‘It’s a clichéd phrase, but laughter is the best medicine,’ says Dubai-based comedian and performance artist Mina Liccione. ‘Laughter really, genuinely lifts your spirit and can help you heal much faster.’
Originally from the US, Mina has a performing arts background, previously working on Broadway and in Cirque du Soleil. After arriving in Dubai three years ago, she met Emirati Ali Al Sayed, also a keen dramatist and comic; together they formed local theatre group Dubomedy and became the driving force behind non-profit comedy troupe Clowns Who Care. This community volunteer project encourages local people to give up their own time to visit disability centres and hospitals with one aim: to make people laugh.
Working on the same principle as revolutionary American doctor Patch Adams, who promotes alternative medicine and laughter therapy, Mina and Ali believe humour and play is essential to physical and emotional health. Through their improvisation classes, circus skills sessions and drama groups, the duo train people to be Clowns Who Care. They’re organising a local drive for volunteers in February, as well as a free open-day performance workshop so people can get involved in the cause.
According to Mina, medical centres across the world now offer laughter therapy and ‘clown doctor’ services. ‘It’s definitely becoming more common,’ she explains, although she adds that clown comedy in hospitals is serious business. Clowns Who Care’s performers are conscious that not just anyone can wander into schools and hospitals and start performing. They are often confronted with highly emotional situations, which need to be judged on a case-by-case basis. ‘We have a lot of integrity and we have experience – we haven’t just come off the street,’ she says. ‘If we visit a hospital during a particularly rough week, we may dress in character as doctors in white coats, with name tags and clipboards. We do more subtle humour by calling ourselves Dr Giggles or Nurse Josephine.’ Depending on the scenario, the performers may remove their coats to reveal a clown outfit. Other routines include characters such as ‘Charlene’, based on Charlie Chaplin-style slapstick, or ‘Busty’, inspired by Buster Keaton.
If children’s spirits are already up, the response is electric, says Ali. ‘We may go to a hospital and just dance and have fun. Often the kids start jumping all over the place, while others are smiling and laughing.’
The troupe believes art and performance can also have positive effects on education and personality. Gita* has an autistic son who enjoyed a visit from the clowns. ‘He was drawn to them, and his confidence has been boosted as a direct result,’ she explains. ‘He remembers the games they played and the jokes he learned, which is a huge step.’
Gulshan* has a daughter with Dravet Syndrome, a type of epilepsy, and is a big fan of the initiative. ‘I think everyone needs their own dose of a good clowning day,’ she says. ‘Clowns Who Care is a well-balanced outfit that is of immense benefit to our community. It really helps my daughter to unwind and relax.’
This month, Clowns Who Care is calling for more volunteers so they can make a real difference. Want to show you care and learn comedy skills to boot? The free full-day workshop will take place on February 25, while regular improvisation and circus skills workshops take place weekly at venues across Dubai, including Ductac at Mall of the Emirates and Kadomz Studio in Dubai Marina Mall.
Dhs1,000 for a nine-week block of sessions, plus a show. For info, call 050 440 0994, see www.dubomedy.com or visit the Clowns Who Care page on Facebook.
The health benefits of having a giggle
• If you laugh your hardest, it can work more than 400 muscles including the heart, diaphragm, abs and (surprisingly) the spleen.
• Laughing aids digestion, reduces fatty acids and decreases pain.
• The action of laughing massages organs including the liver, kidneys and ovaries, improving balance. It also fuels the blood with electromagnetic energy, boosting circulation and loosening the neck.
• Laughing 100 times is equivalent to doing about 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise.
• However, remember that laughter is no substitute for seeing a qualified doctor.