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Dostat Daaram

We arrive in the ICU and meet the head nurse. We go over the patients with her. She, or sometimes he, is there to help guide us. We get to bed 6 on our list, Luke, a two month old baby who is post-op. She is hesitant and suggest's that a visit would not be appropriate today. We finish the meeting, scrub and off we go.

As we walk by bed 6, Luke's nurse calls us over and defies us to make him laugh. Override. We accept the challenge with delight.

We stand by Luke's bed and connect. He is very neutral yet intrigued. The father watches us curiously as we express emotions and make sounds, trying to make Luke react. Nothing happens. After a few minutes, the nurse and everyone else around loses hope. The father tries to justify the baby's neutrality with the fact that Luke is heavily medicated and intubated. He has a heavy accent. Dr Pédalo ask's him where his accent is from and the father answer's “Afghanistan”.

Dr Pédalo proudly turns to Luke and greets him in Dari (language spoken in Afghanistan). The father's eyes widen instantly. Dr Pédalo then follows with “Dostat Daaram” (I love you) that make Luke smile and his father laugh simultaneously.

The staff is awestruck. Cameras come out and start filming the scene. The mother arrives and the father excitedly precipitates an explanation of what she’s missed. She joins in the celebrations. Dr Pédalo teaches Dre Petit-Pas the Dari phrases he remembers. They start singing a song using all the Dari words they know, Luke smiles continuously and the family laughs viscerally. By the end, tears of joy are shed, the scene is immortalized and the clowns walk off proudly.




Anna is very old and sick. She is being wheeled out of her hospital room, lying in her bed, in the corridor, again. She is understandably upset. It's a regular occurrence these days. Her daughter, who is in her 70s, is with her. She explains to us that she had just cleaned the room properly and the staff was now about to do it all again.

We were told earlier that there was a C-difficile outbreak in the ward and they were trying to get on top of it. We don't mention this to Anna and her daughter, we just empathize. We introduce ourselves and Anna seems to calm down. Jules charms and kisses her and Anna smiles. Her daughter seems to relax too amidst this chaos when she sees her mother smiling and entertained. My partner Zoe then sings a beautiful song that bring tears to Anna’s eyes.

After getting to know each other a little better, Anna ask's Jules and Zoe to come a little closer, as if she had something very important to tell them. We move in, almost lying in her bed with her. Anna lifts the sleeve of her gown and reveals a tattoo. 5 numbers inked into her forearm. 28876. The blood stops flowing through my veins. Zoe gets emotional and starts caressing the tattoo in a very affectionate manner. A long silence ensues. Emotions are shared in silence. There seems to be a certain pride emanating from Anna.

Anna and her daughter tell us a little of her story. Anna is the only concentration camp survivor of her family. She left Auschwitz at the end of the war, 15 years old and pregnant. A brief glance at her life reveals a strong woman who now has little left to give. We embrace and love her for the woman she is now.

We eventually leave Anna’s side and greet Rich, a 25 year old guy who just took a seat close by. He is wearing a gown in one arm only, pick-lined to an IV post and is sporting a number of huge tattoos. We analyze them a little, complimenting the ones we like. Rich is proud to show off his tats and explain’s to us their meanings.

Jules links the conversation to Anna lying a few feet away, knowing Anna's openness. “Anna there has a tattoo that has a meaning as well you know”, the man turns to the elderly lady who lifts her sleeve up once again, as a testament to her character and reveals her tattoo. The man's jaw drops, he looks up at the us a little flustered and says, “That's not the same thing”.

“I know” Jules says, looking over at Anna who smiles affectionately at him.



Adrian is 5 years old. He has an important appointment in the post surgery unit today. The metal rods holding his little hand together are going to finally be removed. His hand had been crushed months ago by a car and after multiple operations, the day had come to see the pre-physiotherapy outcome. Adrian is understandably terrified. Every visit to the hospital thus far had been painful and stressful.

Dr Pédalo and Dr Gui Môve walk into the unit as usual. We hear his distress calls from down the corridor. We walk right through the closed door, knowing full well that this department knows and loves us tremendously, understanding the value of the clown’s work. They are all happy to see us, as expected.

It's our first encounter with Adrian. We introduce ourselves but Adrian is very distracted and distraught with the pre-procedures. Dr Pédalo starts offering him an array of different things to which Adrian refuses systematically. Dr Pédalo becomes a little more desperate, kneeling down before him and begging to offer him something, anything.

At this point, Adrian is drawn into our actions and silliness. The staff’s stress is visibly lowered. A silent sense of concentrated appreciation is felt. Adrian now understands the game and has a bit of a smile in his now less bewildered eyes. I see the pleasure he is getting from turning us down but more importantly, he forgets about the medical team rapidly operating on his hand. The stakes get higher, Dr Pédalo is crushed by all the refusals, Dr Gui Môve tries to console him. The parents are in awe and relieved, not knowing what to focus on (as spectators) in this whirlwind of events.

Finally, the rods are all removed. Adrian is still playing with us. A loud cheer is given by all.

The physiotherapists now step in to test the mobility of the tiny reconstructed hand. Adrian freaks out once again. I offer to help. Dr Pédalo asks’ Adrian to use his new hand to squeeze his finger's, “but not too hard” Pédalo begs.

Adrian grabs Dr Pédalo's fingers and crushes them to the best of his ability. Dr Pédalo's hand is now all crooked, everyone is delighted. We play with Adrian some more while the staff explain the next procedures to the grateful parents. The family leaves merrily.

The head nurse comes to see us immediately and says, “Wow, perfect timing clowns! We were out of options. We had just called the anesthetist and booked the OR but you guys saved the day once again. Thanks.”


