely transformed the role of the Clown in the pantomime with a look as iconic as Chaplin’s tramp or Tommy Cooper’s magician. One of the first celebrity comedians, his friends included Lord Byron and the actor Edmund Kean, and his memoirs were edited by the young Charles Dickens.
But underneath the stage paint, Grimaldi struggled with depression and his life was blighted with tragedy. His first wife died in childbirth and his son would go on to drink himself to death. In later life, the extreme physicality of his performances left him disabled and in constant pain. The outward joy and tomfoolery of his performances masked a dark and depressing personal life, and instituted the modern figure of the glum, brooding comedian.
Drawing on a wealth of source material, Stott has written the definitive biography of Grimaldi and a highly nuanced portrait of Georgian theatre in London, from the frequent riots at Drury Lane to the spectacular excess of its arch rival Sadler’s Wells; from stage elephants running amok to recreations of Admiral Nelson’s sea battles on flooded stages at the height of the Napoleonic Wars.
Joseph Grimaldi left an indelible mark on the English theatre and the performing arts, but his legacy is one of human struggle, battling demons and giving it his all in the face of adversity.
“A wonderful book: beautiful, heartbreaking and absolutely fascinating”
author Of The Duchess
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“A round of applause is due to this exuberant, impassioned portrait, for bringing the great Grimaldi, ‘Joey the Clown’, into the limelight again”
“Grimaldi’s is a story of comedy mixed with pathos, endurance with absurdity. It is exceptionally well told here”
“This interesting and entertaining book gives a real insight into how much professional comedy has changed over the last 250 years, and how much it hasn’t changed”
“Always vivacious and engaged, Stott’s writing is earthed in research that gives resonance to the amplitude of detail he provides, tactfully tucking away documentation of sources in endnotes that are a pleasure in themselves”
Andrew McConnell Stott is Professor of English at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, a history of theatre and comedy told through the story of Britain’s greatest pantomime clown, was published by Canongate in 2009 and won the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction, the Sheridan Morley Award for Theatre Biography, and the George Freedley Memorial Award. It was a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’ and was named by the Guardian as one of its ‘Books of the Year.’
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