Peru’s Oldest Clown

Photos by Esteban Felix

Ricardo Farfan doesn’t get the jobs he used to. Sometimes his only audience is his wife. But every morning the 91-year-old clown still sips his coffee and studies an old notebook where he keeps hundreds of pages of jokes and comedy moves he has built up over almost nine decades in the circus.

“I look at a page and repeat all the jokes by memory,” Farfan, known as Pitito the clown, said in his small home in a poor Lima neighborhood. In a closet he keeps his wigs, brightly colored socks and jackets, and enormous shoes.

At age 3, Farfan began to paint his face together with his father, Chimenea the clown, who owned a 600-chair circus that traveled up and down Peru’s Pacific coast, over the country’s towering Andes mountains and across its vast Amazon jungle.

“In my father’s circus I was a clown, magician, tightrope walker, trapeze artist, stilt-walker, electrician and painter,” he said.

He sometimes worked in foreign circuses that visited Peru for its national holidays in July. The extra money helped Farfan mend and paint the big top for the traveling circus. He said that even though they offered him work, he never abandoned the family business, which he inherited from his father.

“Working in the circus allows you to travel the country, meet new people and see new customs and food,” he said.

Farfan reflects on this century’s comics in Peru: “They are vulgar and don’t know how to entertain the families who pay for the show.”

He has a black-and-white photograph taken a half century ago of himself dressed as a tightrope walker. “I was able to do three consecutive mortal jumps, I was very agile. Now from so many jumps and falls my joints hurt.”

After running the circus for many years, Farfan had to close it in 1990 to care for his ill wife, who had managed the business.

Nowadays, he gets less work than he used to, mainly doing private parties. So to keep his skills honed he often dresses up as a clown and performs for his wife.

At his 91st birthday party last week, in his home’s living room, he performed for some of his relatives and made them laugh.

“The businessmen think that an old clown can’t make people laugh, but they are wrong,” said Farfan.

He said his four children have asked him to retire, saying they are afraid he will be hit by a car when he heads to work or something bad will happen to him.

But Farfan says he cannot do that. “I will only stop clowning on the day I die.”

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