Hospital clowning helps patients and their families enjoy a break in the challenging hospital routine they’ve become accustomed to, or at the very least provide a moment of distraction from discomfort. It is important, however, to be mindful of what constitutes entertainment because as with most forms of comedy, it is easy to open the door to inadvertently offending or stereotyping. A language barrier between the clown and the audience can cause performers to walk right through that door.
If you or your partner (or just you if you are clowning alone) are bilingual or have a little knowledge of another language, it can help a clown gag along. If your audience members understand a language neither of you can communicate in however, silent clowning is usually the best choice. Silent performances can be incredibly effective and are fun for everyone.
As I mention in my Enjoy the Silence post, silent films are a great example of the variety of things a performer can do without words. I also mention the brilliant Rowan Atkinson, whose wonderful Mr. Bean character shows us a more modern take on the silent clown (without the makeup).
The fact that Mr. Bean barely speaks but is thoroughly hilarious makes language barriers nearly non-existent. My grandmother never spoke a word of english and yet she was always doubled over with laughter when Mr. Bean would get into awkward situations of his own making across the small screen.
With regard to hospital clowning, my favorite thing to glean from Mr. Bean’s adventures is that he was always the “victim” of his own foolishness. Although he does have moments when he plays tricks on people to get what he wants, most of the time he ends up as the obvious “fool”. This is important because in hospital clowning, we must always empower the patient-the child must always shine.You may or may not take a little more liberty with some adults, but generally the child, their family members and employees should not be made to look foolish as a result of a clown gag.
There are many ways around potential language barriers in comedic performances, but silent clowning is reliable, safe and effective. Enjoy the silence (and the Depeche Mode song of the same title)!
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: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds