The clowns are not exactly villainous through evil or maliciousness, but more of insensitivity towards animals, most notably Dumbo, though one of the clowns does worry that their stunts might hurt the elephant. They take great pride in their jobs as comic entertainers, believing it will earn them respect from their audiences. However, they are also easily pusillanimous, reluctant, and scared, as when they see Dumbo finally flying and soaring at them, they immediately panic and run for cover, assuming he will attack them as revenge for the previous act that left him humiliated.
The clowns are mute during their act, but seem to be generally argumentative and loud-mouthed otherwise.
It is unknown what the clowns look like without their costumes, as they are only seen as shadows.
The clowns first appear during the circus parade, and start a fireman act as Dumbo's first performance as a clown. During the act, one wears an elephant mask and a dress pretending to be Dumbo's mother shouting "save my child!", and the others appear dressed as firemen, with one wearing the uniform of a fire chief. The only one that talks during the act is the "mother." They perform goofy acts such as dousing a fire with gasoline, roasting hot dogs in front of a burning building, or throwing water on a flowerbed instead of the fire. For the climax, Dumbo, who is dressed like a baby and wearing clown makeup, is made to jump from the building, where he is to land in a gigantic pie. He resists, but one clown sneaks up from behind him and whips him with a board. He ends up landing in the pie, much to everyone's amusement. Following the act, the clowns' shadows are shown in their tent changing into casual clothes and celebrating with a bottle of champagne over the popular act. They believe they will earn a lot more money by making the height greater and thus more death-defying. One of the dumber but more sympathetic ones comments that they may accidentally hurt Dumbo if they make the act much too extreme, only to be brushed off by two others who reply that "elephants don't have feelings" and that they are "made of rubber". As they leave to tell their boss of their idea for their next act, their champagne bottle is knocked into Dumbo's water bucket, resulting in him and Timothy Mouse getting drunk.
The clowns ultimately get their comeuppance (along with the Ringmaster) during the second act when Dumbo flies off a thousand-foot-tall cardboard building instead of landing in the pie. This scares them, who either take cover in water barrels (one who was standing on a ladder loses his balance and falls into the pie himself after Dumbo soars at him, the splash soaking four of them) or drive their fire engine into the burning building only to reemerge with scathed rear ends screaming. They are not seen again for the rest of the film. What happens to them after the circus is renamed "Dumbo's Flying Circus" is unknown, although it is assumed that they either lost their jobs, reformed, or quit after witnessing Dumbo flying during the act.
- The clowns' requests to get a raise from their boss is a reference to the Disney animators that went on strike in 1941 (during the creation of the film), demanding higher pay from Walt himself. Moreover, some of them are caricatures of those animators.