“Happy Hour”

These are  some of the results from the program I loving called “Happy Hour”.

Happy Hour

Happy Hour

I was able to visit and perform for  a local Alzheimer Care Center.

My first visit (Which I found to be one of the most beneficial to both clients and staff) began with a tour of the facility. I saw Day Rooms in all 3 wings.

In the first Day room, residents were watching a movie and all greeted me with a “Hello”. They were headed to the Dining room for other musical entertainment.

The second Day room was filled with family members, staff and 7 or 8 residents that seemed to be in various stages of focus.

I started with some songs and a health care  assistant started with hand clapping. Within a half hour, people were dancing and singing. A joyous time, music can change the energy of a room; relieve stress in clients, family members and staff.

I was asked to visit a patient’s room and  I was told she never comes out of her room.

When I arrived at the door I saw a woman sitting in a chair watching television.  I went in with my guitar and asked if I could play a song for her.

She said, “Yes”.

The TV was turned off and I started playing. She started moving and grooving in her chair then she got up and started to dance like she was on stage. Staff came to the door, to witness the “Happening. The woman invited the staff to join in with the dance.

The health care assistant signaled me to come outside the room. I continued to play and she followed me out of her room to the Day room on that wing. She continued to dance. I played a couple of more songs down and then I was asked to visit a room at the end of the hall.

A patient was on Hospice. He was an older man on oxygen and asleep. He had 4 family members at bedside. I stood at the foot of the bed and sang “Old Bones”” The Torch” and “Happy Trails to You”

It was surreal and special.  The family thanked me. I left and felt that the very first “Happy Hour” was a success. What a difference and hour can make !

The second “Happy Hour” was in the Big Room (Dining room). Clients came in from all three wings. Wheel chairs, walkers, canes and escorts. The staff had seated them in a theater style setting. I stood in the corner and did more of an impromptu show.

There were approximately 30 -40 clients in attendance, including my dancing friend who never comes out of her room.  Although they seemed to be engaged with my songs and a polite audience, I felt I got more interaction in “the smaller houses”.

My third time there, I played the Garden. Again 30+ clients and staff gathered around under the awning. Some of the clients remembered me from last month.

We were up close and personal. More clients sang and people danced. A truly “Happy Hour” for all.


Like a Brand New Baby

Just Marjy and Me

Just Marjy and Me

One of the rewards of working with a seasoned audience in an aged care facility is meeting “Living History” and the most famous people you’ll never meet.

I was recently working in a secured facility and met a man who was 102 years old. A class Act.  He and his wife came to this country and did a juggling routine that brought them through the vaudeville circuit and many nightclubs and circuses. They played the Ed Sullivan Show.

I mentioned I was from Boston and he asked if I had ever been to Blinstrub’s Village ( a night club that opened in the midst of the Depression 1933 and destroyed by Fire in ’68. ) Every one played there from Frank Sinatra To the Everly Brothers. I had the pleasure  of seeing Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons there . .

“They were very good to us there – They would feed us.” He grabbed me by my shoulders and said, “It’s so good to hear an old comedian!”

I’m not too sure if I should take that as a compliment, but I will.

I told him he looked great for a hundred and two and I asked “How do you feel?”

He replied ” Like a new baby! I have no hair! – I have no teeth!  And, They just changed my diaper! ”

And he called ME an old comedian.

Miles of Smiles

As hospital clowns, we perform for an audience whose challenges range from  chapped lips to terminal illness. Naturally, this brings up a mix of emotions, both good and bad. Looking over notes I sent to my colleagues over the years, I recently found myself reflecting on the feelings I’ve experienced over the years.

We were happy when we learned that a baby we knew was going to get a new heart.

We were proud when we saw her after she received the new heart.

Sad was how we felt when we thought about where the new heart had come from.

Crushed described us as the doctors took the girl with the new heart off the  machine and she died.

I know that when we accept all these feelings, we get wonderful inspiration and renewed commitment to our work.

And we get  joy. Plenty of it. It comes in many ways, but sometimes as scribbles crayoned by little people who don’t even know how to write (that doesn’t stop them from adding their “John Hancock” to these masterpieces.) So every time I put on my clown feet, I remember: These shoes carry miles of smiles!

Is that you, Bubba?

سانتا كلوز

Fat exclamation mark made from jigsaw puzzle p...

I recently started my “encore” career with the Clown Care Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital. It took less than a day to reconnect with the joy I get from doing this work, and it came from a little boy speaking words I could not understand.

Dr. Dazzle and I entered the playroom on one of the surgical floors, where a child-life specialist was working a jigsaw puzzle with a small boy who was in a cast from the waist down.

As we got closer he looked at us and started pointing toward me. He was babbling words I heard as “Bubba New Whale! Bubba New Whale!”

None of us knew what he was saying. In fact, we couldn’t even figure out what language he was speaking. But every so often, he’d look up from his puzzle and exclaim, “Bubba New Whale!”

When his Dad came into the room, the boy’s face lit up and he told him that I was “Bubba New Whale.”

The suspense was killing me, so I asked the father what language the boy was speaking. It was Arabic. Was being a “Bubba New Whale” a good thing or a bad rap? The Dad’s reply, with a little giggle in his voice, was simple: “Santa Claus.”

I am humbled and honored to do this job!

Ooh La La (Or, Clowning in Paris)

Eiffel Towe

I once had the opportunity to work in Paris. The fact that I spoke no French was not a problem, as laughter has no accent.

Working with the clowns at Le Rire Medecin, I learned that they had a different approach to hospital clowning. Where we used magic, they used music. The clowns over there could make and perform all types of music–they could play or sing everything from Mozart to the Spice Girls.  When the clowns decided to play music for a young patient, they would shut off the TV upon entering the room so that the youngster could hear it clearly and enjoy it.

Another difference between the American and French styles of compassionate clowning was that the Parisian clowns tended to do more verbal improv than circus-type routines. For them, time was no factor and they would take as long as it took to do their work. The French clowns also used more buffoonery, assuming roles of high and low status. They tended to sort themselves into kings and commoners or bosses and workers instead of the doctor theme some of us use here.

The French clowns were also very open about sharing or using their props. They allowed the smaller children to hit or squirt them with squirt guns. The use of sexuality becomes a good  distraction as is a powerful magic trick with adolescent children.  The use of a squeaker in a bra of a female clown is very funny and shocking!

The way they entertained babies was interesting. I observed the clowns performing in the nursery of the hospital. In the hospitals where I have worked in the U.S., we typically heard, “They’re too small for clowns, they don’t understand.”

On the day I observed the clowns working the nursery, there were 8-10 crying babies. The staff and the clowns didn’t seem to mind at all and just went about their business.

One of the French clowns who had an accordion would start by playing one high note, then one low note —  just to see if he could get a response. Once curiosity kicked in, another clown would start with bubbles. Then they’d do a little dance to make it more visual. They took the time to thoroughly entertain the babies, and one knew they succeeded because the crying would stop and the babies would signal that they didn’t want the clowns to leave. 

They used few or no props, as opposed to some of us who haul bags, pull carts, golf carts, trailer trucks, wagons, etc.

I was able to show them that the classic circus clown skits still work. In a little dance routine, three of us got into a “butt kicking contest” with the same clown getting kicked no matter in what order we stood. It wasn’t violent, and it played well with children big and small.

Just as it is in children’s hospitals here, reality was never far away. One day, we asked a teenage boy what grade he was in school, and his startling reply was, “I chose to get cancer instead of working hard at school.”

Now I know why I do this work.

Grock, the great master clown, once said, “In order to know humor, one must know life. Good and bad.”

Lyrics – Old Bones

Old bones inside an old raincoat

Old bones inside some ole shoes

Old friends from the hotel

stop by to wish me well,

They keep me up to date

on all the old news.

Sometimes I have me a whiskey  ( Binky, or Geritol  age appropriate )

Then I fall asleep in my chair

Then I dream that I’m a man  – much younger  than I am.

I bet by now you think that I wouldn’t care.

But I love life  and I’d do it again

Though I might not be

much more than I am.

Just to turn back the time and let my life begin

Oh Ya! I’d like to do it again.

Tiny Bubble Song

C                            G7

Tiny bubbles  – in my bed

G7                                       C

Tiny bubbles – bouncing on my head

C                         C7         F

Tiny bubbles – going up my nose

   C                       G7              C

I got tiny bubbles – in my pantyhose.

[ At this time, while vamping the chords of the song, my partner would look surprised and ask, “Are you wearing pantyhose?” I would reply: “Only when I am dressed up as a Super Hero.”

All super heroes wear pantyhose –Batman , Robin, Superman, Spiderman. All of them.

Then they  wear their underwear on the outside!

C                              G7 

Tiny bubbles – in my hair

G7                                    C

Tiny bubbles in my underwear

[ Brilliant! That’s why they wear them on the outside !]

C                     C7             F

Tiny bubbles – going on my feet


I love tiny bubbles

G7                    C

Gee they’re good to eat!

[Eat a bubble – Burp or use electronic whoopee cushion  – and explain that it was a gas bubble]

Note: the last line can be changed to “Gee – I think they’re neat” if needed.

You got a bubble up your nose!

Kidneys Come and Go, A Spaghetti Tie Lasts Forever

Dr. Maladjusted And me

I think the main idea of this one is I refer to this type of situation as a ricochet. When we play to the baby and it affects the parents or we play to the parents and it affects the child.

