Hospital clowning is beginning to be recognized as a legitimate, respected specialization, but at a snail’s pace. There is currently no widespread recognition of its value and importance, though research has already shown how powerful an effect humor has on healing. Children are especially responsive to hospital entertainment because they naturally want to distract themselves from frightening hospital norms. Not everyone, however, is enthusiastic about having clowns regularly running around a medical facility.
Clowns are normally allowed into a children’s hospital by the Child Life Department, which is staffed by people who specialize in addressing the social needs of the ailing child. They recognize that a child’s natural therapy is play, and that a hospital is a less scary place if there is are fun activities to distract them. Some staff members including doctors, technicians, administrators and security personnel find clowns annoying, however, no matter how much we try to stay out of their way. [Note that I did not mention nurses because it is rare for nurses to dislike the presence of a hospital clown. They are normally eager to make use of us, as they have found that we can be an indispensable distraction for a child during a procedure like an IV insertion. They also get to know their patients well enough to know which ones would welcome a clown visit.]
One of my former clown colleagues had a story to tell about someone who was extremely negative about the clowns one day:
As many of us do, my former colleague was trying to engage some adults in the hospital lobby by using thumb lights, pretending to magically “find” the lights on people. He told a technician that he saw something on his shoulder and promptly “removed” the light, then walked away with his partner. Apparently, the technician reported him to the security guard for touching him without permission.
When the clowns walked by again, he made a very big scene, accusing him in front of hospital guests. The clown tried to explain to the security guard what really happened, but could not appease the technician. He apologized, but it was not going to calm the accuser. He later observed that the technician could have been having a bad day, and that next time he would ask permission before touching anyone, even if it’s for a passing harmless gag.
Not everyone will welcome us in the hospital, and we must be vigilant of facial expressions and body language indicating this. We must be careful not to approach or engage such people, as they are not obligated to like us and have the right to reject us. As always, we must not take anything personally; we are to spread joy where we are welcomed and walk away when we are not.
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