A tramp is accidentally funny and gets involved with a circus, where he falls in love with the proprietor's daughter.
The circus proprietor (Allan Garcia) tells his step-daughter, who is a circus rider (Merna Kennedy), that she cannot have any dinner because she missed a hoop again. He also scolds the clowns. A pickpocket (Steve Murphy) puts a wallet in a pocket of the tramp (Charlie Chaplin), and a cop lets him keep it. The pickpocket runs away, and cops chase him and the tramp, who hides in a house of mirrors. The tramp runs into the circus tent and is chased by the cop on a treadmill. The audience applauds. The tramp gives the wallet back to the owner and a cop.
People request the funny man, and the proprietor asks the tramp to try out. In the morning the tramp gives the rider some food. The proprietor tells the tramp to be funny, and he tries. Clowns show him the William Tell act in which they eat the apple and the barbershop act in which they lather their faces; but the tramp messes up the skits. He asks for terms, and the proprietor tells him to get out. The rider gives the tramp a towel for his face.
Property men demand their pay and quit. The head property man (Tiny Sandford) hires the tramp, who gets laughs with the magician's materials. The proprietor tells the head property man to keep him on.
The tramp swallows a horse pill, and a horse chases him into a cage with a sleeping lion. He tries to keep a dog from barking. He asks the rider to open the door, but she faints. When she opens it, he runs out and climbs a pole. She tells him that he is the hit of the show.
The tramp keeps the proprietor from hitting his daughter, and he asks for $100 a week. They shake hands. The tramp overhears a gypsy tell the rider that she will fall in love. He is happy. She meets the new tight-rope walker Rex (Harry Crocker). The tramp buys a ring from the Old Clown (Henry Bergman). Then he overhears the rider say that she loves Rex. The tramp fantasizes knocking down Rex. The rider makes him watch Rex's act.
The tramp tries to learn tight-rope walking. The proprietor warns the tramp that he must be funny. Rex is missing, and the proprietor tells the tramp to do his act. The rider fears he will be killed. The tramp arranges to be held up by a wire. He does well until he realizes the wire is no longer connected. Monkeys climb on him and take off his clothes.
When the proprietor abuses his daughter again, the tramp fights him and is fired. That night the rider runs away from the circus to the tramp's camp. He goes and tells Rex that she ran away. Rex and the rider get married. She insists that the proprietor take the tramp back too, but he stays behind.
This comedy explores the difficulty of trying to be funny
and suggests that what tends to be funny are actions that are
perceived as accidents. As usual, the heart is prominent in Chaplin's
humor as the tramp tries to keep the daughter from being abused
and experiences the poignancy of unrequited love.