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The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain's Greatest Comedian by Andrew McConnell Stott

The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain's Greatest Comedian

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Joseph Grimaldi was the most renowned English clown of his age, the son of an Italian immigrant who numbered Byron among his friends. Indelibly associated with pantomime, which in the Regency era was bawdier than today, he was the first to wear the white face clown make-up and flamboyant costume now so familiar. But Grimaldi’s outward joviality masked a private life of depression and difficulty. His first wife died in childbirth, his son became dissipated, and the sheer physicality of his act wreaked havoc on his health. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Stott’s compelling biography recreates the life and times of the man who was the prototype of the melancholic comedian.


The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain's Greatest Comedian by Andrew McConnell Stott

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. 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. 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 -- Amanda Foreman * * author of The Duchess * * 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 * * Grimaldi's is a story of comedy mixed with pathos, endurance with absurdity. It is exceptionally well told here -- Sam Leith * * Daily Mail * * 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 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 * * A round of applause is due this exuberant portrait for bringing Grimaldi into the limelight again * * Observer New Review * * Splendid * * Sunday Telegraph * * Superb * * The Telegraph Review * * A dazzling yarn * * The Independent * * 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 * * Full of wonderful descriptions of how this manic yet poignant clown beat off competition ... to be the supreme comic being, part child, part nightmare * * Guardian Review * * [A] great big Christmas pudding of a book, almost over-stuffed with rich and colourful life -- Simon Callow * * Guardian 'Book of the week' * * Fascinating, informative and compelling, this is essential reading for lovers of theatre and comedy * * Waterstones Book Quarterly * * As a portrait of London life in all its mutinous and anarchic variety this book would be hard to beat * * Spectator * * 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 * * 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 * * Rich in detail... [Stott] succeeds in evoking the London theatrical world of the time in all its riotous energy -- Patrick O'Connor * * Times Literary Supplement * * In this attractively written, well-illustrated and well-researched biography Andrew Stott brings this extraordinary genius vividly before us, in the process richly evoking the tumultuous life of the London theatre -- Michael Slater * * Literary Review * * Stott has had fun with this life * * Irish Times * *

About the Author

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.' Follow @amstott1789 on Twitter

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Book Info

Publication date

2nd September 2010


Andrew McConnell Stott

More books by Andrew McConnell Stott
Author 'Like for Like'


Canongate Books Ltd


464 pages


Biography: arts & entertainment
Individual actors & performers
Other performing arts



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