Zack the Superhero

We start our day like any other day. My partner and I meet in the locker room, catch up on our personal lives, change into our colourful pediatric costumes, stare into each other's eyes, turn our backs, slip on our red noses and turn to greet again, in character. A few compliments are thrown, a couple jokes are made, a song is initiated and off we jovially go.

We musically make our way to our department, interacting with anyone willing on the way, to meet our liaison person who will give us the details of todays' patients. As the double doors of our department open, there is a 5 year old boy, Zack (we later learn), in a wheelchair with a lot of casts, bandages and a neck brace. He is sitting in front of the reception surrounded by three civilian adults, two nurses, a psychiatrist, a social-worker and a doctor. All eyes are on us with what is obviously much hope. Zack is staring at the floor, motionless. The people around him greet us with much enthusiasm, as if hoping it would transfer to Zack. Nothing. We take our time approaching him. We feel the tension and the importance of our next move. We introduce ourselves, Zack still sits motionlessly staring at the floor. We try to get his attention. To no avail. We feel the disappointment and support of the crowd watching in silence.

If Zack won't look up at us, we figure we might as well bend over to cross his sight. We fold over in reverence. He is persistent, Zack never looks at us. Oh well, not the right time. We start erecting our folded bodies and my partner's kazou falls out of his lab coat pocket onto the floor. Still nothing.

He picks it up and put's it in his mouth. He mime's getting onto a motorbike, starts it with a twist of the wrist and a blow of kazou. Nothing. He revs it loudly. I mime getting on behind him and we say bye with an apologetic look at all. My partner peels off and I hang on for dear life. We swerve madly and as we're about to take the corner, I lift an arm to wave again, loose my grip, go flying off the motorcycle and splat the corridor wall.

I look back at our public to see Zach's eyes now looking up, his shoulder's give a little bounce on a quick exhale. Score! Everyone's eyes double in size. My partner drive's back to pick me up. We glance at each other, all is planned. I get on, he peels, I go flying into a door and we get a triple chuckle. Smiles blossom on everyone's faces. The staff discretely nods and have a confident look of “I told you so”. The civilians accompany their smiles with great relief and glossy eyes.

We repeat, Zack now lifts his head and laughs. A couple more times and off we go without crashing. We exchange a discrete high five, get our lists and meet our liaison person for patient information. We sit in her office, take off our noses, fall out of character and are ready to take notes. The special needs educator and the social-worker joins us with a sense of relief and satisfaction.

First case of the day. Zack. A five year old boy involved in a major car accident. Lost his father, mother and older brother in the crash. Woah. He’s just woke up from a coma. He is miraculously still alive, his neck was completely severed but not identified in the initial diagnostic. They only realized two days later and all manipulations prior to that should have ended his life or at least rendered him paraplegic. Ouff.

His first interaction and smile come's from two clueless clowns crashing a motorcycle. Wow.

Our relationship with Zack continues to grow and the motorbike accidents quickly turn into superpowers. The staff uses us for every occasion they can, be it morale, physiotherapy or medical interventions. The extended family members taking care of him love us. They are visibly very appreciative of our work and relationship with our little superhero.

Zack is very courageous and doing well. Miraculously.

(not Dr Pédalo)

Clowns and Death

Frankie and Jules are walking down the corridor. A lady is sitting in a chair, completely keeled over to the side and sleeping. She is accompanied by a younger lady. We smile at her and she seems a little uneasy. We signal that we would like to say hello and she seems very doubtful. We introduce ourselves and kiss her hand in a very as gentlemen clown should. We draw a smile. The elderly lady sleeping opens her eyes. We crouch down to get a visual contact. She stares blankly. We apologize to having woken her and decide to sing her back to sleep. We start “Parlez-moi d’amour”, the elderly lady focuses in on us. She starts engaging her eye contact. She slowly starts erecting herself as she mouths the words. She then starts singing, we slow the tempo of the song to make sure she can keep up. The lady by her side starts wiping tears discretely. The older lady is sitting up and fully engaged in our song while the lady by her side flows with emotions. We finish. The younger lady is now giving us a smile of sincere gratitude. The ladies look at each other with tenderness as we leave.

As we turn to continue our journey down the corridor, there is a woman waving her arms at us at the end of the hallway. She is obviously trying to draw our attention. We strut over to see her and she directs us into a room. We walk in to see a man in his 50s, lying in his bed, wearing a clown nose. “Brother!”, Jules exclaims. We all laugh.

The man takes off his nose, as if knowing the difference between wearing a clown nose and “being” a clown. He is very delightful, engaging us in philosophical discussions and enjoying every little thing we do. Turns out he is a celebrated film maker. We had both seen many of his works. His very first student film was about clowns and death. It's hard to keep our characters optimally clownish due to the nature of our conversations yet we try. After some time, we are off, promising to come by next week. We walk out feeling like we didn’t do much and that the man actually entertained us. “I guess that’s what this person needed right here, right now.”

Our next encounter is somewhat the same. The man is very cultured, funny and interesting. He obviously appreciates our work. We spend another good amount of time with him and off we go again, promising to come visit the following week.

The following week, we walk into his room to discover a new person lying in his bed. We are a little disappointed not to see him yet happy he's been discharged.

Soon after that, I get an unexpected phone call. There’s a special request for Jules and Frankie. Our friend is dead. Little did we know or did he hint that he was in palliative care when we met him. In his final days, as he was planning his own funeral, he requested for us to be at his service, in clown. It was a shock and an honour all at once. His wife tells us that we were like a divine encounter for him. The fact that two clowns walked into his hospital room was a sign and we played a part in his mindset for his final moments.

