As always, the goal for hospital clowns is to entertain everyone while empowering the patient as much as possible. Clowns, like most performers, have to watch their budget, especially if they are volunteers. Keeping this in mind, it sometimes helps to “think outside the box”. One of my former clown supervisors was a very creative and resourceful woman who ran around the hospital dressed as a bumble bee. She could make fun gags happen out of thin air and my shifts with her were unlike any other.
One of her favorite gags was to do a “magic trick” with paper towels. The first part of it is just a silly gag, but she would end it with some effective sleight of hand. The end is an opportunity to empower the patient:
-in a patient’s room, state that you can do a magic trick with paper towels.
-rip off two sheets of paper towels if available in the patient’s room or bathroom. Scrunch them both up into balls.
-tell the “audience” that you are now going to make them disappear and ask all those present to close their eyes.
-throw both balls up over your head, then ask them to open their eyes and say “ta-da!”. Act as if this is amazing and you are convinced that they're amazed too.
-whether they peeked or not, someone will tell you that it wasn’t really a trick because they didn’t actually disappear, they are on the floor behind you. (If nobody speaks up, your clown partner should point out this deception.)
-at this point, scrunch the two paper towel balls together, disappointed, pretending to give up on magic, but do not draw attention to your hands. Be emotional about failing to have done the trick.
-before separating your hands, make sure the paper towels are in your left hand, but close your right hand as if still holding them there.
-place the paper towels in your left pocket with your left hand, while at the same time giving the towels to the patient, being careful not to draw attention to your left hand. Tell the patient to please hold the paper for you, maybe they can manage some magic.
-when they demonstrate that they don’t have the paper, be shocked that they made them disappear, saying “you already know how to do magic!”.
After pretending that the patient is a magician, I usually tell them that they earned their nose and place a red nose sticker at the tip of their nose. I continue to be emotional and tell them "I should really give you a sticker that says 'I humiliated a clown today.'...no, no-I'm fine." And leave in a huff. This always gets a laugh (especially from teenagers!).
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