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The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain's Greatest Comedian Paperback – September 2, 2010
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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 (Jenny Uglow Observer)
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 (Frank Skinner)
McConnell Stott's engaging book...presents a fantastic panorama of stage history, tracing how pantomime rose to be the most popular British art form at a time when the rest of Europe was convulsed by the Napoleonic wars (The Sunday Times)
Fascinating, informative and compelling, this is essential reading for lovers of theatre and comedy (Waterstones Book Quarterly)
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 (Jennie Renton Sunday Herald)
The biographer once did a comic turn himself and it animates his account. Stott doesn't just bring the man to painful life but his world as well (Scottish Review of Books)
Superb (The Telegraph Review)
Sad though his decline was, his story, as McConnell Stott tells it, conveys an overwhelming impression of verve and ingenuity. . . [McConnell Stott] recounts these wonders with infectious brio (John Carey The Sunday Times)
Stott has had fun with this life (Irish Times)
[A] great big Christmas pudding of a book, almost over-stuffed with rich and colourful life (Simon Callow Guardian 'Book of the week')
A fascinating history of theatre told through the story of Britain's first ever pantomime clown
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With that said, there is a huge distinction to be made between a great story and a simple retelling of events. For this reason, biographies tend to be dull and generally not worth anyone's time. Grimaldi, on the other hand, could be made into a movie. Stott does a really good job of articulating Grimaldi's suffering and juxtaposing it with the irony that he's a clown. The fact that Grimaldi's job is to make others happy makes his despair seem that much more epic and perhaps even selfless. Adversity, afterall, is the catalyst which allows a character to showcase his heroism; without it, any display of resilience is entirely superficial.
Anyway, Joseph Grimaldi was born in 1778 which, as far as I'm concerned, might as well be a thousand years ago. All the information found in this book was undoubtedly an absolute nightmare to acquire and I'm convinced that anything there is to know about Grimaldi is found in these pages. As long as this book exists, Grimaldi will never die.
I suggest you all go out and buy, borrow, or steal a copy of this book right away.
Grimaldi was born into the theater, with a father who insisted on perfect performances and was horrendously abusive if he didn't get them. Grimaldi used the pain to advance his performances. He thought that his knockabout acts were insufficient unless he felt real pain in their fulfillment. He was first seriously injured at age seven, falling through a trapdoor because someone had omitted to cut eyeholes in his costume. The injuries did not stop when he was little, and even the scripted beatings, pratfalls, and leaps gradually wore him away. He could scarcely depend upon his legs to carry him in his mid-forties, but he continued to perform. Audiences probably didn't know what he was sacrificing for their attention, but attend they did. Stott gives a history of pantomime within the biography, which changed because of Grimaldi's art into a new form as a mix of variety show, acrobatics, ballet, and slapstick, as well as a satirical view of contemporary issues. These were not seasonal Christmas shows for kids, but entertainments enjoyed by royalty or by cobblers, even though (showing how there are always those who refuse to approve of new art forms) _The Times_ viewed pantomime as an "alarming symptom of a nation's degeneracy." By the time Grimaldi had taken his most famous roles as Squire Bugle and Clown in _Harlequin and Mother Goose; or, The Golden Egg!_ of 1806, even _The Times_ had come around: Grimaldi, it reported, was received "by JOHN BULL with that clamorous expression of his feelings to which he is accustomed on the view of an old favorite." It is hard to understand completely what all the fuss was about. Perhaps Grimaldi's familiar business of stealing sausages, for instance, had a special tang of humor when there was real hunger within London, and when shoplifters might hang. Much of the rough stage humor came from physical cruelty beyond simple pratfalls. When Stott describes in detail the action within _Mother Goose_ (and even gives as an appendix the script), it seems more silly and chaotic than risible. We might not be able to comprehend what was so funny, but even at the time, commentators repeatedly admitted that they could not communicate just what was so sensationally hilarious about a Grimaldi performance. One journalist attempted to review him, but wrote, "We can in no way describe what he does, nor give any idea of the inimitable style in which he keeps up the ball from the beginning to the end." You had to be there, I guess, and that's never going to happen.
That we a couple of centuries later cannot comprehend all of Grimaldi's showmanship does not make Stott's book any less fascinating. In addition to the life of the protagonist, the book's examination of the theater of the times, its fashions and rivalries, makes it a valuable portrait of the pattern of entertainment of the age. After Grimaldi died, the pantomime fashion for clowning subsided, and clowns found their employment in the equestrian ring - in other words, the circus. Stott's picture is of an influential artist, "the first great experiment in comic persona," and Grimaldi did not just bequeath whiteface and pratfalls to his successors. He had a tough life, not only with physical pains but with his horrific upbringing, his losing a beloved first wife, his outliving his one son, and his being repeatedly betrayed by those he trusted. He took these demons and battled them onstage with showmanship and humor, initiating a classic pattern or tradition of the rueful clown followed by Charlie Chaplin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and many others.