We go to his funeral. We stand at the front door. It’s not the time or place to try and do too much. We play the music that he enjoyed so much, greet the guests, open the door, take off our hats and look at everyone with great empathy. In this context, it feels like enough. To his image, it’s, very animated inside the funeral home, there are musicians and a juggler. We are a good transition into that surprising atmosphere.

We stay much longer than we were hired for. We escort the friends and family out of the service in the same fashion we had greeted them in. Many guests voice their appreciation and praise us on our work. It is quite moving and magical.

I hope we made our friend the filmmaker proud.

(Not Jules in the picture but Dr Pédalo)

credit: Rémi Coignard-Friedman

# 15
“It's more than a pleasure, it's my heart in it's entirety.”

Dorothy is a sweet elderly lady with a proper french accent. She has beautiful white hair and smart little glasses. She is sitting on the chairs facing the reception with a younger lady. She has her head down, her hands clenched together and seems low energy. We play gentle music as we approach her softly. She lifts her head slowly and the transformation on her face is stunning. Her eyes light up, she gradually gives Jules the most sincere smile he's seen in a long time. Jules responds with as much charm as possible through his eyes as he plays harmonica. Like in a trance, she slowly rises to her feet displaying her severe scoliosis and humped back. From the top of her five feet she reaches out for Jules who instinctively stops playing, get's down on his knee and kisses her hand with his nose while staring into her eyes. Greetings are politely done and Dorothy puts her hands on her heart and looks up to the sky displaying the effect we are having on her. Alfred plays a beautiful song as Jules invites Dorothy to a slow dance in the middle of the hall. A large gathering of staff watch the 6 foot 3 inches clown cuddle Dorothy with much delight and amazement. We say our “au revoirs” and off we go to the another ward.

We exit a room, Dorothy and her younger caretaker are waiting for us outside the door. The caretaker tells us Dorothy didn't feel she had said goodbye properly. We gently hold her hands and kiss her cheeks which draws a sigh from her heart and a tear from her bright blue eyes.

We see her the following weeks and the story continues. She awaits us in the hall and we share music, poems and emotions. Dorothy is such a beautiful individual that creates as much emotion in us as we do in her. The beauty of our art is that we can share these emotions without any baggage or history.

On our latest encounter, after a long stroll arm in arm “through the french country side” accompanied by a beautiful melody, Dorothy tells us with a glow in her eyes, “It's more than a pleasure Jules, it's my heart in it's entirety.”

(not Dorothy and Jules)
Credit: Rémi Coignard-Friedman

# 14
The baseball game.

Loanne is a beautiful 9 year old boy with no nose or ears. I've seen him regularly for the past 6 years. He has a rare disease that makes his skin fall off. He is contagious and in full isolation all the time. Not your typical isolation either but the full-face guard and restricted access kind.

My first encounter with him years ago was for a change of bandages. I was watching him with empathy while he yelled in agony and yet, with what seemed to be habit. As I tried to entertain him with music and nonsense, I almost passed out when the entire heal came off with his foot bandage. This cute little boy has never lead a normal life. “All life is suffering” says a buddhist proverb yet I witnessed an inequality in it's distribution. Through his force of habit, I make him laugh. It doesn't make sense.

A few weeks ago and many encounters later, he is back for a full blood transfusion. I get word from the hospital staff that he is in for the day. I go visit him with my partner in a part of the hospital we usually don't serve. He is not doing well. The degeneration is in full tilt. He has no fingers or toes left, his eyes are fully exposed and well lubricated due to lack of eyelids. This is no way for a human, let alone a child, to live.

We start a game of baseball while the staff is routinely doing their job of supervising the procedures. A 9 year old boy should get a game of baseball in every so often, although the field is a little different here. The boy picks up the makeshift ball made of paper towels, rubber gloves and surgical tape with his stubs. I hold an imaginary bat and perform a ridiculous pre-throw routine.

He uses both stubs to throw the ball in my direction. It reaches the end of the bed where my partner picks it up still in motion to continue it's flight path. It comes straight at me almost taking me out. I fall, get up and pretend to rush the pitcher but I'm stopped by my partner now turned referee. Many laughs later I return to home plate. The next pitch is a curve ball that bends away from me. A full swing and a strike sends me flying into the wall. Laughs. The next pitch is a drop ball that sends me flying onto his bed. His next trick is a knuckleball that flies around the room deliriously and crosses the plate with me too dizzy to get a swing in and I collapse.

“Strick three! You're out!”

I pretend to get upset. The trick is to do it with enough lightness so everyone knows you're kidding. It's like a wink. I swear revenge and we leave. Everyone is happy and grateful.

We later cross one of his nurses who tells us that he has little time left. That we should humanely just let him go because the rest of his life will be much worse that what he's known so far. I feel so sad.


# 13

“Yo Yo, Respect”

My partner and I walk into a stressed Intensive Care Unit. A lot is happening today and in the ICU, that's never good. A curtain is pulled and a team of 12 are performing an emergency open heart surgery on a 5 day old girl. There are lot's of new admissions and the Unit is working at full capacity. We try to be discreet.

We walk by a closed room with a woman and a teenager sitting motionless, staring out the window, looking very tired. They are bedside of another teenager with a bandage around his head staring blankly at the ceiling; Neuro-Trauma.

From the clothes the brother is wearing, my partner and I get the same impulse. I slide my hat and goggles to the side of my head. Pull my surf shorts down below my bum, take the attitude, tap my fist on my chest twice and show a sideway peace sign, “Respect”.

The brother and the mother sit up a little and giggle. Good. We keep going. I start a base-line beat-box and we strut in with much too much attitude. The too much attitude is important to keep it all clownish. The patient follows us with his eyes. The mother feels the need to explain the condition of her son. We already know but we listen out of respect. He just came out of a coma after a big accident and is so far unresponsive.

