It uses a circus theme as a metaphor for dealing with the difficulties and wrong choices of life. Early in Sayer's career, he performed it dressed and made up as a pierrotclown. The opening motif quotes Julius Fučík's "Entrance of the Gladiators" which is commonly associated with circus clowns.
In Sayer's version, the last line of the chorus is "I won't let the show go on". Three Dog Night sang it as "I must let the show go on", which Sayer was reportedly not happy about.