Perhaps a Chinese equivalent to the Elizabethan Richard Tarlton in being a widely loved and acclaimed comic actor and a self-appointed ad hoc court jester was Liu Gansan 劉趕三 (1817-94), who had all the outspokenness of a jester and:
left behind him the reputation of a wit who did not scruple to crack at those in high places.
He and Tan Xinpei 譚鑫培 (1847-1917), the greatest Beijing Opera actor of the nineteenth century, were:
both able to improvise indirect advice and there was nobody to match them.
Like a number of other comic actors, including in England and ancient Rome, they could act the part of a stage clown, or themselves take on this role in an unscripted way.
Enjoy also this superb portrait of both of them (part of a baker’s dozen collective portrait of famous Chinese actors): Liu Gansan is fourth from the left, dressed in the role of Madame Hu, an old peasant; Tan Xinpei is second from the right.
Source: A.C. Scott, Traditional Chinese Plays, 3 vols (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), vol. 2, p. 19; Chai E 柴萼, Fantianlu congchao 梵天廬叢鈔, fol. 14, Guoxue mingzhu zhenben huikan: biji huikan 國學名著珍本彙刊：筆記彙刊 (Taibei: Dingwen Shuju, 1976), p. 214b.
Image credit: ‘Thirteen Masters of the Tongzhi and Guangxu Reigns’ (同光朝名伶十三绝传略), a late Qing dynasty painting by Shen Rongpu 沈容圃.