We keep going with some attitude and rhymes. The kid is following us intensely with his eyes, watching our every move. My partner pulls out his pocket fart machine. His fart machine is amazing, it has 3 different kind of farts, 2 burps and one puke sound. Plus, his machine can overlap sounds. Most machines wait for one sound to finish before you can set another one off but not his. To top it all, my partner is a wicked musician and DJ.

He shows them his machine. He plays every sound one at a time. Then he's off with the most awesome beat of “fart-Fart-fart-FArt-Fart-fart-Burp. Fart-Fart-fart-FArt-Fart-fart-Burp. Fart-Fart-fart-FArt-Fart-fart-Burp Puke-Puke-Puke. Fart-Fart-fart-FArt-Fart-fart-Burp Etc...”

Mom and brother are really impressed and our coma buddy starts twitching in the face. We stand there proudly. I can see the struggle with-in. And then it happens, a corner of his mouth finally lifts and slowly, a big smile appears on his face. The brother notices and yells to his mom, “He's smiling, he's smiling!” Mother shouts out in glee. We stand there proudly. As the focus is turned to the boy we tap our chest again, hold out a peace sign and strut out backwards. “Yo, yo. Respect”

We turn the corner and high-five each other. A man with a hurried pace walks by us and turns into the room. The mother and the son are so excited to tell him about what just happened. It was pretty funny to hear them talking over each other trying to explain the unfolding of events. “... and clowns showed up, and then the clowns became rappers, and they were like Respect, and they had a sound machine, and they were beat-boxing, and he made music with burps and farts, and then HE SMILED! HE SMILED! MUHAMMAD SMILED!”

# 12

Fishing with the folks...

Jules, my geriatrics clown character, and my partner walk into the mental health ward of a residence. We are greeted by Rose, a lovely lady with incoherent speech. We ask her to take a walk, she's delighted. My partner and I start humming a little improvised song and to our surprise, Rose joins in. I start stomping my feet, snapping my fingers and tapping my cane to create a beat. My partner holds a vocal chorus of “ahhhs” and “Ooooos” and suddenly Rose starts blowing “Beep-bops” and “Whoa-waaas”. It's awsome. I'm in total awe of this magnificent musical talent. The entire ward stops to watch. Rose, who can barely stand, starts dancing a twist/rock-and-roll. Everybody joins in and the whole place magically turns into a 1950s dance hall.

I have no idea what Rose did in her life but music was certainly a big part of it.

We then travel to the common living room. A man and couple women are watching the television, which is turned off. I get an impulse and follow it. “Excuse me? Do you mind if I fish this spot?”

“Go right ahead” the man answers.

I tiptoe across the room and whisper, “You see that spot upstream? I bet there's a big trout in that hole just waiting for my fly.”

The man's eyes light up. The ladies follow my every move. I stop my prowl to examine the terrain. My cane becomes a rod and start whipping it back and forth pulling on the imaginary line with my left hand until I release and let 'er fly. I slowly retrieve, staying very focused. I whisper in excitement, “There it is! Did you see it?” The man answers, “Oh, it's a big one!”

By now, the ladies are smiling ear to ear and the man is sitting on the edge of this seat. I set up and recast right into the hole. I let the fly drift a little and the big trout darts out after it. With a shout of excitement, bam, I set the hook! “Fish on!” I reel the slack furiously and then let the fish run a little to tire it out. I change tip directions to control it's movements and even run upstream not to let the trout snag a branch. The onlookers are cheering me on, I ask my partner to help me land the fish. She freaks out and runs around trying to catch it. We finally pull it to shore and I hold up my trophy rainbow trout to the applause of the elders. I get compliments on its size and beauty. I offer to share it with everyone.

I borrow the man's walker and use it as a cutting board. My cane becomes a knife and I fillet the fish meticulously. I hold up the first filet, the man reaches out his hand for it. I hand it to him, he motions up and down and says smilingly “Whoa, it's heavy.”

I then ask the ladies what herbs I should use and they guide me through the garden. I pick and chop the plants then sprinkle the filets. I start the BBQ and ask if I should add coarse salt on them. The ladies agree but the man shouts out “No salt on mine please!”

I put the filets on planks of soaked maple and place them on the fire. I tell them that we have to let them smoke slowly for a couple hours. The man frowns, he seems disappointed at the length of time, he grumbles something, hangs his head and instantly falls asleep.


# 11

The Incredible Hulk

Josh is a 6 year old boy. He stays in the last room at the end of the corridor. This room is very cozy and beautiful. It's twice the size of any other room in the department, large windows cover two walls viewing downtown, the entire windowsill is a comfortable, elevated cushy seat, there are couches, a private bathroom, a flatscreen tv, a desk, etc. It's also usually the last room a child will ever see.

Josh has severe liver malfunctions. I had been warned that his skin has turned yellow and his condition is precarious. I walk to the room with my partner. There is a lot of staff as per usual attending Josh. We knock, open the door and ask to come in. Josh is revealed from behind a couple nurses. I can't believe my eyes. The boy is not yellow, he's fluorescent, a colour I cannot compare to anything I have ever seen. His eyes are the colour of dehydrated urine. He appears radioactive.

He looks up at us relaxed and curious. I notice posters of superheros on his walls. I cannot hold in my impulse, “WOW, are you The Incredible Hulk?” I ask. He reaches under the blanket of his bed and pulls out two giant foam Hulk fists. I guess I wasn't the first one to come up with that thought. I then myself turn into a superhero and we mouth off a little. Oh, it’s on! Let the superhero fight begin.

Josh is very good at playing. He knows it's just a game, unlike some other 6 year olds who actually try to hurt us from time to time. We fight in slow motion, with pillows, paper balls, syringes filled with water, blankets, imaginary powers, the works. Of course, The Incredible Hulk is stronger that Dr Pédalo on every level. Josh sometimes gets a little too mobile and gets yanked back by the pick-line tubes attached to the machines by his bedside.

The staff and mom are watching with delight, cheering Josh on. Then, suddenly, Josh stops, looks at his mom and urgently points at the table. Mom instinctively reaches and hands him his puke bowl. Josh painfully, breathlessly, regurgitates multicoloured bile/mucus. This goes on for a while. We stand at the foot of his bed, helpless and motionless. We look at the nurse rubbing his back apologetically. She gives us a look of “it's ok, don't worry”.

Josh finishes, mom wipes his mouth and nose, he then immediately puts on his Hulk fists again, looks up at me in defiance and throws a right hand. I hesitantly go flying into the couch. I turn to mom for reassurance. With one look, she tells me that the fun he's having is worth the pain and vomit. Round two! Fight!

A few minutes later, same scenario, point, bowl, pain, puke, wipe. I can't help but to apologize this time. The nurse tells us that it’s best it comes out anyways. Mom seconds that and tells us it sometimes happens when he's not having fun, no apologies needed.

Josh finishes me off with his superpowers. He needs to rest now. We wrap it up, I swear revenge and we start walking out. Josh exclaims “Wait! You can't leave yet. You're clowns, you have to tell me a joke...”

# 10
Putting on the Nose.

I love putting on the nose. It's so therapeutic.

I often get to work with lot's on my mind. Home renovations pending, contract offers to do and send, scheduling problems to fix, tenants not paying, sick sleepless kids at home, a to-do list getting longer and longer, etc... I get dressed chatting with my partner and then, the big moment, I put on the nose and instantly, all of my personal issues disappear.

As soon as the nose is on, my mind goes blank and my focus shifts to others. It's one of the principal rules of my clowning technique. Forget the head, do not think, do. Of course there needs to be some kind of filter. I can't follow all of my impulses. That's the actors job. It's like there are three people present when I work. First, the clown, then the actor and finally, behind it all, me, simply a spectator.

When I hit the halls of the hospital, it's all about rhythms, music, joy and others. One of my current personal artistic challenges is staying fully in character for my entire shift. I have the bad habit (and the ability) to switch from full clown to actor real easily. Bad habit. Even if I'm not interacting with anyone, the image from down the hall is not the same if I fall in and out of character. My stance, actions and energy is different. I find that keeping a rhythm in my head or out loud helps me. I need to stay focused.

When I'm feeling down, my job is a constant reminder that the superficial things in my life are really not so bad. Health is everything. Some of these unfortunate people have great challenges ahead of them. Sometimes linked to a terrible past as well. Many of them have gloomy futures in the best case scenarios. And some don't make it at all. Some lose long, strenuous battles, some succumb to quick mysterious illnesses, there are chronic diseases, compound complications and the traumas, where life changes in a split second. The many bills I have to pay then seem insignificant.

They call it therapeutic clowning. Who knew the therapy was for me as well.



I see a 6 year old latino boy in physiotherapy. He's accompanied by his grandparents who are here visiting and only speak spanish. The boy is practicing sitting up on his own and reaching for objects above his head. I ask for a high five. The boy lifts his arm with some effort and hits my hand which sends me flying onto the physio table across from us. He bursts out laughing. “Aye aye aye aye aye! Muy fuerte!”

I repeat and vary, the boy laughs as much every time. I put my hands higher, further and test both arms. The physio is pleased to see him having so much fun doing his exercises, the grand-parents are visibly grateful and the boy is having a blast sending a clown flying across the room with his new found super powers. “Hasta la proxima.” We leave. Another success.

Filling out our report at the end of the day, I look over the files and see a boys name that I hadn't seen in a while; Juan. I ask my partner about how he’s doing. She tells me that it was the boy we saw in physiotherapy. “What? No way!” my jaw drops “It can't be?”, my eyes widen and goosebumps creep up my body.

The last mental image I have of Juan was a couple months ago. His mother cradling him like a newborn in their hospital room chair. Mommy is very tired and holding on to her last ounce of courage. Juan is motionless as usual. Leg and arm braces give him the only rigidity he has left.

I visit him regularly, my visits are often geared towards mommy or daddy, who are always in need of a little humour and support. When baby sister is there, hours on end, in a room where the lights are always dimmed, the energy low and her big brother lies motionless in bed, I take her out and play with her for a while.

Juan's family had just moved to Canada a few months ago. Daddy had landed a great job and the family was excited about this new opportunity. Since they arrived in June, Juan's parents had signed him up in a summer camp to help him make friends. Not even a week into the camp, Juan was found motionless, face down in a pond.

He was rushed to ICU where they managed to resuscitate him. The prognostic was bleak. He was in a very deep coma and there was very little cerebral activity. Days passed and nothing changed.

The big questions soon came up. To unplug or not to unplug? As a parent, hearing things like “Even if his condition were to get better, your son will never be the same again.” or “If he gets better, he will never be able to lead a normal life” or “If we manage to save him, you will have to take care of him for the rest of your life.” There seemed to be a lot of pressure from the surrounding environment to just “let him go in peace.”

The family never surrendered. They never gave up hope. They fought.

And miraculously, they Won.

I have to admit that I was of the ones who didn't think it possible either. After months of coma and a near vegetative state, after constant parental love, support and nourishment, I saw a normal 6 year old boy with some motor skill difficulties. I had visited the boy often, I had play wrestled his limp body, sang to him, told him stories and yet didn't even recognize him a couple months later. The same face, the same age, the same country of origin, I never made the association. I never thought it possible.

I'm glad I was wrong.

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The Warrior

In our intervention plan meeting with physios, nurses, psychologists and doctors, we discuss the patients and their rehabilitation. We come to the case of Cedrick, a 13 year old boy who attempted suicide by jumping off the Jacques Cartier bridge onto Notre-Dame. He survived, obviously. He's in really bad shape and has to relearn how to walk, eat and function. He's very depressed and won't open up to anybody. The staff and psychologists don't know what to do with him anymore. I have never met him.

As for usual, I try to store this information far in the back of my mind, not to let it influence my work as a clown too much. My partner and I walk into the physiotherapy room. There are 3 kids, a little girl who just had back surgery for a scoliosis, a 15 year old boy who broke his neck and is now paraplegic from a minor hockey hit and a boy in a wheel chair with his head hung low. I know the girl, the hockey player but not the boy in the wheelchair. His legs, arms and face are covered in scars. His mom is arguing with the physiotherapist. She sees us walk in and waves us away right away. “Hmmmm, possibly an overprotective mom” I think to myself.

I go to the young girl and start doing exercises with her. We've been practicing our synchronized swimming routine for a while now. It's a way to make her therapy more fun. My partner plays music on her guitar to our “routine” and I pretend to exert myself to lift my legs, arms and do abs in a synchronicity with her. Telling her that if we keep training this hard, we will surely make the Olympics someday.

I see the boy look up at me. In the middle of his mother's argument about how to go about her child's therapy, her phone rings. She rapidly pulls it out of her pocket, answers and walks out of the room. Here's my chance, I approach the boy confidently. I get a better look at the multiple scars. First thing that comes to my mind I say, “Wow, look at those scars. You must be a Warrior”.

The boy sits up. “Wow, this one is awesome” I say pointing at his tibia. “Check this one out” he says as he pulls up his shorts, revealing a huge scar where his femur pierced through the skin. “Nice” I answer. I examine his scars and show him some of mine. He’s not impressed but plays along. I introduce myself and he responds “My name is Cedrick.”

With a ridiculous costume, a confident yet non-imposing attitude and one simple sentence, I am in. We start chatting, even laughing. His mom comes back into the room to see me laughing with her son. Her jaw drops. I sense her torn between gratefulness and bitterness. Her ego seems to be defied.

I help him through the parallel bars, where he takes his first steps since his “accident”. I encourage him with warrior cries, Rocky quotes and play dramatic music on my harmonica. The physio is happy, the mother is happy and the boy is transformed and happy. We finish the session and he asks me to come visit him in his room later. The mother looks at me in an apologetic way. I smile.

I meet the boy in his room and he asks us to be alone. I ask my partner to leave, she obliges. He wants to close the door to be in complete privacy but I don’t, my principals and our deontology code don't permit. I tell him that we can whisper, far from the door. Then, as if I was a figment of his imagination, a character that doesn't really exist, he starts sharing personal things that I never probed to get. He tells me all.

It must be the fact that clowns clash so much with the environment. Our colours, our attitudes, our characters possibly makes the kids think that we are imaginary, or that we can be trusted or I don't know what. I hesitate for a moment and then direct myself to the psychologists' and social-worker's office to share the sought after information.



The Parade.

Maëlle is 7. We have been seeing each other twice a week for the last year now. A few months ago, she survived a bone marrow transplant. She is radiant. Her eyes so big, eager and full of life, properly accentuated by her little bald head. We've become really close. The clowns even had special permission to visit her in her pre and post-operation isolation room, with gowns, masks and gloves, first thing in the morning, before we see anyone else and are sure to have clean, germ free uniforms.

Today is her last treatment. Her parents and the staff have told us over and over how important we are to her yet there is really no need to tell us. I can see by the enthusiasm Maëlle has upon our arrival and her desperate attempts to keep us a little longer when we have to go.

The games are simple. It usually revolves around her and I playing tricks on my partner, tying her down with tape and decorating her face with washable markers. She is super excited that this is her last day at the hospital but deeply saddened by the prospect of not seeing us anymore. When a child doesn't want to leave the hospital or is excited to be readmitted because of my character, I'm reminded of the importance of my work.

We accompany her to the room where she will receive her last shot. She asks us to dance ballet. I play music, dance and bump into every imaginable object in the room. I gracefully kick my legs up high and my partner pretends to receive them in the face. She stumbles around getting knocked out repeatedly. Maëlle laughs full-heartedly. Mom and Dad cry. I see so much in their tears. The long journey. The difficult battles. The sleepless nights. The prayers. The fear. The longing for laughter and play. The longing for normality. And now the victory. The relief. The war won.

The shot is administered. Maëlle doesn't flinch, it's not her first shot. And then, an explosion of emotion released in a shout of joy and an applause from the staff, clowns and family. I play loud festive music. I run to the front desk and ask them to use the intercom. They see my excitement and know. They hand me the phone without hesitation and press the intercom button. “Maëlle has just received her final treatment! She has defeated cancer!” The whole department erupts in applause and cheer.

The final parade begins. The staff all come to kiss and hug the family. We play music, blow bubbles and accompany her out of the treatment room. There is a standing ovation waiting for her in the waiting room. Dozens of families going through the same process, longing for their turn to parade.

We leave the department and parade through the halls of the hospital playing, singing, laughing and announcing the good news to all. We get to the front lobby. We finish our song. I give her a big hug. She might not know my real name and it doesn't matter. I know Dr Pédalo will be a huge part of her life forever. I take the sincere love and gratitude from the family. I point to the door and say, “Now get out! I never want to see your face around here again!!! Unless you come for a visit... ;-)”


First day in Pediatrics .

It's my first day in Pediatrics as a clown. We're in a new, state of the art centre that has hardly been opened a few months. Everything is new, including the staff. This is a centre where parents who have handicapped children can drop them off for a rest. A week-end or a week, it's great for the families and for the children. They are equipped for palliative care here. They weren't going to take on a case for a few more months since they are still getting the place up and running. A five year old child comes in for a week-end getaway and his state severely deteriorated while here. The staff and the family decide that it is time for that child to be taken off life support.

The tension is very high. I am already stressed about my day ahead of me but now my worries multiply. The staff asks us to distract the other children and to be as low key as possible. My partner has been clowning for a long time and knows the child and his family very well. She asks if we can pay our respects. The nurse in charge is taken aback and promptly answers “no”. To my surprise, my partner insists and asks the nurse to ask the family anyhow. The nurse seems displeased but abides. She goes into the room, comes back and tells us that the family will see us. I get even more stressed.

We are in the playroom with a little cardiac boy who is jumping off the couch onto a mat. He loves my slapstick. I try to calm him best I can but to no avail. In this high energy moment, the nurse walks in and says the family is ready to see us. We follow her down the dark hall into the last room. It's a big, clean, spacious hotel style bedroom, lot's of windows, private washroom and a king sized bed. The boy is lying in the middle of the enormous bed. He is blue. The parents are lying on either side of him, talking to him softly and petting his hair. Aunts and Uncles are sitting on the edges of the bed weeping softly. Grandma is on a chair beside the bed sobbing loudly. The sight is beautiful in a poetic, tragic way.

The boy is not breathing. I think him dead. Then suddenly a gasp of air. Whoa. I stare at him with all the love and empathy I have. A long time passes and I once again think him dead. “Gasp”. I have no words to describe my state of being at this point. My partner takes off her clown nose. I do the same. I need to collect my thoughts. Ok. The condition of this boy is in no way my fault. The family has allowed us to share the most intimate moment I can ever imagine. I'm fine. We approach the boy calmly. The parents give us space to touch and address him by his sides. “Gasp”. My partner has known this boy his entire life. This is the first time I meet him. What to say? What to do?

I brush his hair softly. Through the sobs, I softly whisper in his ear, “Courage. This is just part of your Journey.”

We thank the family. Exit the room. Hug and hold each other for a while. We regroup and start heading back down the hall. As we get to the end, ready to bring joy and laughter to other children, there is a loud, visceral explosion of cries from the room. That is it. He is gone. We take another moment and back we go to the cardiac kid and I continue the slapstick I had started. My partner takes a moment to pray.

A few moments later, the family exits the room. They are not in the state I expect them to be. They come and thank us again. They seem lighter. The sobbing grandmother is jovial and even cracks a joke. I'm confused but follow suit. I end up proposing to her. Everyone is joyous. Then I understand that this family morned their child while facing his eminent death and that after a peek of emotion when his final breath was taken, the burden was instantly starting to fade.

(picture not linked to story)

Credit: Rémi Coignard-Friedman


“Do you know where you are?”

I work in residences on wednesdays. We use a different approach in these centres, as opposed to in pediatrics and general hospitals. We visit elders and other people that reside there (which is anyone over 18 who is not autonomous). This particular centre has a palliative care unit. The staff is hesitant to let us into this ward, understandably so. We convince them that we are professionals and we know what to do and especially what not to do.

We enter the ward, no music, no noise and receptors fully open to everything happening around us. Things are quite quiet, people are somnolent, the stress and tension is high. We get to an open door. There is a man standing in front of a wall which is covered with pictures. He doesn't see nor hear us. He's in his 50s and looks fit. I look at my partner, I can tell she's ready just by her look and so I knock. The man, a little startled, turns to us. He looks very confused by the sight before him.

I ask, “Can we come in?”
He answers, “Do you know where you are?”
I say, “Yes sir. Can we come in?”
He answers very dramatically “You are in the place where people come to die!”
I calmly answer, “Yes sir. Palliative care. We know. May we come in?”

A little baffled by my answer, he nods, yes. So we walk in, introduce ourselves and ask to see his pictures. Bullseye. He proudly shows us the pictures of his family, his life, his adventures. He quickly gets very emotional when talking about his family and how he doesn't want to leave them behind. We open our hearts to him and empathize best we can. We talk about love, luck and life. We then slowly and very respectively start lightening up the mood, we accelerate the rhythm, I say something silly, I get a laugh, we share a laugh and finally end up cheery and joyous. We pay our tributes and let him know that we will come back to knock on his door the following week.

Comes the following week and we never make it to his door. As we move towards the unit, he is waiting for us at the entrance. He is now in a wheelchair. (We had already heard about the impact of our visit with him from the staff before our shift but it was a mesmerizing sight to see him there, so excited about our rendez-vous.) We spend a good amount of time with him. We pick up where we left off. I can tell he's in a different “phase” mentally. We play music, share stories and emotions and he sees us off.

The week after he is not waiting for us at the entrance. His room is dark and he is lying in bed. I play soft, slow rhythm-ed music on my harmonica. He doesn't wake up. We stay with him for a while. We tell him stories with picturesque sceneries inspired from his life story. We hug him, hold his hands and kiss his cheeks. Then we see him off.

The week after that, the pictures are down, the room has been cleaned and someone else is lying in the bed.



