Joseph Grimaldi (1778 - 1837) was an English actor, comedian, dancer and one of the most famous clowns. He expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade and created a base for the modern clown. Clowns in England are, after him, sometimes called “Joey”.
Grimaldi was born on 18 December 1778 in Clare Market, London, and he came from a long line of dancers and comic performers. His great-grandfather was John Baptist Grimald, a dentist by profession but also an amateur performer. He moved from Italy to England in 1730 and performed the role of Pantaloon with John Rich who played Harlequin. Joseph's grandfather, Giovanni Battista Grimaldi also performed since his early years but professionally (so professionally that, according to some sources, he ended up in the Paris Bastille as the result of a scandalous performance). Joseph's father, Joseph Giuseppe Grimaldi (known as "the Signor" or Giuseppe) was also actor and a dancer and he played Pantaloon in pantomimes at the Theatre Royal.
Joseph Grimaldi's mother was Rebecca Brooker, 14 year old mistress of Giuseppe Grimaldi. He was thought to act the characters in the harlequinade from his second year by his father. He made his stage debut at the Sadler's Wells Theatre the same year. Next year he played in “The Wizard of the Silver Rocks; or, Harlequin's Release” and “The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin's Wedding”. He started playing reguraly in two places: at Drury Lane which had wealthy audience and Sadler's Wells which was attended by working class. By the age of six press considered him a prominent stage performer. His father died when Joseph was nine and since then he earned money for his family. Since then he changed theaters and learned the trade from famous actors of that time. His first major success was a role of Clown in “Harlequin and Mother Goose; or, the Golden Egg”. He was so good that he practically made Clown the main character in the Harlequinades. He invented the white-face clown with colorful clothes and singing of stage songs with involvement of audience. He was also famous for his athletic and acrobatic ability. This gave him many opportunities to work and he sometimes had two shows an evening (which required of him to sprint from one side of town to another). He toured through England and Europe.
All this took its toll and his body started to deteriorate. He retired in 1923 because of the state his health was in. He suffered from a respiratory condition and his joints were badly damaged. Before he died he wrote his memoars which were later edited by Charles Dickens. He died in 1837 and was buried in Joseph Grimaldi Park in Islington, London. Every first Sunday in Febrary, Holy Trinity Church in London holds a memorial service for Grimaldi. Clowns from all over the world gather here to listen to the service in full attire and makeup. When the service is over, the clowns perform their acts for other people. Through them Joseph Garibaldi - “The Clown of Clowns” lives on.