When he sang, Grimaldi transformed his audiences into collaborators. "Hot Codlins," introduced into his act in 1819, recounts through numerous verses the travails of an old woman apple (codlin) seller, who warms herself with spirits; whenever Clown searches for the rhyme to end a verse, the audience supplies "Gin!" and then joins in on the chorus. Like the Clown he created, Grimaldi's song remained in the pantomime trunk long after he had left the stage. Serving as the Clown anthem, it was "demanded by the gallery every Christmas as an inalienable right and glorious tradition" ( Findlater139).
Known as the "Michael Angelo of buffoonery,"8Joseph Grimaldi constructed a theatrical self that Regency audiences of all classes embraced as one of their own. During the thirty years in which he dominated the form, pantomime -- though fraught with hyperbolic characters and grotesque behaviors -- chronicled its age, with Grimaldi as chief satirist. Changing mores and audiences, however, diminished the Clown-dominated pantomime;9 yet absent the harlequinade, pantomime survived the Victorian years and indeed persists in our own time.
In an age with a mad king, with Napoleon making his way through Europe, and with sixty-seven nights of rioting in the theatre,10 Grimaldi conjoined with his audience in acknowledging the absurdity of modern life. With his audiences, Grimaldi laughed at "the owlish gravity of these times of solemnity" ( Miles 8). When we need a physic for these equally solemn days, we must look for Joey's descendants not on the stage, but under the big top.