Auditions are fun. The wait is not. Getting a scene or an act ready, developing the character, learning the lines, the movements, the intentions and then presenting it to people I get much joy out of. Once it's done though comes my least favourite part, “the wait”. Depending on how badly I want the gig, it can be excruciatingly painful. I sometimes go through the whole audition in my head with a fine-toothed comb, dissecting it thoroughly and wondering. Making my own personal judgement on things. “This was good, that was bad, that was a mistake, I'm sure they liked this…”

I sometimes become insomniac, thinking about it all night, I don't want to be away from my phone in case it rings and I miss it, I really get obsessed. The worse part is, most of the time, they only call the people who got the job so if that wasn't me, I have to eventually accept that the phone won't be ringing on my own. I've learned from experience to come to that conclusion sooner rather than later. It's easier that way and if the phone does ring and I had given up hope, all the better.

I know this is not unique to performers. Any job interview would be the same. It's just that this is something that can happen weekly to me. I have gotten used to it to some degree yet some jobs I want more than others and I just can't control these emotions. Now come on phone! Ring already!!!



When Dads Cry.

My clown partner and I walk into a 16 year old's hospital room. He had been recommended to us by his doctors and his mother had practically begged us to come visit him a few minutes earlier. He's a returning patient that overcame leukaemia 12 years ago and is now muted by strange soars in his mouth and down his throat.

The parents look tired but they front good spirits. The dad is a tough looking construction worker. He has a big red beard, huge hands, tattoos (Tasmanian Devil/snake and dagger style) and a Grateful Dead t-shirt. We decide to play a song for him. My partner starts "You are my sunshine" on her ukulele and I try to join in on my harmonica but I keep missing my cue. My partner gets mad, I play dumb and the family is laughing harder and harder. At a crescendo of laughs we finally get it going. My partner holds the rhythm and sings while I blow on my harmonica. I have to admit that we play this song often and we are getting pretty damn good at it. A verse later, I notice the dad out of the corner of my eye. He is taking off his glasses and wiping his tears. I don't want to draw attention to it by looking at him but such a powerful sight is hard to ignore. These families are often extremely stressed and in vulnerable positions, it feels nice to be the catalyst to let these emotions surface.

A little later, we walk into a room where the 3 year old boy is clinging to his dad and the dad seems to be clinging onto the kid. First we try music and bubbles, which is the softest approach but the boy hides his face in his father's neck. We get an opening with “bye-bye” so as the kid is watching, I walk into the door. A smile. I repeat and get a giggle. “Alright” I think, “I'm on to something”. The more I run into walls and doors the more the boy laughs. The more the boy laughs, the more the dad tries to fight off the tears. He is holding his child in one arm and discreetly wiping his eyes with the other as so the boy doesn't see him.

This scene affects me more than usual. I have to fight to hold back tears myself and to keep a smile on my face as I bump into everything around me. Maybe it's the fact that the father is about my age and the kid is about my oldest daughter's age. Maybe it's the beauty of the scene. Maybe it's the paradox.

We enter a room where a 15 year old, polyhandicapped teen is sitting in his wheelchair. His father is there. We improvise some music, I use his wheelchair and then his body for percussion. The boy starts laughing, the dad starts crying. The more the boy laughs, the more the dad cries. We finish our intervention, say goodbye and proudly leave. As we exit the next room, I hear the father talking to another parent across the hall and he says "It's the first time I ever hear my son laughing..."

Dr Pédalo
Typical work week.

I love the fact that my job changes all the time. Wednesday I dress up as Jules-Émile, a 1930s Bohemian, to go visit people in a seniors residence. I charm and reminisce, play harmonica and dance, invent crazy stories and listen to theirs, touch and love them. Then on Thursday I dress up as Dr Pédalo and visit a children’s hospital. I visit kids and families and try to give them a sense of empowerment. I bring an imaginary world to the often too cold and hostile environment of the hospital and try to bring the kids into this imaginary world to escape reality for a few moments. I bring fun, laughter and play to those in dire need. Friday, mime class in the morning, audition for a commercial (to which I am getting ready for my call-back today) then rehearsal with my new partner. Saturday begins with a parade in a mall for the arrival of Santa Clause. The parade is in Trois-Rivières, which is where I’m from, so every fifth person seems to be someone I know and haven’t seen in over 20 years. Then it’s a family show with my new stage partner Jamye LaLuna which went super well considering that we had never done a run through. Jamye had been really sick so we just discussed what we were going to do. A quick stop to two of my tenants that haven’t paid their rent yet and then off to the Bain Mathieu to perform a Burlesque number in Bang Bang Prohibition Cabaret. That finishes very late but I must get to bed because not only will my kids wake me up early the next morning, I need to be in good shape to give my Trickster workshop to the 10 Native kids that are part of my program. From 9:30 to 5 pm I work with Native kids that are in foster homes in Montreal and we are putting on a play in a few weeks. Monday is an all day Jovia workshop and so on and so forth…
I love my job!


I am a Clown.

I’m an ex-national team canoer who recycled himself as a clown. I basically traded playing for playing. Playing sports to playing comedy. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I’ve always been a clown but only started learning the art and the technique of it in 2006. I’ve since done many workshops with great mentors such as Francine Côté, Sue Morrison, James Keylon, Roch Jutras, Yves Dagenais and many others. I’ve organized and participated in many projects and thus learning from my peers. I’m very fortunate that I get to perform in hospitals and residences every week with Dr Clown, now called Jovia. It’s a way for me to give back to those in need using the art I love so and also have stability which can be hard to come by for artists.

I could call myself an actor, a performer, an artist or many other things but I like to call myself a clown. I’m on a mission to restore the image of the clown here. I don’t wear a wig. I don’t wear make-up. I don’t sculpt balloons. I’m not a look or a cliché. I work with real emotions, my physicality, absurdness, rhythms, all in a unique and creative way. I’m expressive, simple and open. I put myself below all and never diminish anyone. I empower and move audiences emotionally. That’s what I do. I am not Ronald McDonald.