A funny thing happened on the way to the hospital.
No, it really was funny.
A bunch of clowns with big feet, wigs and harlequin clothing recently floated into the Torrance Memorial Medical Center auditorium for the 2018 Clown School Class graduation. Even before the “Pomp and Circumstance” stopped playing, the clowns were already dueling with their shiny streamer sticks.
Volunteers and staff at Torrance Memorial Medical Center agree laughter is one of their most important treatments. The hospital’s annual six-week clown course, Clowns on Rounds, helps bring smiles to patients during the vulnerable moments in their lives as participants learn costuming, balloon tricks, make-up techniques and sometimes little magic tricks.
Instructor Joyce “Joy” Payne, who used to work in the corporate world said she is in her 31st year of clowning. What started as a hobby is now a business for the semi-retired, professional clown and magician.
“There is a universal appeal of being a clown,” the former president of the World Clown Association said. “We embellish your best qualities. We don’t create clowns—we discover the clown in you.”
As master of ceremony Joy, along with co-clown trainer Priscilla “Twinkle Toes” Streisand calmed the bevy of jesters still picking on each other and introduced the graduates.
Or, they tried to.
“My name is Sweet Pea. I used to work in a muffler shop. It was exhausting.”
“My name is “Raggety Andy.” I worked in an orange factory. I got canned, because I couldn’t concentrate.”
“My name is “Vi.” I worked at a shoe factory, but there was no sole in it. Then I became a historian at a museum, but there was no future in it.”
And so the introductions and antics continued.
“This is the most solemn part of the ceremony,” the veteran clown Joy said, but didn’t really mean it. “It’s time for the official placement of the noses.”
With that, all the standing clowns put their backs to the crowd and carefully placed their new red noses on their faces and turned around to roaring applause.
Debbie “Vi” Johnson said she was surprised to see how stretching the class was for her.
“Not only are there a lot of clowning rules, but there’s so much to learn about make-up, dress and behavioral mannerisms,” Johnson said. “I learned, if you believe in what you are saying, people will be believe it, too.”
Next Joy introduced individual performances, which evoked chuckles and appreciation from family, friends and co-clowns in the audience.
“Cookie the Clown” (Debbie Harris) sang “I’m a Little Teapot,” in confused lyrics, which only made sense when she got to the point that she wasn’t a tea pot, she was a sugar bowl.
“Mariposa” (Maria Robinson) sang, “If You're Happy and You Know It” in an exotic accent that only added to the cuteness of it.
“Tappy” (Joyce Goffeau) explained that in the tap dancing world there are only seven basic steps that serious dancers learn and elaborate. She introduced her Tappy Happy Group which included “Sweetpea” (Donna Imhoff), “Raggety Andy” (Mary Kay) and herself.
What ensued was a loosely coordinated routine of brush and drag, toe taps and shuffle-ball-change—to the tune of “Happy” from the movie “Despicable Me 2”—and canned ratta-tat-tappy sounds because, well, clown shoes are huge, soft and floppy.
Guest speaker for the evening was Director of Service Excellence Mary Matson who was introduced by Joy as an “honorary clown” because she “is the woman who does everything for the volunteers,” Joy said.
“We know that humor supports healing,” Matson said. “In fact, according to a recent Mayo Clinic study, laughter increases oxygen intake and helps produce endorphins in the brain. Laughter also stimulates blood circulation, which helps with relaxation and reducing stress levels. So in that way, our Clowns on Rounds are part of the patient care team.”
After the clowns were “Diplomerized” Debbie Harris’ grandchildren ran up to her and gave her a great big group hug.
“Now she won’t be at the house a lot,” said Allie, Harris’ 8-year-old granddaughter. She looks really funny. I’m sure she’ll make people laugh.”