When I worked for a children’s theatre company, we would not only be hired to perform free shows at local public schools (we were paid through grant funding), we would also perform as strolling characters for community events. It was wonderful because our job was to interact with the street crowds, which demanded strong improvisational skills. We’d work in pairs, both for artistic reasons and for safety. We would play off each other, but we would also skillfully protect each other from people who may have had one too many [even at 11am!].
One year, a few people offered to give us tips. We were not told that we were allowed to accept them, so we didn’t. We later found out that it was ok! When I was a paid hospital clown, we were not to accept tips. As an artist, I was not sure if it was obvious, given the confusion I had with the children’s theatre. As a person in a healthcare facility, it was obvious that tips were to be refused.
Having worked as a nurse for years before becoming a hospital clown, I learned early on that it was unethical to accept tips. This had nothing to do with how much we were paid (as an LPN I’m on the lowest rung of the nursing ladder); this had to do with the service we provide. A healthcare provider is kind of like justice - blind. We are to be caregivers and advocates for our patients, helping those with an illness or injury no matter who they are or what the circumstances of their ailment happen to be.
Since we are all human with weaknesses, the acceptance of tips can cause that principle to be warped, putting us in danger of possibly favoring one patient over another for economic reasons. Humor has been proven to help heal and comfort, therefore a hospital clown is a kind of caregiver, injecting humor where needed.
In short, my advice is: Whether you are a paid clown or a volunteer, if offered a tip [or a gift in lieu of a monetary tip], politely thank the person offering but refuse it. Tell them their laughter is enough. If they look hurt, you can explain that you are not allowed to or you can joke about it by saying that you’ll only take “Don’t text and drive.” as a tip!
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 Unit in 2014. She is now Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds