Although it is necessary to have visual performance skills in the hospital like juggling, silent clowning or magic, a huge percentage of what we do is verbal. Witty banter among the clown partners and one-liners that always draw giggles from both adults and children are at the root of what we do. This not only makes our entertainment interactive, it also helps us maintain our characters and keep them genuine so we can be “on” for long periods of time throughout the shift.
One of our wittiest, most comedically skilled clowns used a lot of pop culture references to engage not only those in waiting areas and patient rooms, but also people we would pass in the hallways. If he saw someone resembling a celebrity or very dressed up, he would greet them by the celebrity’s name and be very excited about finally meeting him or her. If they smiled but kept walking, he’d say “Did you see that? Diva.” This would always get a laugh.
If the target person kept walking but was accompanied by several other people, he’d say “We’re not supposed to talk to him, he’s got his bodyguards.” This would especially cause laughter if the person was accompanied by a small child. He loved to do this to preteens because he would call them by celebrity names that they would find very complimentary. He also loved to compare a toddler to an adult celebrity and observe how much taller they looked on tv! This would always get a laugh from the parents.
Superheroes and princesses would work very well with little ones. If someone wore a superman tee shirt, he’d say “Hi Superman!” I would immediately hush him and point out that the patient was in disguise and should be addressed as Clark Kent. This also worked for patients with Spiderman pajamas. Updates must be made with celebrities, but superheroes and princesses can be useful for generations!
I made an error in judgement in the emergency department one night when I saw a little girl wearing an tee shirt showing Anna from the animated movie Frozen. I said “Hi Anna!” She immediately started crying. She told her mother that she was supposed to be Elsa but couldn’t wear that tee shirt that night! I apologized and said that I confuse them all the time and we took our leave. (For more on how to handle negative reactions in hospital clowning, see my There’s No Crying post.)
Lucy E. Nunez 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: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds