What’s All This Talk About the NEED for Laughter?

Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist, postulates that across all cultures and societies, humans all have the same needs. And unlike Maslow, Max-Neef argues that these needs are not hierarchical, or in other words, the need for food is just as important as the need for affection, because if one is valued higher than the other, poor outcomes will follow. We recognize that food, water, shelter, and security are vital, but we believe that joy, happiness, and laughter rank very high on that scale, even when they forgotten by those who suffer.south africa. two girls laughing and wearing the red nose

Refugees leave behind everything to seek refuge because everyone has the right to live. It is not ideal to travel to lands unknown and place yourself at the mercy of others.

For those thrust into prolonged, life-threatening situations, each day adds thick layers of stresses that pile and compress like a fault line. It’s the lack of release; the inability to blow off steam; the monotony of daily existence; the familiar routine that has evaporated and the madness of it all that often brings terrible anxiety.

Interrupting the flow of this viciousness is imperative. A small dose of relaxation and a spoonful of play go a long way in feeding the human spirit and helping a person face another day.

Being empathic of people in crisis is about appreciating the desire for pteen boy juggles three ballshysiological, mental, and spiritual fulfillment. What happens in the long minutes of the day as refugees wait for the next unknown move in their life? How do they find the quiet solitude to process the hardships they have already faced, before encountering the next set of

Moments of release come in the form of play. Clowns Without Borders artists use humor to alleviate the dreadful suspense of hardship. Children watch a show, interact with the clowns, and then continue to mimic the antics after the show finishes. Listen
to what happened in South Africa some years ago.

CWB-USA and CWB South Africa ran a huge three-month tour of refugee camps and local villages in South Africa back in 2005. SOS Children’s Village was our primary partner. The clown troupe spent their time performing shows and held informal skill building workshops.

We returned the following year to continue our work with SOS. Everywhere our artists went, the kids repeated the acts the clowns had performed for them the year prior! The kids, captivated by the shows, had absorbed what they saw and did during their time spent with the clowns, and then replayed it.  Long-term mechanisms for relief exist in playfulness. This phenomenon has happened in other country locations across the globe. It is an indicator of the positive impact of our mission. Or, as Emmanuel from the Malakal VISTA team (Project South Sudan 2017) says about us, “It’s asouth sudan 2017ctivities like this that make me proud to do my job.” Emmanuel is a lawyer who has been to Washington DC to speak to Congress about the situation in South Sudan.

The need for humor and laughter is real. For us, it’s the best way we can help the world, especially those in suffering.


Illustration: Rebeka Ryvola

Need Your Daily Exercise? Try Clowning.

By Guest Blogger and Performer, Molly Siskin 


There is no exhaustion like the one that comes at the end of a long day hard at work in clown training. Clowning has a particular way of exercising performers both physically and emotionally because in many ways it is both an art and sport.

You might not immediately think of clowns at athletes, but traditionally circus clowns would often perform alongside the acrobats in the troupe, executing some of the same skills but with a unique twist that only a clown can bring. Clowning is a very physical form of theatre and requires a high level of physical dexterity, awareness, and control. Additionally, the long hours and fast-paced schedule of a clowning career (particularly in the circus), require stamina and strength. Modern clown training is easily comparable to physical theatre or modern dance, both practices that utilize body movement to tell a story or convey a mood, and may even use similar exercises, games, and movement-improvisational work. The parallels between clown and dance have not gone unnoticed. Charlie Chaplin was once called “the greatest ballet dancer that ever lived” when he received his honorary Oscar. The ability to communicate a story with one’s body requires nuanced control of your body and facial muscles. Physical awareness and expressiveness take time, sweat, and practice. For some, that can mean a rigorous regiment of daily training to gain strength and physical ability. Famous Russian ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov once said, “Get used to pain. It’s part of a dancer’s life.”

Three clowns "flopping." Lesvos, Greece, 2016.
Three clowns “flopping.” Lesvos, Greece, 2016.

One way that clowning differs from most dance is what Clown Theorist Jacques LeCoq called “the flop” or the moment the clown fails. If the clown is attempting an acrobatic stunt or a beautifully executed dance move, the flop often constitutes a fall or intentional use of incorrect form to complete an intricate or dangerous physical task. Falling and failing are fundamental parts of clowning, and although they appear to be chaos, they are approached very carefully. Just as in the principles of stage combat or stunt work, when falling, it is important to be in total control before you can safely appear to be out of control. Falling can take practice and time to perfect. A long day of falling is sure to leave a clown-in-training tired and sporting a new bruise or two.

In an era of more subtle, theatrical clowning gaining in prominence, not all clown routines are equally physically performative and taxing. However, clowning also takes a high level of emotional energy. Many teachers continue to develop LeCoq’s clown theories of finding each performer’s personal clown, following creative impulse, and staying strongly connected to an audience using the partial mask of a clown nose to both hide and reveal the performer who wears it. This methodology can leave the performer feeling very personally vulnerable, meanwhile staying connected to the audience can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. Many training programs emphasize honesty in clowning. Even when the clowning experience is not traumatic, being a proxy for a whole audience and honestly, openly, and physically expressing one’s experience can be exhausting.

Find Your Funny graduates.
Find Your Funny graduates.

At the end of a long day, a clown-in-training may feel like they have run a marathon, fallen off a chair, and attended a particularly moving therapy session. Though this may be exhausting, the feeling of using your whole body and emotional range, particularly when it is working towards the goal of laughter and joy, is particularly satisfying.

