Are You Sleeping? Nurse Lulu's Improv Series

The most important thing to remember in hospital clowning is that we are only one of many resources on hand to make a patient’s hospital stay more tolerable.  We are to serve them, not the other way around. They are not a captive audience obligated to see what we’ve prepared for them.  We must also remember that, although we are very important to the healing process, we are not a priority. As I stated in In Your Face-Parents:

Many things can prevent a little performance from happening:

  • doctor rounds
  • nurses' change of shift
  • a procedure in the room
  • their nurse or the charge nurse declines
  • contact/droplet/airborne precaution signs
  • the patient is asleep
  • a family member declines
  • the patient declines

We try not to go into a room with music or other noises because in some units it is not always obvious when a patient is sleeping.  However if they are awake, sleep can be a fun thing to play with in a room, especially if you are clowning with a partner.  Now that I’m clowning alone I may walk into a room and say “Are you sleeping?”.  When they say no, I usually say “Are you sure? Because I’m not supposed to wake you up if you’re sleeping; they called security last time”.  This always gets a laugh, then I go in and perform.  With a partner though, physical gags can work nicely.

One of my partners created a gag about sleeping that went a bit far one day:

We walked in the room and I began to introduce a magic trick.  My partner interrupted me saying I shouldn’t do this because the patient wants to sleep and we should sing a lullaby instead.  As we sang softly, my partner gradually fell asleep, with her head on my shoulder.  I woke her up and pointed out that she had fallen asleep.  She denied it and pointed out that the patient was still awake.  We sang again and repeated the process. 

When we did it for a third time, my partner fell asleep on my back, with me doubled over and did not wake up.  I apologized to everyone in the room and carefully left, lugging my partner like a heavy laundry bag.  We did this halfway down the hall, which got huge laughs, but worried me because I had an umbilical hernia!


Lucy E. Nunez has been a theatrical performer since 2002 and an improv performer since 2003. She created Nurse Lulu for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care program in 2014. She is now Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit:

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