Hospital clowns heal with laughter

Unless you’re in the maternity ward, the hospital can be a big downer.

There are so many complicated, beeping machines. And you can’t escape the underlying stench of mortality, which smells an awful lot like bleach.

But there’s a gang of marauders who are roaming Bay Area hospitals and looking to stir things up. Their objective is singular: to find your funny bone.

The clowns of Alameda’s Medical Clown Project believe comedy can be a form of art, as well as medicine. Equipped with big red noses, sequined lab coats and props, these professional clowns shimmy and bounce their way through Alzheimer’s units and ICU’s to bring a little cheer.

According to Jeff Razz, the artistic director of the Medical Clown Project, the group’s main goal is to lower the stress in the hospital ecosystem:

“There’s no research to prove being more serious improves health, but there’s lots of research to prove laughter and humor reduce stress and improve healing and health.”

Just two years old, the Medical Clown Project consists of seven professional clowns who have toured with Cirque du Soleil, the Ringling Brothers and San Francisco’s Circus Finelli. Currently, they work in 15 units in four different Bay Area hospitals.

One of these hospitals is California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), where the clowns routinely perform their schtick. The clowns’ patients range from children to older patients and hospital staff.

Rita Pozanova, a housekeeper who has worked at CPMC for 14 years, is one of the clowns’ biggest fans:

“I want they will be all the time here. Don’t go home. Because we really need them. For our kids, this is for them like treatment. We really seriously need them.”

One father, who has seen the clowns perform on multiple occasions, attested to the healing power of their comedy. Jeff Tatman, whose preschool aged son is battling with leukemia, said that the laughter helps lighten the stress on worn-down parents:

“It makes everything easier when you’re laughing.”