Last night I watched 'Horizon: Jimmy Car and the Science of Laughter' on the BBC. A really interesting look at why we laugh, what its function is for us as individuals and as a society, and - and this is what I really loved - what makes things funny.
Peter Mcgraw explained his theory on what makes things funny, and I think it is exactly why hospital clowns are funny. there is a diagram to prove it.
Mcgraw's theory is that humour occurs when:
1. A situation is a violation (something seems wrong)
2. A situation is benign
3. The two things happen simultaneously
He gave an example in relation to physical comedy:
1. Falling down the stairs and hurting yourself (a violation, and not funny)
2. Walking down the stairs (benign and not funny)
3. Falling down the stairs and being unhurt (a benign - violation, and funny!)
"A Benign-Violation points out what is wrong with the world and comments on it in a way that is acceptable to the audience."
In his TEDx talk, Mcgraw explains the nuances of how to reduce a 'Violation', and why some people find things more funny than others. Basically, everyone's Venn diagram is different.
So in relation to Healthcare Clowns, it might look like this:
1. A doctor in a hospital (benign - not funny)
2. A clown in a hospital (violation - not funny)
3. A Clowndoctor in a hospital (benign-violation - funny!)
OK, a clown in hospital might be funny - but my point is that the parody of the 'Clowndoctor' makes the humour a lot stronger.
Our flexibility and ability to improvise means that from interaction to interaction we are able to temper the benign-violation to suit the individual and the situation - to lessen or increase the violation to make it funny for that person.
For example, a visit with a young child who is a bit shy might look like this:
1. A beautiful song (benign - not funny)
2. A squeak/sneeze/pop/bump (a violation - not funny)
3. A beautiful song interrupted by a squeak/sneeze/pop/bump (Benign-violation - funny!)
Whereas a visit with a child who has been in hospital for a while, and is familiar with her surroundings might look more like this:
1. Sick bowl on the table (benign - not funny)
2. Clowndoctor using the sick bowl (violation - not funny)
3. Clowndoctor wearing the sick bowl as a snazzy hat (benign-violation - funny)
4. Drip stand (benign - not funny)
5. Clowndoctor messing with the drip stand (violation - not funny)
6. Clowndoctor introducing herself to the drip stand as a fellow doctor (benign-violation - funny)
Breaking it down like this makes it seem like we are making active, intellectual decisions whenever we do anything, but really, the training that we have means that finding the appropriate 'benign-violation' comes quickly (most of the time!) and 'instinctively'. (and by instinctively, I only mean that that is the way it feels when it works, and this comes from training and experience, not some sort of magic aptitude).
So basically, Healthcare Clowns go around hospitals, healthcare units, care homes and dementia units creating benign-violations wherever they go! In fact, Clowns ARE benign-violations! Before we even DO anything!
I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and reflection on clowning as an (therapeutic) art form.