Clowns are comical performers, stereotypically characterized by their grotesque appearances: colored wigs, stylistic makeup, outlandish costumes, unusually large footwear, red-nose, etc., who entertain spectators by acting in a hilarious fashion. The types of their acts varies greatly. Although some find clowns to be scary, their intended purpose is to entertain people, especially young children. Peter Berger writes that "It seems plausible that folly and fools, like religion and magic, meet some deeply rooted needs in human society." For this reason, clowning is often considered an important part of training as a physical performance discipline, partly because tricky subject matter can be dealt with, but also because it requires a high level of risk and play in the performer. Through humor one can often look at social elements that otherwise are too painful or controversial to address. Thus the court jesters of Europe had the duty and power to make fun of royalty and their decisions, for which others would be punished.
Clowning was developed from a broad tradition of historical performances, and it is difficult to point out a singular tradition or even a few different ones as being the primary precursors to clowns. However there are a few past prominent forms of entertainment contemporarily linked to clowning as its possible antecedents.Examples of historical, "clown-like" comedic performers have been the pantomime in ancient Greece, the Lazzi of Commedia dell'Arte, bouffons, court jesters, as well as the French mime tradition. On top of this there are many non-European clowning traditions (including clown-like figures in Japanese Kabuki theatre) to consider which may or may not have influenced what we now think of as a clown. Even some North American Indians tribes had shaman figures that used elements and had the appearance of a clown.