The nonprofit organization ClownZero, based out of San Francisco, California, mixes humor and health care at the University of California at San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Professional performing artists dressed as clowns bring this circus-like atmosphere to one of California’s premier pediatric ward at Benioff Children’s Hospital. This hospital, located within the UCSF Medical Center, provides care for virtually all pediatric conditions, including cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, organ transplants, and orthopedics, in addition to the care of critically ill newborns.
According to ClownZero Director Dan Griffiths: “We train all the clowns to be super sensitive because the scale of play is much smaller in a hospital room; it’s like an exclusive performance for the person in the hospital bed. All our clowns work with children and have a lot of experience in knowing how to govern oneself accordingly.”
Mindful not to scare the children, ClownZero therapists wear minimal make-up and detachable red noses. The clown therapists also interject themselves into the treatment process with caution. According to Griffiths (who also goes by the name Dr. Schnozensoop): “When we go into a room, we have the kids orchestrate what we do; we’re never doing something to them, we’re always playing with them.”
ClownZero began in March 2009, limited at first to the hospital playroom, but has since expanded throughout the hospital. “[UCSF] has slowly opened up more of the hospital to us once they saw the benefits of clowning,” Griffiths said. “By getting everyone to laugh and play a little bit, it helps make a serious situation a little less serious,” Griffiths said. “We play with patients and staff to kind of draw them out of themselves and empower them.”
While the Healing Through Humor Program at the children’s hospital is ClownZero’s main initiative, it also has a Response Team that brings this specialized therapy to communities around the world. In September 2010 after the San Bruno fire near San Francisco, a ClownZero response team visited children and families while they waited for services at an emergency center. On Thanksgiving, ClownZero partnered with Catholic Charities to entertain homeless families while they had Thanksgiving dinner. This month, ClownZero will travel to orphanages and refugee camps in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
From the organization’s Website: ClownZero Healing Through Humor Program is a pioneer outreach program created in association with UCSF Children’s Hospital. Hosted by UCSF, ClownZero is a team of professional performers and therapists dedicated to healing through humor, who work as clown therapists alongside Child Life Specialists and other hospital medical personnel. ClownZero therapists visit acutely and chronically ill patients, their families, and hospital staff, facilitating laughter and creating community through play.