The Hobo Clown Type

The Hobo Clown type is often called the Tramp Clown but there are subtle differences between the two.

The Hobo/Tramp Clown type is considered a single category, although each is a unique character in his own right. The main differences between the Hobo and Tramp variations of this clown are in the areas of attitude (Happy Hobo vs. Sad Tramp) and the slight variations of their costumes.

The Hobo Clown type is living the lifestyle of his choosing. He is a vagabond with a "devil-may-care" attitude, content with his carefree life on the road and satisfied with whatever personal possessions he may have. The Hobo may be down but he certainly is not out. The Hobo Clown type has a happy look about him. In exchange for assistance he is willing to work - but don't expect him to seek full-time employment because he is always on the move, looking for the next town and the next adventure.

The Tramp Clown type believes himself to be a victim of circumstances and that the world owes him a living. This character is truly down and out and often feels that his condition is caused by others. His expression is a sad one, the attitude is 'woe is me,' and he likes nothing better than for folks to feel sorry for him. He will do just about anything to avoid work and actually expects others to take care of him. Wherever he goes, his luck is always bad, nothing seems to goes right, and his misery causes folks to avoid him, making him pretty much a loner. He is not the clown character you will see running around acting zany and cracking jokes!

[From a hobo is a migratory worker who likes to travel, a tramp travels without working, and a bum does not travel or work.]

Tramp/Hobo History

Hobo Clown Type- Jim Howle
Hobo Clown
(Jim Howle)

The Tramp and Hobo clown type is truly a North America creation. James McIntyre and Tom Heath are credited with the creation of the tramp clown characterization in 1874.

The inspiration for this character came from the homeless and migratory workers, (Tramps and Hobos!) who rode the freight trains across the country looking for either a handout or for a temporary job and a new adventure.

The Sad Tramp/Happy Hobo look was inspired by the appearance of these travelers: faces covered with soot caused by riding coal driven freight trains and a stubble of beard. After wiping the soot away from their mouth and eyes, those features would appear white against the rest of their sooty faces.

Once the United States entered World War I there was a great insurgence of Tramp and Hobo clown type characters for entertainment. They could be seen in various routines and performances: singing, musicians, magicians, monologists - you name it - many entertainers were using this character type.


Hobos and Tramps have similar make-up - the main difference is that the Tramp's facial expression is a definite frown and his face might be a bit more dirty than the Hobo. Both have the appearance of not having shaved for a few days and the beard and mustache 'stubble' is quite dark from the soot of the trains on which they travel.

Hobo Clown - John 'Gone-Zo' Gonzalez
Happy Hobo
John 'Gone-Zo' Gonzalez

Both the Hobo clown and the Tramp have a reddish tint to the cheeks to give the appearance of being slightly sunburned. The Hobo's happier countenance, accentuated by larger, more awake eyes, is accomplished by painting the eybrows higher on the forehead. The Tramp having a sadder look by painting lower, 'frowny' eyebrows giving a more tired look to him. A Hobo will have more of a smile about the mouth area, in contrast to the definite downturn to the muzzle area on the Tramp.


Tramps and Hobos wear similar costumes - the main difference is that the Tramp's clothing will appear more dirty and tattered than the Hobo's. The Hobo, after all, has a bit more pride and wants to make as good an impression as possible in order to acquire the next temporary job. The Tramp isn't trying to make an impression on anyone!

The common dress for men at the time this character came into being was a suit or pants & jacket with a tie. It would not be unusual for this character to use a string for suspenders and a clothes pin or a mouse trap for a tie clasp.

Colors are usually dark and these fellows wore their clothing until there was just about nothing left; sewing torn seams and patching holes with whatever fabric could be obtained.

A hat of some sort is common. The Hobo, being a much more jovial and dapper character, often wears a derby with a bright hat band and, perhaps, a flower stuck in the band. The Tramp may wear the same type of hat, without the bright colors. Any style of hat is permissible, as long as it is complimentary to the appearance of the character as a whole.

Both the Tramp or Hobo clown type are the only ones in which the use of any kind of color gloves, with or without holes, with or without the fingers cut off ,or even the complete absence of gloves is permitted. If gloves are used, they should be clean but appear dirty, stained and well used.


The Tramp or Hobo clown type has a great role in the art of clowning. Considered low man on the totem pole, he is usually the fellow who cleans up after the others.

When working alone, things usually go wrong for him (A chair may collapse under him), resulting in great hilarity. Often times you will see this character as a magician but extreme clumsiness is worked into his routine and he becomes more perplexed than the audience!

The Auguste Clown can be in for a bad time when a Hobo character works with him. The Hobo often gets the best of his fellow clown and, occasionally, the Whiteface Clown, as well. The Hobo/Tramp is the one who accidentally spills something on the Auguste. The naive and innocence of this character makes it easy for him to duck the pie aimed at him just in time for it to fly past him and hit the Auguste!

Famous Hobo & Tramp Clowns





Kelly, Sr.





  • Nat Wills "The Happy Tramp" (1873-1917)
  • Vitaly Lazarenko (-)
  • W.C. Fields “Great Tramp Juggler” (1880-1946)
  • "Little Tramp" Charlie Chaplain (1889-1977)
  • Otto Griebling (1896-1972)
  • Emmett "Weary Willie" Kelly, Sr.(1898-1979)
  • "Happy" Harold Kellems (1905-1987)
  • Red "Freddie the Freeloader" Skelton (1913-1997)
  • Mark "Mark Anthony" Galkowski (1915-1990)
  • Irvin "Ricky the Clown" Romig (1920-2010)
  • Emmett "Weary Willie" Kelly, Jr.(1923-2006)
  • "Homer" Don Burda (1935-2008)
  • Arthur "Vercoe" Pedlar (1932-present)
  • Jim Howle (1939-present)
  • W.D. "Curly" Robbins
  • "Charlie the Juggling Clown" Bruce Johnson
  • Kevin "Sneakers McSilly" Andrews (1964-present)

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