It is the personal satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, and cathartic release of emotion that are hallmarks of the workshops facilitated by Clowns Without Borders performers. Whether you are attending a workshop like “Find Your Funny” at the Omega Institute in New York, or are a refugee living in a refugee camp for the indefinite long-term, the workshop principles remain the same. People are encouraged to learn new physical skills. They are encouraged to build community with others through simple moments of joy that build into exuberant laughter. It’s like remembering a great secret you once forgot: That people can and do stay connected when bonds are formed in laughter.

Are We Allowed to Laugh?

By Tim Cunningham, CWB-USA Volunteer


I was invited to participate in a very last minute and end-of-year capacity building project with our friends in Turkey who are on their way to forming a new chapter of Clowns Without Borders in Turkey– Sınır Tanımayan Palyaçolar. I arrived the night of December 30th to Güray’s neighborhood, which had not had electricity for two days because of heavy winds. He walked me through the quiet streets of Kadıköy, the ancient neighborhood just on the Asian side of Istanbul. The streets were not quiet only because there was no power—this was a Friday night, the night before New Year’s Eve and we were in the bar district—people had just not been going out. Güray’s friend’s met us at a candlelit bar, one of the few that were open and immediately began cracking jokes about bombings, terror attacks and how no one came to Turkey anymore to visit.

“So what’s wrong with you?” One asked me.

At some point during our second beer the power came back on, the bar came to life with light and sound, but still, not many other people came in that night.

The next day, Güray, Ecenur, Melike, and I met at his apartment to plan an afternoon show for a nearby hospital. Though strong performers, none of them had extensive experience working in hospitals. We planned and rehearsed for three hours and then, in costume, took a cab to the Siyami Ersek Hastanesi, a cardiac hospital. There we were first greeted by a cat that walked from the hospital lobby to rub up against my leg—for those of you who have not been to Istanbul, there are rumors that there are more cats than citizens here; and all cats, those domesticated and those living in the streets are treated like royalty. An anesthesia resident came down from the acute care unit and brought us upstairs for our show.

We had planned, well hoped, for a large room with space to run around and maybe even high ceilings do to some juggling. When are we allowed to laughWe got neither. We were brought into a small playroom with probably the capacity of about 20 people. It was not what we expected; it was perfect.

Children trickled in with parents, some in wheelchairs with central line IV’s coming out of their necks, a gray tone to their skin. One child had two surgical drains pulling bright red blood from his body. As a nurse, I took for granted that situation is “normal” for a cardiac care unit, however, for the other clowns, they had not seen anything quite like it before. A group of five or so mothers then came in with infants; they sat together, and though I doubt that their relatively newborn children will remember any of the show, the mothers laughed heartily throughout the experience.

We opened our show with some quiet music, and when one of the audience members, a child who was maybe five years old, took the stage and began to belly dance to the delight of the rest of the audience, we took that as permission to increase the volume and energy—the show was underway. We played for about 30 minutes, some magic, some juggling, different ways to present and highlight kids in the room and then the four of us split up in the room to give each child direct and undivided attention.

One child, who looked particularly sick, stood for most of the performance. She moved slowly perhaps because of her disease condition and also the multiple IV lines coming from her body, but she refused to sit while we played. She helped me juggle by tossing balls to me when I purposefully dropped them in front of her and she also instigated the disappearance of the magic handkerchief by blowing on the hand in which I had stuffed it (the handkerchief, after vanishing into thin air found its way to the 17-year-old patient in the back of the room and came out from under the collar of his shirt). She played boldly with us and left the room with a huge smile when the performance was over saying teşekkür (thank you).

After the show, the anesthesiologist who coordinated our visit escorted us to a couple of rooms to visit some kids who were unable to leave their beds; she told us along the way that this performance and time at the hospital was far more than what she could have imagined. Her surprise met our surprise when she then told us that the young girl who juggled with me was a patient that had been extremely depressed as of recent, so much so that the doctor did not think that the girl would even come to the show.

We work in a world of surprise, always as clowns and maybe almost always as humans.

That night Güray and I celebrated New Years with a few friends at a neighbor’s home. Just one hour and 15 minutes into 2017 we were met with another surprise, the mass shooting at a night club on the other side of the Bosphorus River from us. We were immediately on our phones texting friends and families, reading news reports, quiet and sad. Eyes wide at the news and hearts sunken low. We knew we were safe. Well, thought we were safe at least.

January 1st was somber except for a few jokes about terrorism. Too soon, I thought, but then reflecting on the fact that this country, since the horrid suicide attack in Suruç in July of 2015, has seen multiple acts of terrorism, I wondered if the threshold for jokes about the violence decreases each time an attack occurs.

When are we allowed to laughThe second part of this short project was offering clown workshops to Turkish clowns who had worked with CWB in the past or who were interested in volunteering for CWB in upcoming projects. We had a total of 15 participants, and for two days we explored character, status, clown choreography and our relationships to objects and playfulness. Though we were practicing and studying clown, the mood was frequently measured. A police car parked outside of the studio during the last few minutes of our workshop. It kept its sirens on and what sense of play was in the room was quickly transformed to an uneasiness until the vehicle slowly drove away.

There are fewer jobs available in Turkey now as the economy is weakening. There are even fewer jobs in the arts. There are drastic changes occurring in this place, many of which are a result of the attacks here and the artists are all feeling a new, uncertain squeeze. But we played hard, and we played well. We played as best we could. After the workshop, some of the artists commented that yes, they learned some new skills that they are happy to practice, but more importantly they laughed, themselves. Many said they had not laughed so well in a long time.

One artist thanked me for coming to Turkey. She said with all that is going on, people are not coming here any longer (she When are we allowed to laughdoesn’t blame them), but because of it, she expressed a sense of loneliness in this unpredictable place.

We at Clowns Without Borders support our artist friends and colleagues living throughout Turkey. We believe that everyone can laugh when the time is right. And as clowns, we recognize we cannot often predict when laughter will arise, but we strive to be ready to nourish and celebrate it when it does.

Chiapas 1998 - a clown and children

Coming Full Circle: Our 100th Project

It’s a watershed moment for Clowns Without Borders USA. Our first undertaking of 2017 is also our 100th project since our Rudi and young boy look at the red nose in Rudi's hand. celebrating our 100th projectorganizations’s founding in 1995! Therefore it is fitting that we are returning to Chiapas, Mexico, where it all began for CWB-USA. Founder Moshe Cohen began making trips to this magical part of the world to serve the people of Chiapas in CWB-USA’s nascent days.

chiapas, mexico. boy youth audience member spins a large ball on his finger. celebrating our 100th projectThe indigenous community residing in Chiapas were oppressed in poverty and brutalized by the government of the time because of the land on which they live. The region where they reside and have for hundreds of years, is rich in minerals, water, and crops such coffee and cacao, but the indigenous people are among poorest and most marginalized in Mexico. Chiapas is a jewel, but the people and region have been taken advantage of by power, politics, and trade agreements. The Zapatista Revolution began in 1994 and was the locals way of saying, ‘we want autonomy.’ They succeeded in becoming autonomous, but at significant cost.

Rudi Galindo, a long-time volunteer, professional clown, and colleague of founder Moshe Cohen, is leading the team returning Chiapas this January for CWB-USA’s 100th project. Rudi has been traveling to share levity and moments joyful play, every year for nearly two decades. He is compelled to return and give the gift of laughter and to keep a promise.

Many years ago, on a trip to Chiapas, Rudi and another volunteer, David Lichtenstein, went to a displacement camp for the indigenous people seeking escape from recent massacres at the hands of the military. It was a wet and cold January. Thick mud coated the land. Rudi and David kept falling in the muck and mire as they performed for the audience in the displacement camp. Afterward, at the show’s end, they took their noses off and collected props preparing to exit. A hyper-emotional woman came up to Rudi and spoke rapidly to him in the indigenous language. She was anxious and animated, and Rudi called for someone to translate. What the woman said impressed upon his soul forever. She exclaimed, “I’m frightened that you’re going to leave. I feel so much safer when you are here! Because everyone is laughing and at peace, so we all forgot to be afraid. Please, do not go!” It was tearful for everyone, Rudi and David included.Andres holds up a toddler boy at a late 1980s performance in Chiapas. Celebrating our 100th project

Rudi was so moved that he vowed to come back, and return he has, every year since 1995.

The Zapatista Revolution is quiet now, and while it may not be over, the guns are no longer pointed, and the people of Chiapas have found a new normal. In their autonomy, they work hard to administer government and services. They have taken the concept of education and applied it on a larger scale–both for children and adults. Human rights for all is the cornerstone of their governance. They govern by respecting the earth, each other, the woman and the child. This remarkable place is unique, and if you travel there, it seems as if you’ve left Mexico and entered a different world. It’s a place where the people look noticeably different from Mexicans and where their mannerisms, language, and culture distinguish them as indigenous. It is a place where Rudi is forever connected to the people.

Chiapas_2015_Morgan. celebrating our 100th projectWe encourage you to ally with the people of Chiapas, too. You can follow our milestone project updates, photos, and videos on our social media pages and explore with the clowns. Visit our page about Mexico to delve into the library of information about our past work in Chiapas.

Thank you for your continued support! Make a gift and help fund the team traveling to Chiapas. Share this blog!

clown shoes

How Clowns, Police, and Abraham Lincoln Intersect Social Reform

By Guest Blogger Nadiya Atkinson


The conventional image of clowns is in the Big Top circus, wearing bright clothing and entertaining the crowd. Across the history of circus, clowns have had the central role in bringing fun and humor into the dangerous stunt shows. However, clowns have not only impacted the evolution of circus into the beloved art that it is today. Some have influenced society as well, from politics to social reform.

Antanas Mockus
Antanas Mockus

Antanas Mockus was the mayor of the Bogotá, Colombia, for two terms. He is highly educated with a focus in mathematics and philosophy. During his two, two-year terms, he introduced innovative policy measures in Bogota, from voluntary taxes to cutting water usage by 40 percent solely through public education. However, he is most known for his popular initiative of replacing part of the police force with 420 mimes. Patrolling intersections, the mimes would embarrass pedestrians and drivers who broke the law, imitating their movements or loudly denouncing them with flamboyant hand gestures. Within the first month, drivers began to respect crosswalks, with pedestrians adhering to laws as well. Clowning does not only inspire laughter–it can inspire social change as well.

Clown in Bogota teaches drivers and pedestrians the safety laws of the streets.
Clown in Bogota teaches drivers and pedestrians the safety laws of the streets.

Abraham Lincoln is well known across the world, inspiring books and movies, and is considered one of the greatest U.S Presidents in history. However, not many (except for circus nerds) know of Dan Rice, one of the household names during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Rice combined circus and humor with political commentary, and was incredibly popular, coining the sayings, “one horse show” and “greatest show,” and inspired the phrase “to jump on the bandwagon,” after asking Zachary Taylor to campaign from the top of the circus bandwagon.

Dan Rice
Dan Rice

Living during the Civil War, Rice spoke to his audience, at first reprimanding Lincoln for engaging in the war, but eventually agreeing with the president, stating in a speech to his audience that African Americans “are God’s creatures, and shouldn’t belong to Jeff Davis, or any other man.” Rice ran for Senate, Congress, and President of the United States, albeit dropping out of the races. Mark Twain paid homage to him in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in the description of a circus scene, and Walt Whitman praised him in the local newspapers. He was one of the models for the beloved Uncle Sam, with his well-known goatee. By utilizing circus as a stage, Rice was able to reach a broad audience, creating a new form of theater and circus with anecdotes, witticisms, the circus arts, and political commentary.

Clowns Without Borders USA recognizes the powerful influence that clowning can have on improving the world. Although clowns are performers, through performance, the arts can create positive change in society. CWB-USA realizes the importance of theatrics and the business of play, embarking on a mission to spread laughter in areas that need it most, bettering the lives of kids and communities. And we could not make our trips without support from the community. Please consider donating to continue our goal of creating resilience in laughter.

Lesvos; children in camp

Clowns, Standing Rock, and Tribal Connections

Demonstrators at Standing Rock have been protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota since early April of this year. The numbers of protesters and police at Standing Rock have grown substantially, as have tensions and arrests. Frigid temperatures and snow have also arrived in full, adding a new level of complexity to the intense situation.

In September, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe held a rally of 500+ people to get the attention of the White House, which, combined with the well-organized protest and media coverage, may have helped. On Sunday, Federal officials announced they would not approve permits for construction of the pipeline in an area near scared burial rights and which would go underneath a dammed portion of the Missouri River. Furthermore, the Army Corps of Engineers said it would explore alternative routes for the pipeline by use of an Environmental Impact Statement. The following day, they denied a permit for construction of a critical section of the pipeline. Protesters, or “protectors” as some call themselves, had been ordered to leave their camp as of December 5. With the Army Corps of Engineer’s decision to deny the final easement to drill under the river, and DAPLs statement of intent to continue forward undeterred, and it will be interesting to see how this story unfolds.

Several professional performers who also volunteer with Clowns Without Borders trekked out to Standing Rock and joined other demonstrators in solidarity. All went for various personal reasons, but their reports back to us indicate that the atmosphere of the protesters is one of fellowship and unity. One clown has this to say about the experience in North Dakota:

Joining the water protectors at Standing Rock was a powerful, informative, and inspiring experience. The indigenous protectors accept others lovingly to come, pray, share, and be present. It is not a ‘protest’ but a mass protection of the water source and a mass prayer ceremony. I was put to use; chopping wood for the sacred fire, and was happy to put my heart and body into helping in such a practice. The courage and spirit of the protectors are exemplified in everything happening around the camp.

Historically, clowns have been a traditional part of indigenous peoples lives and held important roles within tribes. Clowns and their performances during ceremonies and religious events were officially sanctioned by the culture. The humor used was often therapeutic in that they helped people make light of taboo and sensitive subjects. In some cases, the clown helped “discipline” societal rule-breakers by publically embarrassing them and shame their wrong-doings. They were “delight makers” and entertaining, a trait that is common in all tribes or clown societies. Given the shared history of clowns and indigenous people, we are proud of the volunteers who joined at Standing Rock and reprised this role, albeit in a modern form, to alleviate for a short time, the discomforts felt by the people who stayed to protest the Dakota Pipeline.


Towsen, J. (1976). Clowns. Hawthorn Books, Inc., New York.
clown tools

Clown Spotting

By Tamara Palmer & Selena McMahon


It’s difficult to compete against headlines such as, “Creepy Clown Sightings Cause a Frenzy.” When it comes to clowns, the recent disturbing events in the United States and elsewhere in the world, are what catches America’s clown spotting attention, and not the work of Clowns Without Borders USA (CWB USA). CWB USA offers performances and workshops to alleviate the suffering of all people in crisis, especially children, through laughter.

Four clowns perform at a village in Ecuador.
Four clowns perform at a village in Ecuador as part of our earthquake relief effort.

Unfortunately, at CWB USA we frequently have to divert many of our conversations away from our mission and towards a discussion of coulrophobia.

For as long as we can remember, our performing artists, staff, and board members have analyzed the fear of clowns that exists in contemporary American culture. We know it exists, but our experience and understanding of clowns are that they are authentic and intelligent artists who have a gift to connect with the raw emotions of the audience. Clowns undertake years of training including, physical theater, circus arts, creative performance, studies abroad, and the examination of philosophical and humanities texts. The red nose is an opportunity to conjoin with people. It helps establish a safe space where laughing at our human frailties and life’s ironies is encouraged and accepted.

So what are the origins of the fear?

Katie Rogers looked to Dr. Schlozman, a child psychiatrist, for a possible answer in her New York Times article. Dr. Schlozman says it’s the exaggerated features of the clown that sets off warning flags. Perhaps there is truth in this reasoning, but the article falls short of doing any justice to the possible explanations behind the fear of clowns.

In America, the tradition of extremely exaggerated makeup developed for clowns was a response to the three-ring circus where their reactions need to be visible to audiences of up to 7000. Up close, such incredibly exaggerated makeup can be unnerving.

Clown wearing little make up stands with a boy who is audience participant in the live performance.It can also be scary when someone uses exaggerated makeup as a mask to hide behind and to suppress his identity. To “dress up as a clown” is not the same as being a professional clown. In fact, Katie Rogers’ article mentions sightings of people in “clown masks.” It raises an important question: Are people afraid of clowns or are they afraid of masks in general and who or what may be hiding behind them

At Clowns Without Borders our performers adapt their makeup and clothing to their specific audiences. Sometimes they don’t wear any makeup; occasionally they don’t wear red noses at all. They are part of an ancient aTwo laughing girls hug each other as they watch the clowns perform.nd universal tradition of performers who make us laugh through their naiveté, awkwardness, and poetry. Their costumes, physical demeanor, expressions, and often the red nose, are a mask. But theirs is an open and honest mask that allows their character to shine through so that the audience knows who that character is and can laugh along with all of its antics.

Therefore, we humbly implore you to consider what it means to be a real clown. Learn what they do; why they do it; the education and training involved, and recognize that many are humanitarians deeply concerned with promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

All over the world, there are many initiatives where clowns endeavor to build resilience through laughter. Regardless of the current “creepy clown” phenomenon, they will continue to do so, because, as the famous American musician Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

A Poem for Clowns Without Borders

Self acclaimed, “poet, performer, and sometimes clown,” Sophie Fenella writes eloquently about the endeavors of the Clowns Without Border volunteer clown and captures the essence of life in crisis. “We have to laugh,” because there is resilience in laughter. Like this poem? Leave a comment!

clowns performing on lesvos

Where We Belong

By Jemima Evans

CWB USA Guest Blogger


My name is Jemima Evans, and I am a British citizen. Just a few months back, family, friends and myself were told to make a decision about belonging. In short, where did we belong, inside or outside the European border? We were to decide on Thursday 23rd June 2016.

Brexit, as it is commonly known, is the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw and end its membership in the European Union. The U.K. held a referendum, and by a narrow decision, the nation decided to leave. What happened in Britain is common knowledge, but the short and long-term impacts are just beginning to unfold.

Just a few weeks before the referendum, I made my way to a special exhibit. Call me by my name: Stories from Calais and beyond, features interactive art that tells the stories of those who have fled and arrived in Calais, France. It encourages viewers to imagine the terrifying and sometimes deadly experiences of those who have been forced into migration.

Hundreds of abandoned lifejackets line the fence outside Moria Refugee Camp, Lesvos, Greece.
Hundreds of abandoned lifejackets line the fence outside Moria Refugee Camp, Lesvos, Greece.

As you walk, you will find yourself in a room filled with life jackets; life jackets that used to belong to people. People who didn’t make it across the border to safety. As well as individuals that may not have lost their life, but perhaps their sense of belonging, and because of horrible conflict, are now labeled, “refugees.”

The exhibition also featured the Good Chance Calais theatre dome, which was built by Good Chance Theatre charity, on the south bank of the Calais Encampment. The dome offered created a space for refugees to sing, dance, play music, talk and to dream of the possibility of a better life. Sadly, on March 20, 2016, the dome was dismantled as the camp was cleared” (Call me by my name, exhibition).

The Good Chance Theatre said this about the loss of the theatre dome and temporary homes of those living around it:

“All of us have stood together in the belief that everyone deserves to live with dignity, that theatre and art can provide that dignity, and that everyone deserves a good chance.”

Clowns get the audience to help during the show in Lesvos, Greece.
Clowns get the audience to help during the show at a refugee camp.

In moments of the unknown, if we all stand together, then we might be able to find hope. As it stands, Britain has voted to leave the European Union. Just like the Good Chance Theatre, that does not mean we can’t keep our conversations going. It does not mean our borders have been bolted shut; it is simply a new time, a new chance.

At Clowns Without Borders that is what we aim to do. We want to keep having conversations. We find that through comedy, communication, and above all, laughter, we can give people a chance to belong.

clown holds child

Clowns Without Borders USA Condemns Creepy Clown Pranks

Dear Reader,

On October 14, 2016, Clowns Without Borders USA issued a press release condemning the actions of the “creepy clowns.” What follows is the exact language of our press release. We are including the release as a blog post for the benefit of our community; for you to know our position on the issue and our appreciation for the clown community. You can view the original press release here or at any of the several hundred outlets who picked up our release. Thank you.


Clowns Without Borders USA Condemns Creepy Clown Pranks

Clowns Without Borders USA (CWB-USA) condemns the actions of agents who are impersonating clowns to frighten others and the actions of those who are using distorted clown images to make fictitious threats and incite anxiety. The wave of negative and hurtful sentiments expressed against professional clowns pains our community. “While this phenomenon in the U.S. hasn’t affected our international programming, it certainly has affected the climate here at home. We honor and support our community of professional performing artists, who are experiencing prejudice because of this,” says Molly Rose Levine, Executive Director for CWB-USA.

Furthermore, we are distraught by the reports of school closures, verbal harassments and physical altercations linked to creepy clowns in numerous states. The agitation these threats may have caused people saddens us and is in no way a reflection of the mission and work of our organization.

The “Creepy Clowns” as they are now commonly referred to, are, in fact, not clowns. The term is a misnomer. The pretenders are disturbing figures who are pretending to be clowns and hiding their identity because they do not understand the art form.

“Dressing up as a doctor doesn’t make someone a doctor,” says Sarah Liane Foster, CWB-USA board member and U.S. Representative to Clowns Without Borders International. “Wearing a mask and a wig doesn’t make someone a clown. It’s intensive study and practice, and the ability to inspire laughter through play, in a state of honest naiveté, that makes one a clown.”

True clowns are professionally trained performers who have undertaken years of study. The paths to becoming a clown are diverse. Many artists accumulate a lifetime of training and experience in the quest to discover authentic humor. The skilled clown connects to the audience in a safe manner where they understand that the clown is a character and the red nose is a mask that invites interaction – – not to conceal identity for nefarious reasons.

“The correct use of the red nose is a mask that reveals the actor’s unique laughableness rather than hiding anything. The legitimate clown exists in a pure state of ridiculous honesty that encourages laughter because of the clown’s deep, vulnerable humanity,” explains Sarah Liane Foster.

“It’s not the first time that “creepy clowns” have made the rounds as a media fad in the U.S., and it’s a setback every time. To all of our incredible CWB-USA clowns – – thank you! Thank you for your energy and all of the work that you do to bring levity and laughter into people’s lives around the world,” says Levine.

Founded in 1995 by Moshe Cohen, Clowns Without Borders USA offers levity to relieve suffering in areas of crisis. Clowns Without Borders USA and the 12 CWB chapters worldwide partner with humanitarian organizations such as PLAN, UNICEF, and CARE. Their contribution provides psychosocial support to children and their communities in regions affected by natural disaster, violence, epidemics and mass displacement. Clowns Without Borders USA is a nonprofit organization. Its humanitarian mission of Resilience in Laughter is supported by a volunteer roster of professional artists. Learn more at


Theatre of the Heart

When you love something, anything; people sense it. Love takes many forms. Rudi Galindo, clown, professional performer, and a Clowns Without Borders (CWB) volunteer since day one, is so full of love that it exudes from his wide, bright smile and fills the room. He found his passion long ago and it’s been filling him with love ever since. It is his devotion to theatre and the enduring connections he creates with audiences.

Rudi has always had an ability to impact the audience. During performances, he aims for the audience’s hearts, then their ‘funny bones,’ and then their intellects. He is interested in exciting people by evoking emotions that sometimes lay latent. He calls it, “Theatre of the Heart.” Theatre of the Heart turns the traditional concept of performance on its head. To be theatrical is to put on a show, sometimes a fiction. But Rudi’s style of creativity invites the audience to be anything but fake. Whether the show makes you laugh, cry, or feel tenderness, the idea is to draw out the true senses of the heart and allow for a protective space to let those emotions be expressed without repercussion. When the community around you is experiencing and expressing at the same time, well, these moments become meaningful and striking.

Rudi’s style of creative theatre has traveled with him as he has performed all over the United States, Europe, and Central America. His love for theatre and honest kinship with viewers endears him to the audiences of Clowns Without Borders projects. Rudi has communed in laughter with many, many people served by Clowns Without Borders. He has been volunteering since the mid-1990’s, working with Moshe Cohen in the initial days of CWB USA’s founding.Rudi and young boy look at the red nose in Rudi's hand. theatre of the heart


In fact, Rudi is the owner of the ‘paper bag trick,’ a sleight of hand gag now used by all Clowns Without Borders chapters. During this trick, a volunteer audience member joins the clown on stage. The clown leads the volunteer through a fun, light-hearted improvisation session with a paper bag that is empty. But at the end of the gag, when the volunteer finally gets the bag, she finds there is a red nose inside and she has magically made it appear. She gets to keep the nose, but more importantly, she gets to keep the metaphor: Something that was imagined is now concrete.

Rudi Galindo has a special place in the historical records of CWB USA. He is a volunteer, board member, professional performer, educator, trainer of new CWB USA volunteers, trick-creator, and humanitarian. There is one location that will certainly stay anchored to Rudi’s heart forever – Turkey.

It was 2015, just after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Rudi was headed to Turkey for a Clowns Without Borders project to bring joy to refugee camps. Violent uprisings across Turkey had made many places unsafe for the clowns. Everything was eerie and unsettled.

Undaunted, Rudi and the team made their way through Turkey towards the Syrian border, visiting as many places as possible. They stopped in Suruc, at the Amara Culture Center where a suicide bomber had recently unleashed terror at the local community center, killing 32 and injuring dozens of people. On July 20, 2015, an organized group of young people went to Suruç to deliver toys for kids at the nearby refugee camp. On that day, they were planning to make a statement to the press and hand in the toys to the kids via representatives. But, during the statement to the press at the garden of Amara Culture Center, the bombing took place.

Many friends of the Turkish artists were slain by the bomber; murdered for helping others.

A stage is nearby. The stage is riddled with jagged shrapnel holes and splintered wood. It was here that Rudi said the team would perform, because, as he put it, “We are going to make this stage a place where joy, laughter, and art belong again.” Everyone was impassioned, and the whole performance was an emotional adventure. It brought forth a cathartic combination of tears, laughter, and an understanding that the locals were taking back ownership and control of their community.

At the end of the show, Rudi gave the audience a message with tears in his eyes. His words embody the motivation behind the work of Clowns Without Borders. “The reason we are here is because we care about you. We play because we want you to feel better. You are not forgotten, you are in our hearts.”

Learn more about Rudi’s many projects and Clowns Without Borders by visiting Please make a gift and help support the sharing of #ResilienceInLaughter at

South Sudan 2014

Laughter Transforms Discrimination

By Nadiya Atkinson

Clowns Without Borders USA Guest Blogger


Language surrounds us. Contemporary rhetoric is constantly utilized, from conversations to the media, to debates, to institutions, to water-cooler chats, to political discourse, and to novels. It is a necessary part of our society, as society progresses through the diversity of opinions on topics. It allows individuals to hear multiple sides to one issue and change public opinion on others. However, recent studies, (, have portrayed rising polarization in political rhetoric in the past few decades. Some persuasive rhetoric often champions social divisions or violence against certain minorities and populations. Such language affects not only adults, but children as well, who hear the opinions of their parents, teachers, classmates, media, etc., and base their actions off of what they hear.

An infamous experiment was made in 1968 by Jane Elliot, a third-grade school teacher in Riceville, Iowa, in which she separated the class based on eye color – blue or brown – and proceeded to tell the students that one eye color was better, and demeaned those who had the alternate eye color. The students quickly caught on and began to discriminate against the students who didn’t have their eye color, regardless if they had previously been friends. Learning materials and more about the experiments are located at

Children are extremely sensitive and open, as they learn by examples given to them by adults. If social behavior promotes the inferiority of some individuals, kids will learn that those people are inferior, regardless of whether it is true or not. If society portrays minority groups as inhuman and violent, kids will learn that these groups are dangerous and less-than.

Every single person is racist. Every person is biased. These are not placements of blame, or guilt, but simply the consequence of living as humans in our society. It is a natural instinct to make preconceived opinions on outward appearance and differences because survival is based on making split-second decisions on whether something is safe or not. As much as I would like to believe that I am not, I too am racist. I, like everyone else immediately conclude a person’s trustworthiness the moment I see her, without allowing her to pronounce a word.

However, our humanity comes from the ability to assess and change those split-second formulations of an entire person’s identity solely based on their appearance and cultural background. And language, the words we write, say, or hear, is easy enough to change merely by processing it before speaking it. We can encourage this awareness in young people. The rhetoric of hate, fear, and lack of understanding can and must be changed to one of compassion, love, and respect. It is vital that kids do not learn the prejudices of the previous generations.

What is the best way to dispel false notions of people and allow for a more open, interconnected society? Laughter. Clowns Without Borders is always utilizing laughter to create more interconnected, healthy, and positive experiences for groups in underprivileged parts of the world. If we play together, we can do many things together. If you need a bit scientific evidence for the multitude of benefits that laughter gives, I recommend starting here: stands proudly on red-nosed clown shoulders. laughter transforms discrimination

Even as Clowns Without Borders offers programs far away from home, we see that the United States is undergoing significant tension and unrest itself. It is for this reason that we have created ‘Take Laughter With You’ a cross-cultural teaching resource, and made easier with play. Click here to learn more.

Children need to have the opportunity to inherit respect and understanding for other cultures, as well as the ability to understand that despite social constructs, little separates us as individuals. The most human way for kids to accept this is what kids do the best: Play and laugh.

Laughter has a language. It is a vocabulary of compassion, humor, and joy, and is understood and shared by every single individual across the world. It does not discriminate between color, culture, political parties, or social standing. It is universal.


Photo credit: Lindsey Cooper

Take Laughter With You

New Education Program: Take Laughter With You

By Naomi Shafer


What do Albany, NY, Dallas, TX, Burlington, VT, and Boise, ID all have in common? Craft Beer? Bears? Nope (well, maybe): Each is a designated Refugee Resettlement City.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is a result of The Refugee Act of 1980, a piece of legislation that sought to standardize resettlement programs for all refugees admitted to the United States. Though certain states have specialized services for refugees, in each county, and possibly each classroom in the United States, there are refugees, children of refugees, grandchildren of refugees, and great-grandchildren of refugees.

This past year, “refugee resettlement” has become an explosive topic, too often one colored by xenophobia and fear. While many Americans trace their lineage back to their ancestors’ home countries – countries frequently fled due to famine and violence – Nationalism seems to trump empathy in the current discussion of refugees. The United States is traditionally thought of as a melting pot, a country for the homeless, but our borders are tightening. Those borders are not only at Customs control but also in our minds.

Clowns Without Borders is launching a domestic education program, called “Take Laughter With You.” The message is simple: Wherever you go, Take Laughter With You. We cannot fly to Turkey or South Sudan. We lack the security clearance to return to the Moria camp in Lesvos. We can make a change at home. We can work with children in the United States, just like we work with children in refugee camps, to build community and start cross-cultural conversations.

We see young people as powerful change agents. On our international projects, it is often children who approach artists first. It is the children who initiate play and transform the refugee camps, replacing isolation with collaboration. We believe the same can be true in the United States.Clown with checkered pants play in school court yard w children. Education.

We do not need airplane tickets to inspire resilience in laughter. We only need schools, youth groups, and communities to invite us in. We are prototyping this project in real time, refining as we go. We are already building relationships with educators and community leaders. We want our program to be agile, relevant, and immediate. That means, when you invite us, we will come!

  • Are you an educator or a parent who wants to be involved as a consultant?
  • Are you an educator or a parent who wants to invite us to your school or club?
  • Do you have ideas about how to teach children empathy for refugees?

If you answered yes to any of these questions – fill out this survey:


Now is the time for positive change. Now is the time to protect all children’s futures. Will you join us?

Visit our Resources page to get a glimpse of the “Take Laughter With You” prototype.

Learn more about the Office of Refugee Resettlement:




Burma 2009 dave's feet

A Case for Clowns: Ebola

A Case for the Clowns: Ebola

Why Clowns Without Borders Works


By Tim Cunningham


Tortell pirouettes quickly and the microphone swings around behind him; it has a life of its own. The centrifugal force of the windscreen pulls the instrument around his arms and legs, making his clown blazer flop poetic in the wind. The crowd’s eyes are wide with surprise when he catches the mic just before it hits him in the face—Tortell’s eyes matching the eyes of the 100 children and families in the audience. His relief, their laughter.

He has just spent the first 10 minutes of the show warming up the audience, a master street artist who draws the crowd in as he sets the stage. It is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, pushing 105 even. The audience and clowns from Spain stand in the shadow of a two-story colonial building with stone archways and wooden doors. Its tile portico is cool to the bare feet of some of the audience, the West African designs deflect the heat of the pounding sun. It is about three in the afternoon, Tortell and his clowns have already performed two shows in Freetown and now they are presenting their final show of the day before heading further east.

This is the first day of Clowns Without Borders shows in Sierra Leone since the Ebola epidemic began in late 2013. It is now early 2015, February. This is also the first Clowns Without Borders show that I have ever seen as an audience member. This is the first time I’ve seen healthy children and families play, dance and be together since I had arrived in Sierra Leone eight weeks prior.

Once Tortell regained control of his rogue microphone he announced the opening of the show—acrobats and movement artists entreated the audience to a spectacle that consisted of partner juggling while standing on the ground and on shoulders. The performers danced with fantastic and impossible objects—a giant fabric butterfly and streamers. All the while Tortell interjected the finessed scenes with mischievous intrigue, he tried (and always failed) to recreate what the movement artists had just performed, he filled the space with magic tricks winning over the audience with his glorious, comedic bungles.

I stuck out as an audience member, the only white person in the crowd. And though I tried to stand back from the front row, away from children and among the adults, parents turned to me and asked me when I would go and join the clowns.

“I’m not in the show.”

“Yes, but you must be.” An audience member grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the stage.

I froze, not playfully, but with a sense of deep, reactionary discomfort.

“No no, I am not in the show. They are my friends there, I know them, but I am not in the show.”

I had not been touched for almost nine weeks, by a stranger, that is. We were not supposed to.

The government of Sierra Leone had set a national edict—ABC: Avoid Body Contact. When the woman from the audience touched my arm and I felt a surge of adrenaline, then fear. It was fight or flight. I was breaking the rules; they had been broken on me. I felt like, for a fleeting moment, a victim. Had I been contaminated?

The woman then laughed out loud, seeing my awkward reaction to her touch “OK, but I think you are a clown too! Look at them, they are so amazing!”

Another man near us noticed our commotion and he then held my hand as he explained to me why Tortell’s magic plastic bag bit was so funny. He described in detail how he thought the magic trick was happening, and having done the gag before myself, I can say that he was mostly correct.

“But look at the children!  Look at them! They love this so much!” Another man chimed in.

Clown balances on a standing suitcase before a large crowd of children. A case for clowns, ebola.

Around us, scrambling to the top of adults’ shoulders were kids who clambered to get closer to the clowns. Their laughter was silenced to a vibrant, low chatter only when the clowns presented movement pieces of silks flying through the air and then thunder released again when Tortell entered and tripped over a brick on the rough strewn road. Like waves of the ocean, their laughter came and went. Laughter like this, according to the host who welcomed the clowns from a small German NGO, had not been heard for some time.

I came to Sierra Leone, like hundreds of others, to work as a nurse. From 2013-2016 the Ebola epidemic, first in Guinea, then Liberia and Sierra Leone took the lives of more than 11,000 people. Children (under the age of five) who were infected had a 20% chance of survival when the disease prevalence was near its peak. As a pediatric nurse, I still find it hard to describe the heartbreak of losing eight out of every ten pediatric patients we treated with Ebola. The rate of survival for older children increased with their age, as did fear; as did depression; and as did withdrawal from play and community.

The unfathomable psychological destruction of the Ebola crisis reared its ugly head every day to those of us who worked in the “hot zone,” constantly desperate for supplies, more human power and for a cure. Children who survived the disease appeared frightened to leave our treatment units and return home—we learned very quickly that community members were often not welcomed home after surviving Ebola because of stigma born of fear and misunderstanding the nature of the contagion. People separated themselves from others, people were afraid to interact like before, people were judged and communities fractured. Children no longer played.

Towards the end of the clown show, one of the acrobats found a red, triangular flag and showed it to the audience, which had doubled in size and by now had formed a complete circle around the artists. The clown waved the flag proudly in the air. Tortell snatched it, then invited an audience member to come to the stage. A grown man stepped forward much to the pleasure of the audience. The clowns made the red flag disappear, then appear again from places like the man’s ear or from inside of his shirt. Then a clown made the cloth disappear and reached into Tortell’s waistband to retrieve it. Instead of the cloth coming forth, a long strip of plastic, red and white caution tape, like that used at the site of a crime scene appeared as the clown ran from Tortell revealing its full length. The tape had red and white vertical stripes—the same tape used throughout Sierra Leone to quarantine homes with people suspected of having Ebola. The clowns ran around the audience member with the tape and they all became entangled in a picturesque finale for that bit. The audience, especially the man they volunteered were beside themselves with laughter. A man near me, who still did not believe that I was not in the show held my arm and leaned against me for a better view. For a moment, we were all limitless in our laughter.

I looked through the audience and for the first time since I had arrived in Sierra Leone, there was not a face that showed fear.  People were not stymied to stand with each other and accompany each other in playfulness. Everyone was together. Everyone looked normal.

War, poverty, and disease trigger the worst of humanity. They create a “new normal” of suffering, stigma, and division. What the clowns did on this excruciatingly hot day was provide a platform whereby normalcy reigned again. The laughter broke the hold of stigma—even if it was just for a moment—and through the ridiculousness of the clowns, people saw each other not through the lens of disease but through that of a common humanity.


Please read Tim’s original blog post here.