The Circus is a group of performers, including but not limited to acrobats, clowns, animal acts, jugglers, and daredevils who perform in a troupe, often in multiple rings or arenas, and led by a Ringmaster. The Circus dates back to ancient Rome, where it consisted of horse and chariot races, and China where they consisted of primarily acrobatic acts.
The first western circus opened in Philadelphia in 1793, but it was P.T. Barnum who was the pioneer of what audiences are familiar with today. Upon his death and subsequent merger of his circus with that of James Anthony Bailey, a more familiar circus was born, with a large canvas tent, human oddities for a sideshow, and multiple rings housing continuous acts. In 1919, the Barnum and Bailey show merged with the Ringling Brothers show, to form the quintessential American circus, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The modern circus is an amalgam other influences as well. Bands of Gypsies often brought with them circus skills and trained animals while traveling Britain, and Antonio Franconi, the founder of the French circus, is often credited as a co-creator of the modern circus. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was also a precursor to the circus we are now familiar with.
While often touted as an evening of excitement and fun, not all is always happy with the circus. Clowns were often used as a distraction to the audience when an accident occurred (or an act flopped). Stephen Sondheim's song "Send in the Clowns" is a metaphorical looks at this stage practice. With the advent of more theatrical stages, clowns became pure comic relief, and have even provided a launching pad to a successful career outside the circus, as was the case for Bill Irwin.
Animal cruelty has shrouded the circus for years. With animal acts involving Lions, Tigers, Elephants and more, animal activists have been concerned over their housing and training. This concern became the focus of a Dinosaurs episode titled "Charlene and Her Amazing Humans", where Cavelings are mistreated to perform on cue.
The sideshow also became an integral part of the circus, with "freaks" (such as Tattooed Ladies or gimmicky acts (such as the Flea circus) luring people into spending additional money for the secondary show.
Aside from the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus, other famous circuses include Cirque du Soleil and The Big Apple Circus, and famous acts have included Emmett Kelly and Gunther Gebel-Williams.
The Muppets have visited the circus on numerous occasions.
The Muppet Show
- Harvey Korman plays "Maurice the Magnificent", an animal tamer who tries to tame the dangerous (and extremely docile) Thog in episode 110.
- Mildred: George, do you like circuses?
- George: Oh, I love 'em!
- Mildred: Then, you must love Ringling.
- George: I don't know. I never ringled!
- The song "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady" was presented as a circus side show when performed by Kermit on The Muppet Show.
- Episode 524 of The Muppet Show features Roger Moore singing "Talk to the Animals" while strolling around a circus.
- The 1984 View-Master set, The Muppet Circus, features The Muppet Show cast putting on a circus act.
- In the storyline of Episode 1451, everyone on the street auditions for P. T. Bunkum, who is searching for a special new act for The Bunkum and Ballyhoo Circus.
- Guntag Gelman-Jones, a flea trainer, brings his world-famous flea circus to Sesame Street to perform in a 1994 episode. The acts include Olaf the Weight-Lifting Flea and Tatanya Flea on the tightrope.
- The Great Fentini is a circus ringmaster who appears in a 2003 episode of Sesame Street to help Super Grover fly with a ripped cape.
- In the book The Sesame Street Circus of Opposites, Guy Smiley serves as ringmaster while Betty Lou and Cookie Monster enjoy the circus.
- Elmo visits the Number 6 Circus in a 2000 episode. He gets shot out of a cannon under the big top in "Elmo's World: Hats", and becomes a circus dog in "Elmo's World: Dogs".
- Telly feels left out when all the other kids at Gina's day care are going to the circus and lies that his uncle is a ringmaster in "Telling the Truth".
- Gordon appears as the strongman in the circus, and bends a solid metal bar into the number seven. He reappears to bend another bar into the letter J. (First: Episode 0314)
- Mr. Hooper, wearing a circus ringmaster's top hat and cape, tries to balance four cans at a time in a 1972 episode.
- Manny the agent receives a call from the circus requesting something yellow with fur and black stripes, so instead of sending his Tiger client on the call, he dresses a Banana to match the requires and sends him out.
- In "Journey to Ernie" segments, Big Bird walks a tightrope at the circus, and Ernie searches for Big Bird at the circus.
- In a 1991 episode, Maria reads Elmo and Snuffy the book The Snuffleupagus and the Rope, which is about a rope who works as a tightrope in the circus.
- The song "Women Can Be" features Margaret, who has had a successful career at the circus as a lion tamer.
- In the song "Imagine with Me," Big Bird sings about the circus.
