Laughter as a Doctor

Clown Doctor
If hospital administrators could spend ten minutes viewing their hospitals through the eyes of a hospital clown, there would be a clown in every corner of their hospitals (Shobhana Schwebke)

In various cultures, clowns have been associated with healers, medicine men, shamans, and other figures related to health care. Some decades ago, in a few places, members of the hospital staff started dressing up as clowns, as Dr Patch Adams (now famous because of the movie with the same name, starring Robin Williams) or psychotherapist and famous novelist Howard Buten.

Professional clowns began working in hospitals in 1986 under two programs called the Robo Project in Winnipeg, Canada, and the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit in New York City, USA. The latter program was a model for the Theodora Foundation in Switzerland and for Le Rire Médecin (Laughter as a doctor), an association created in 1991 in France by Caroline Simonds, alias Dr Giraffe. In France, over 40,000 children, their parents and hospital staff enjoy a fun-filled visit from Le Rire Médecin's very special clowns every year.

Dr GiraffeCaroline Simonds
alias 'Dr Giraffe'
Other organizations have followed this model that are now present all over the world, such as Doctor Clown / Docteur Clown (Canada), Die Clown Doktoren (Germany), the Association Docteur Clown (Lyons, France), Clowndoctors (Scotland), the Humour Foundation (Australia), Doutores da Alegria (Brazil), etc. etc. Seems there are even hospital clowns in China now!

These clowns are not doctors and nurses dressed up as clowns any more, but companies of professional clowns trained to adapt their craft to a healthcare environment and who agreed to abide by the hospital clowns' code of ethics. Red noseThey usually wear little make-up (sometimes a red nose only), communicate verbally, and always work in pairs. They are caricatures of the staff members, 'almighty doctors' especially. They are dressed like doctors but misappropriate medical equipment... although they are specialists of nose transplant.

Groucho Marx said: A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast. He was right: hospital clowns don't administer anything except humor, but still they are great healers. A clown gives staff, patients and relatives, permission to play and to have fun. Everyone is happy to see a clown, as everybody is delighted to hear a child or a baby laughing. It is easy to hug a clown, it is easy to talk to a clown. Even if not talking to him, no one walks by without smiling, even in a hospital. The clown personifies the vulnerability and sweetness of life. He is a living Teddy Bear.

2 comment(s):

    It is beautiful to read your appraisal of clowns, but I think American movies have soured my view of them. There are so many shows and movies where the clown is the bad guy. I was always quite frightened of them.


    It's probably rather usual among US young people indeed. I just reposted an old blog of mine about Cindy Sherman, where she displayed frightening clowns. Weird. Here in France, every kid loves to go the circus and watch clowns.


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