Unfortunately, a few doctors and nurses feel  the hospital clowns shouldn’t be anywhere near their patients. We learned from Dr. Gordon Harper that some people actually fear laughter! And there’s a technical term for this: geliophobia! Some medical professionals must be geliophobic, because they apparently feel that laughing, smiling, or giggling while tending to a patient would be very unprofessional.

I can’t believe how rewarding, challenging and maturing this job can be. It’s like tap dancing in a mine field. We are all finding something to take in and grow with. Our joys range from meeting patients from all over the world (Laughter has no accent!) and little gifts like ties made from spaghetti and surgical tape. Our sorrows range from everything such as chapped lips to being told someone is brain dead. We still perform.

I am Happy to report that we at Children’s Hospital have successfully translated and taught the song “George Washington Bridge” To children from Iran, Hungary, Lebanon, Italy and Germany (This is a silly little song by singing the words George Washington Bridge over and over to the tune of the Old waltz ” Over the waves”)

Dr. Maladjusted and I had the honor to be present at not one but two “Breakout’s”

A Breakout is when a patient in one of the special isolation rooms in Bone Marrow Transplant is going to be allowed back into a regular environment. Some of these patients are in these rooms for weeks. But on the day they come out, the staff places a brick wall (made from cardboard brick covered boxes) along with paper streamers and ties across the doorway of the isolated room. Everyone who can gathers around for this prestige’s event and the patient accompanied by a parent gets to kick the wall down.

We played music, sang and danced. Not once but twice.

After the second one we were leaving the unit, I was greeted by an old friend (A young girl from Iran) on her way back into an isolation room.

We sang “George Washington Bridge “once again. We take the moments as they come and cherish them

I will never complain about getting old – some people don’t get the chance.

I am truly amazed at the way kidneys come and go, or what it must be like to breathe with someone else’s lungs or to have your blood being pumped with someone else’s heart. All of that seems minor when we’re being asked by the patient to come stand beside the bed, so they can just look at you. No magic, no music, just stand there or to just look into their room.  To get a kid to pick a card or to point to a silly rabbit, forgetting that their arm is taped to an IV board – priceless.

Permission to Cry

Shall I play for you?

By the end my first month as a clown at Boston Children’s Hospital, I had learned a few things. One is that soap bubbles are magic. The other is that when I sing and play my guitar, parents sometimes cry!

This discovery came to me one day as I was strumming a lullaby for a baby in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The baby’s mother broke down and sobbed. A week later, again while singing in the ICU, another mother started bawling. I was getting a complex. Was it my rotten broken baritone voice? No, actually, it wasn’t. It was the whole package: My size “38” clown shoes, red nose, garish trousers, and white coat with epaulets fashioned from upholstery fringe and rhinestones. Not to mention my guitar. (I make quite a fashion statement, I can assure you).

As a clown in the rooms of critically ill children, I was able to give these parents a huge gift: permission to cry. I always made sure to allow them to compose themselves before I left the room.

One day, I was finishing my clown rounds in the ICU when I met one of the crying mothers walking the hall with her baby.  She introduced herself as the one who “lost it” and assured me she wasn’t going to do it again. So I started playing and singing, and guess what? This time the baby cried!

The Magic Power of Bubbles

That’s me, blowing a little magic around!

It was late in the afternoon and Dr. Bounce and I were making rounds on the 4th floor of the hospital, where the patients were mostly infants.

We had finished checking in with the charge nurse, who said most of the patients were asleep. So we walked down the corridor checking the rooms. In one, I noticed one toddler in his crib, laying quietly on his side and just staring out into the hall.

We looked around. No parent or guardian. No hanging thingy mobile. No TV soundtrack. He was just staring, and he looked bored. But he didn’t look uncomfortable.

I looked at Bounce and said, “Let’s sing him a lullaby.”

We stood at the door. Dr. Bounce stands about 6-foot-6, yet when he crouches down he is only 3-foot-8.He proceeded to blow some bubbles very slowly. One breath at a time, watching each float downward until it disappeared. While he did that, I played a simple rhythm on the guitar.

The little boy, Dr. Bounce and I were all mesmerized by each and every bubble. It was as if we were being hypnotized, just watching each bubble float until it hit a hard surface and popped. From the crib, there was no change in facial expression, no smile, no reaching to pop a bubble. But the eyes followed the path of each watery sphere.

We stayed in this space for what seemed a long time but I am sure it was only a few minutes.

I played the music softer and slower and Dr. Bounce blew fewer bubbles. Sometimes when we do this, the child will cry because he wants more. But this boy didn’t do that. As we were slowly backing out his door, we saw him slowly clap his hands together about four times.

Instantly, both Dr. Bounce and I teared up. “That’s the way to do it!” I told him.

We hospital clowns often hear people say, “They’re too little for clowns.” This is because most people don’t know the spectrum of entertainment we can provide, the knowledge we have about the different stages of child development, and our finely honed ability to read the emotional temperature of a sick room.

When administered properly, bubbles and lullabies can work magic.