Some of us have jobs. Clown Doctors have callings.

For David Symons, Artistic Director & Clown Doctor performer at The Humour Foundation, that calling started at aged four. To be fair it wasn’t a calling to be a Clown Doctor, as no one knew what one was at the time.  But it was a calling to perform, to entertain and provide joy, and to see the incredible responses he could elicit from those around him.  Something he initially taught himself by studying people.

Curiosity is what eventually enticed David into Clown Doctoring. Formally trained in performance and directing at both Melbourne University and the Victorian College of the Arts, David had a genuine curiosity to learn the place performance had in a medical setting. 

That was before the Patch Adams movie was released in 1998, starring the late great actor Robin Williams, and at a time when the last thing you would expect to see in the corridors and wards of a hospital was a Clown Doctor! People simply didn’t know what they were.

David’s alter ego, Dr Tickle was born out of making mistakes. He is cheeky, enthusiastic, and prone to getting things wrong. He needs a lot of help – to get into a room, to find the magic ball that has disappeared, to remember his own name.

Dr Tickle likes to tickle people’s funny bones. He loves to play, to turn hospital rooms into castles and hospital beds into pirate ships. He wears a pineapple suit, a pair of mismatched shoes and carries a collection of moustaches in his green felt hat. He says Good Morning no matter what time of day it is and collects autographs on his roll of toilet paper.

“It is truly humbling to work as a Clown Doctor,” says David.

“People often comment that it must be hard to work with sick and injured kids. But usually you feel better at the end of a Clown Doctor shift than before it. As a Clown Doctor it is your job to take great interest in other people, to make real connections with them, empower kids, and then to provoke an uplifting interaction.

“In taking a genuine interest in people, it also makes the job challenging.  Such as bearing witness to the inconsolable (and often silent and heroic) grief of a parent who knows so much more about the prognosis of their son or daughter than the child does.  There is also the challenge of walking into a room and really not knowing what to do. It’s at these times that we rely on the essential qualities of the clown – curiosity, wonder, vulnerability and play.

“For every challenging moment though, there is a magical one. I am inspired by the capability of our performers committed to this work –  experienced artists who can transform the mood of a teenager who has attempted suicide, who can bring love and laughter to families going through the most traumatic time of their lives, who can bring people together in surprising and uplifting moments of shared humanity.

“It is not an easy job, but it is a privileged one because it asks you to be your best self – to engage with great warmth, energy and compassion – to do what we call “open-heart surgery”. And the most wonderful reward is that you get to feel that positivity you offer, back in spades.  The joy is amplified.