- Ida Nomer, who is from Kansas, wails after Sonny Friendly tells her a story about her chickens running away to join the circus.
- Video segments involving the circus include a boy named Anthony and his trapeze artist parents ((EKA: Episode 3663)), a girl named Shirley performing in the circus with her clown father and an elephant act ((EKA: Episode 3697)), counting circus clowns ((EKA: Episode 1836)), and a gymnastics team practicing for their act ((EKA: Episode 3006)).
- Animation segments include four elephants at the circus by Owe Gustafson ((EKA: Episode 3712)), a flea circus performing feats beginning with the letter F ((EKA: Episode 0813)), a Pinball Number Count segment features the circus ((EKA: Episode 1037)), Animals and acrobats forming letters in an Alphabet Circus ((EKA: Episode 4074)), The 8 Brothers Circus displaying 8 elephants ((EKA: Episode 2615)), Madlenka imagining her neighborhood as a circus ((First: Episode 4078)), a seal and a bear fight over a circus ball and learn to cooperate ((EKA: Episode 3427)), and Tommy Trueheart displaying his 11 trick-performing lions ((EKA: Episode 2900)).
- In a Thelma Thumb animated sketch, Thelma rescues an acrobat when his trapeze breaks.
- The Sesame Street View-Master reel, "Circus Fun."
- A series of cards in the Sesame Street trading cards set feature the Muppets at the circus.
- The Sesame Street Library Volume 15 features the short story "Buy Me Some Peanuts!" where Big Bird, Grover and Cookie Monster visit the circus. In The Sesame Street Library Volume 10, the Count counts ten elephants at the circus.
- Cookie Monster's Circle Book features a circus parade wagon.
- In The Sesame Street Mix or Match Storybook, Bert is the ringmaster, with Cookie Monster as a circus clown.
- There have been Sesame Street PVC figures released of characters dressed as circus performers.
- There is an ad for the circus on the wall outside a bakery on a Cookie Monster picture frame.
- Tyco released a Sesame Street playset featuring a circus theme, complete with big top and ringmaster Big Bird.
- In the book Everyone Makes Mistakes, Big Bird knocks down Susan's clothesline, and thinks about telling her that a circus came to perform, and the tightrope walker practiced her act on it, and knocked down all the clothes.
- One "Elmo the Musical" segment, "Circus the Musical," features Elmo as a monster who dreams of joining the circus and tries out various acts to be part of it.
- The Muppet Babies visit the circus in the storybook Muppet Babies at the Circus
- The Babies imagine themselves in the circus in the Issue #21 (September 1988) of the Muppet Babies comic book.
Bear in the Big Blue House
- In the Bear in the Big Blue House episode "If at First You Don't Succeed...", Shadow tells the story of a woman and her dog who leave laundry to go perform in the circus.
International Muppet Productions
- For Sesamstrasse's 1000th episode, Big Bird guest starred alongside his German counterparts on a special show that was taped at Zirkus Althoff.
- Sesamstrasse also featured its own circus, Circus Samson, in an early 1980s episode.
- Sirkuset kommer!, Mystiske dager på Sesam Stasjon, and Max Mekker på sirkus are Sesam Stasjon books about the circus.
- Der Zirkus ist da! is a Sesamstrasse storybook about the circus.
- A live action segment on Sesamstrasse had two siblings showing how it is to grow up in the circus.
- Most of the Sesamstrasse spin-off Eine Möhre für Zwei TV movie Alarm im Zirkus revolves around the fictional "Zirkus Grimm," and its financial struggles.
Creature Shop Productions
- The film MirrorMask features the Campbell Family Circus.
- The Mother Goose Stories episode "Eenie Meenie" takes place at a circus, telling the story of Eenie (the clown), Meenie and Miney (acrobats), Khan (a tiger), and Mr. Mo (the ringmaster).
- Pepe has said that since Muppets Tonight has ended, Seymour's green card has expired, and he has been deported to India where he works in a circus.
- The Muppets 2007 Calendar features the Muppets standing next to circus posters of themselves. A Muppet poster was released of Animal's circus poster. In 2010 a set of four bookmarks were released featuring the same posters.
- The Muppets are shot out of a cannon at a circus in the book The Muppets on the Road.
- In The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson, the Julius Prunes Amazing Flea Circus perform on Animal's drum set.
- Muppets Ahoy!, the shipboard stage show, featured "Pavarotti", an Italian circus performer dressed in a fat suit.
- The Muppets comic strip featured a daily strip where the cast went to the circus to cover a story.