It's one thing to suggest that laughter can keep us well, it's another to actually do it. If someone tells you to laugh, it's hard to do it on cue. On the other hand, the art of the clown is to trigger laughter through their exaggerated moves, accentuated actions, and make people feel better than they had before.
Clowns have been around since the beginning of time. In different societies they have had different names, but have all have served similar functions. All cultures have versions of clowns; the trickster of Mesoamerican and African peoples, to the joker from Medieval Europe. Clowns have been recognised as having an important influence on our health. In some cultures, clowns have even participated in directly in healing rituals.
|As the philospher, Syndenham noted in the Middle Ages:|
"The arrival of a good clown does more for the health of the village than twenty asses laden with drugs."
One Native American tribe, the Hopi, used clowns in many of their ceremonies. These clowns impersonated the gods - a way of becoming friendlier with the gods. Their antics included falling over, dashing through crowds and making silly faces at the onlookers. In this and other tribes, one role of the clown was to capture the attention of the audience, enabling them to forget the worries of their daily lives and participate more fully in the ceremony. Some might suggest it has the same effect as deep meditation but is a lot more fun. Having others do the distracting can also make it a lot easier on the individual.
The antics of the Hopi clowns can also be seen in modern clowns. They also use outrageous antics, humor and costumes. The clowns of today have an inherent understanding of humanity that many of us cannot even begin to comprehend. They ridicule our manner of dress and our social code. They laugh and point their fingers at our faults and inconsistencies. They exaggerate our actions and our physical features. We admit to understand reality, but we aren't all clowns. If we have the power to laugh we have the power to heal.
"A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast." - Groucho Marx
Clowns help us experience feelings of happiness and joy
Clowns wish to make people experience happiness, if only for the short amount of time during direct contact. They are allowed to do things, which aren't really socially acceptable, for instance they can hug kids and adults in public, and communicate with body contact. They try to create a situation where the audience can experience joy and hope, and forget their troubles and pain. Clowns have realised that laughter tends to soothe the body and ease the mind. They just want to help people, and they do this through their use of humour and sense of the extra-ordinary.
This sense of extra-ordinary is obvious in the costume of the clown. It consists of six main things: face, hair, outfit, feet, socks, and hands. The costume does vary from clown to clown though, because there are more than one type of clown. Modern clowns or comedians don't have costumes.
Patty Wooten is one of many health professionals now who have recognised the value of the clown in the healing process. One of her characters - Nurse Nancy (shown to the right)- uses an exaggeration of some of the tools of the nursing profession to not only bring out the humor in patients, but also to enable caregivers to develop some distance from the tragic and serious elements of their work.
Thank you to Patty Wooten for granting us permission to use an image of her "Nurse Nancy." See Patty Wooten's web site for more information.