Scary clown craze endangers crucial work of clown ‘doctors’

Within the last couple weeks, disturbing events involving masked individuals has caught public attention in Austria. These figures are frightening innocent people and should be dealt with appropriately. However, we must not forget that these individuals are not real clowns.

Scary clown craze endangers crucial work of clown 'doctors'
Photo: Bojan Tavcar

They have distorted a humorous, approachable figure which is deeply rooted in human history, by hiding behind their nightmarish masks. Their actions should not be associated with the professional art form that is clowning. A real clown makes you laugh and reflect. In the case of the hospital clown, they remind you of the joy of life in difficult times.

During any of their visits, hospital clowns always encounter a mixture of anxiety and fear. They are professionally trained artists able to perceive these emotions and constructively improvise an interaction with patients and their families to accept the circumstances and regain their hope for the future. 

At Red Noses Clowndoctors International, our philosophy is focused on creating happy and uplifting encounters. We work with each patient’s vulnerability in a respectful and redeeming manner.

As one of the first hospital clown programmes in Europe, the Red Noses group originally began in Austria and has now grown to humorously intervene in over ten countries. We build lasting moments with over 700,000 patients annually in over 660 medical institutions.

Our success is not a simple formula. Each visit requires a professional artist with hundreds of hours of training and practice to nurture a healthy and humorous environment, within the hospital setting, for patients and their families alike.  

You cannot do this behind a mask. To do so would be foolish. Our artists are courageous and relatable. Their personalities are not dependent on the costume; it merely serves as an expression of their inner character. Their most important tool is the red nose; it identifies their character without hiding their true intentions. This form of honesty helps patients to embrace and to overcome their own weaknesses and fears.

The thing that distinguishes clowning from any other genre of comedy is that it is a direct dialogue with society – everything that's being done is for the wellbeing of each person they interact with. There is beauty in interacting with a real clown.

The real work of clowning requires bravery; a virtue these masked participants lack. Real clowns work in hospitals, in orphanages, in refugee camps and many other venues where laughter is needed most. On top of that, each clown is trained in hygiene, patient psychology, hospital routines, and personal treatment.

If these individuals were truly brave, we would welcome them to practice the art of clowning in a more appropriate manner. The red nose, however small it may be, has magic. Whoever puts one bears this responsibility.

We challenge these masked individuals to take this responsibility seriously – to make a person laugh, instead of making a sport out of causing anxiety and fear. Surely, this is a more satisfying and fulfilling task. Then, and only then, do they deserve to truly be called a clown.

By Monica Culen and Giora Seeliger, Red Noses Clowndoctors International

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