A Deeper Look at Humor and Healing


This is a video created by Sara Hoover (A graduate student of the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine 12/12/13).  The school’s  mantra is “Long days, Late nights and gallons of coffee”

After phone calls from coast to coast, she interviewed with a variety of clown programs  and people associated with this work. When she called me to do the interview, I was happy that she  had chose me for this piece.

Sara ran through the gauntlet of red tapes, permissions, Hippa rules, Hospital rules, Patient Confidentiality, and a few more that I can’t remember. Every where she went seemed to be a brick wall. The clock was ticking and she had less than a month to put this together.

Her approach was completely different than most media. Sara wanted to try and capture the “Character of the Clown Doctor”  – not the organizations or how the work is done.

The video is not funny yet it does make this work – “Real”

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!

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.”

George Washington Bridge Song


George Washington Bridge


George Washington Washington Bridge


George Washington Bridge


George Washington Washington Bridge

C                                                                                                C7                   F

George Washington Bridge – George Washington Washington Bridge

F                                       C                                G7                                           C          G7  C

George Washington Bridge – George Washington Washington Bridge

Second Verse >>> Same as the First

Peep in a Cup

Here’s another Easter story. One day, while making my rounds with the “ether bunny,” I heard about a case of marshmallow chicks that had been donated to the hospital. Of course these couldn’t be given to the children because there is enough sugar in them to make your teeth itch. So-o-o, they were divided and distributed to the nurses’ stations. The staff likes sweets, just like anyone else.

So I decided to take a survey of how people eat marshmallow chickens. Some eat them whole, stuffing the entire confection into their mouth. Some bite the heads off first and some pick their eyes out! Not me. I just lick them and put them back!

I knew the nurses needed a little boost of laughter. They been having a particularly bad day. I took one of the marshmallow chicks and placed it in a urine specimen container.

I walked up to the charge nurse with it and said, “Someone ‘peeped’ in the cup and I don’t know whose it is!”

The nurse burst into laughter and immediately took the specimen bottle; placed it in a Ziploc bag and inserted that into one of those plastic containers that they use for sending money from the drive thru to the bank teller inside. . . Laughing, she said, “Let’s send it to the lab!”

All I could picture was a capsule with a frightened marshmallow peep winding its way through a maze of pipes as it made its way to the lab.

Moral: A joy shared is a joy multiplied.