Partner Problems - Nurse Lulu's Improv Series

Hospital clowning with a partner was a requirement when I worked for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit.  I later did it on my own at a much smaller children’s  hospital, but it is better to do your rounds with a partner.  As I mentioned in an earlier post:

Partnering is important for a variety of reasons:

  • Safety:  your partner may notice a hazard or a grieving family you may have missed.
  • Improvisation: you can play off a partner, especially when someone must be laughed at (it should never be your audience) or if you require a specific reaction for an improv gag.
  • Skills: you can play off a skill your partner has for a gag (see “The Good Juggler” post).
  • Ideas: your partner may come up with a great gag you didn’t think of.
  • Support: you may need encouragement or comfort, depending on your mood prior to a shift or something sad may happen during the shift.

But what happens if your scheduled partner calls in sick?  The Big Apple CCU did not allow us to partner alone for the above reasons, so the shift would be cancelled and the partner who showed up would received half the pay [it’s better than nothing!].

I once made it all the way to full make-up without hearing from my scheduled partner.  I had called and texted to no avail.  I contacted my supervisor who also tried to contact my partner and ask others if they’d heard from him.  Nothing.  My supervisor finally told me that I would have to go home and that I would receive half my pay.  We all worried that the missing partner had been in a car accident, but days passed with no news.  Before the end of the week, my supervisor called me and explained that our colleague had been involved in a serious domestic dispute with his wife and he was taken for psychiatric evaluation.  Eventually everything was resolved, but his marriage ended in divorce.

Sometimes a partner may not do a critical thing for comedy to happen-leave your ego at the door.  If an improvised scene calls for you to be funny but requires that your partner plays the “straight man”, go for it.  But sometimes a scene will end up with you as the “straight man” and you must commit to that as well.  This is not only an important role in comedy, it is necessary.  You must always do what is good for the scene, not yourself.

I once got lucky and made a clever joke on the way out of a room.  My partner and I walked out because we had left them laughing, which is a great time to leave a room.  When we got to the hallway, my partner returned to the room and I followed, not knowing what he wanted to do.  He tried to “add to” the joke I had said, but it wasn’t funny.  I wanted to leave on a laugh again, so I said something that I hoped would help.  It did, and we left on a laugh again.  To my surprise, my partner walked in again and said something that made them laugh this time.  I smiled and said nothing and we walked out again.  He was very clear about the reason for his actions: “That’s better.  I have to go knowing I’m the one who left them laughing.” 

Be professional; do not ruin a scene just to try to always be the funny one.  Know when your role is to support. Do what is best for the scene.


Lucy E. Nunez is an LPN and has been a theatrical performer since 2002. She created Nurse Lulu for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in 2014. She was a resident clown there and at Baptist Children's Hospital. For more information please visit:

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