Not all patients are going to be enthusiastic about having a clown walk into the room. This post will not be about coulrophobia (fear of clowns), however; it will cover entertaining teenagers.
Teenagers are notorious for being easily bored or disinterested in everything, but this is not always the case. They happen to be in a tumultuous period of life for seven years and have no idea how to navigate through it because surrounding adults aren’t entirely sure how they managed either! They are no longer children, and they are torn between wanting to be cared for and wanting to be independent. At this point they have also found out that many things they believed as children may not be accurate or even true. Physiologically they are careening toward adulthood without hand signals or breaks.
On top of it all, these very confused young people are in a children’s hospital for goodness-knows-what. Needless to say, an adult walking into their hospital room dressed like a jester is most likely going to inspire one reaction: “Lame!” A trained hospital clown knows all this going in and must be prepared.
You must keep the goal in mind: make them laugh or at least smile, even if it’s at your expense (within bounds of reason of course). This is not the patient to try to impress; if you do, it’s a plus. You must also be very confident because if children can smell fear, teenagers will send you flying out of a room and straight into the fetal position.
For teen girls who seem to tolerate my presence, I tend to start with something silly or a joke and go straight into my visual puns (see “Pun-gus Among Us”). For teen boys who don’t hate me, I do my magic coloring book gag.
The trick is impressive if they're not paying attention, but I also incorporate them into the gag (this is a good example of not trying to impress, but impressing them anyway):
“I have to do this trick for the little kids, but my magic word won’t work. Can you give me a magic word?” [Hopefully they say something, anything will do.]
“Ok, you have to wave your hand over the coloring book and say the word three times.” [I try to get them to say it in a ‘magical’ voice.]
“Awesome! Can I give you a nose sticker? You earned it and if you take a selfie, it totally looks like a clown nose.” [They normally accept.]
“I’m going to go do the trick and take credit for it, so can you do that magic thing again and remove the colors?” [By now, they usually do the ‘magical’ voice! Then, the book is totally blank.]
“Oh. Great. Now I can’t do the trick. Is it because I said I’d take the credit? Instead of a nose sticker, I should have given you a sticker that says ‘I humiliated a clown today’. No, I’m fine...I’m not mad...that’s fine...[I leave in tears; they are usually giggling.]
For any teen at any time, the birthday gag usually gets at least a smile: see “There’s Always a Birthday”.
The moral of the story: don’t give up on teens.
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 Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds