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Clowns are most often associated with the circus where they have performed a comedic role linking other acts in the circus performance since the late 18th century. Many circus clowns have become well known and have become a key circus act in their own right. Other styles of clowns have developed including those performing in theater, television, and film.

These non stereotypical clowns have gained greater recognition and fame for their development and performance of clown comedy. Examples include Joseph Grimaldi, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

The comedy that clowns perform is usually seen to be that of a fool where everyday actions and tasks become extraordinary and where the ridiculous, for a short while, becomes ordinary. This style of comedy has a very long history in many countries and cultures across the world. Some writers have argued that due to the widespread use of such comedy and its long history it is a need that is part of the human condition.

Some people have expressed a fear of clowns, circus clowns in particular. The term coulrophobia has been coined to describe this fear