Bill Irwin graduated from the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1974, and the next year he became an original cast member of San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus. He continued his work with the Pickle Family Circus until 1979 when he left to pursue his own unique vision for theatrical clowning. Bill’s own original clown show Largely/New York was seen at City Center and the Kennedy Center, ran on Broadway, and received five Tony Award nominations. He was also granted the Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle, and the New York Dance and Performance Award. He also appeared in Fool Moon, a two-man show developed with clown David Shiner, on Broadway, at the Doolittle Theater in Los Angeles, and in Vienna and Munich. An eccentric dancer, Bill was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer’s Fellowship in 1981 and 1983. In 1984 he was named a Guggenheim Fellow and awarded a 5-year MacArthur Fellowship. In addition to his clown theater productions, he has appeared in comedy roles in several shows. His television credits include Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, The Cosby Show, HBO’s Bette Midler, Mondo Beyondo, Northern Exposure, Sesame Street, and PBS’s Great Performances 20th Anniversary. In England, he appeared on the Paul Daniels Magic Show. His movie credits include Popeye, A New Life, Eight Men Out, My Blue Heaven, Scenes From a Mall, Stepping Out, Hot Shots, Silent Tongue, Lady in the Water,Rachel Getting Married, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, among others
Bill Irwin is married to Martha Roth, an “actress-turned-nurse midwife”, whom he met while seeking treatment for a stiff neck. They have a son, Santos Patrick Morales Irwin, born in 1991.
Bill Irwin was inducted into the 1999 Clown Hall of Fame.