Medical Clowns: Joy and Laughter Are Good Medicine – PediaCast 492

Show Notes


  • Kristie Koehler Vuocolo visits the studio as we consider medical clowning and the impact of joy and laughter on childhood health and wellness. These aren’t your everyday clowns! Learn how improvisational theater… at the bedside, in waiting rooms and on Zoom… can make a difference in the lives of children and their families. We hope you can join us!


  • Medical Clowns
  • Improvisational Theater
  • Health Impact of Joy and Laughter




Announcer 1: This is PediaCast.




Announcer 2: Welcome to PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. And now, direct from the campus of Nationwide Children's, here is your host, Dr. Mike.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Hello, everyone and welcome once again to PediaCast. It is a pediatric podcast for moms and dads. This is Dr. Mike, coming to you from Nationwide Children's Hospital. We're in Columbus, Ohio.


It's Episode 492 for June 2nd, 2021. We're calling this one "Medical Clowns: Joy and Laughter Are Good Medicine". I want to welcome all of you to the program.


So we have an interesting episode of PediaCast for you this week, interesting and enlightening, and really just chockfull of fan, as we consider the art of medical and hospital clowning and how this form of improvisational theater and the joy and laughter that comes with it contributes to the health and wellness of young patients and their families.




So yes, we are talking about clowns. But these are not your everyday, ordinary clowns. These are professionals in the world of improvisational theater who specially trained to engage with audiences of young patients, parents, and families in a very unique and skilled way. They are not only trained to bring joy and laughter through interactive acting, they must also learn about medical things, like infection control, hospital protocols, privacy and the many physical and mental variables that accompany a wide range of medical conditions.


And let's face it, clowns are sometimes scary. So, these professionals are smart about their work as they engage carefully and smartly, intentionally planned and off the cuff. As they consider what is happening in the moment and who their audience is, and how the audience is reacting, and are they engaged or are they scared? And changing things up when they need to.




So, it's not an easy job. But the work does have a profound impact on young patients and families, which we will explore in detail today. And it's a vocation with a long history around the world, especially in children's hospitals and senior care facilities.


To help us explore medical clowning and the impact of joy and laughter on health and wellness, we have a terrific studio guest joining us, Kristie Koehler Vuocolo is founder and artistic Director of Good Medicine Productions here in Central Ohio.


And by the way, she has a really impressive resume which we will cover in a few minutes. But by way of a teaser, I'll just say that Kristie spent 20 years with the Chicago Theatrical Community as a performer, teacher and innovator which led her to winning the Oprah Winfrey Civic Leadership Award for her years of hard work and the impact that she may to the residents of Chicagoland.




So, Kristie will be joining us shortly. First though, long-time listeners will recall that PediaCast has been a proud and long-standing member of the Parents on Demand Network, which includes a collection of podcasts that cater to parents and families.     


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So, let's take a quick break. We'll get our guest connected to the studio. And then we will be back to talk about hospital clowning, joy, and laughter, all of which are good medicine. That's coming up right after this.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Kristie Koehler Vuocolo is a native of Columbus, Ohio. She then moved to Chicago where she spent two decades working and teaching as an actor and physical theater artist. She served as performer and supervisor with the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit for almost a decade, bringing circus acts and improvisational theater to bedsides and waiting rooms throughout Chicagoland.




She was on the performance team of Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp which is dedicated to providing summer camp experiences to seriously ill children and their families, free of charge. She's also led several workshops with the nursing staff and medical residents at Lurie Children's Hospital, Corner Children's Hospital, and Rush University Medical Center, teaching doctors and nurses interactive performance skills which spread joy and laughter and promote positive patient and family relationships.


While in Chicago, she received the Oprah Winfrey Civic Leadership Award, which honored her work in creating a theater that nurtures and serves the community.


We are glad to have Kristie back in Central Ohio, where she currently serves as founder and artistic director of Good Medicine Production. That's what she's here to talk about today, joy and laughter and clowning and improvisational theater as good medicine. 




So, let's give a warm PediaCast welcome to Kristie Koehler Vuocolo. Thank you so much for stopping by today.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Oh, thank you so much for having me.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, we are really excited to talk to you about Good Medicine Productions and really using theater in order to bring joy and laughter to kids who are sometimes in some pretty tough places. So just sort of give us an overview of your organization, Good Medicine Productions. What are you guys all about?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Sure. Well, our mission is to bring transformational joy to humans of all ages through the art of comedic performance, improvisation, and innovative storytelling.


When it is not COVID time, we do one big public performance a year. And then, during the school year, we have theater classes for kids and also do some camps in the summer.




But the work we do year-round really makes us more of a theatrical healthcare organization. And that is from our pediatric and senior living program, which bring comedic performers bedside to senior living facilities and nursing homes and also the pediatric facilities.


So, the way that works is our performers are larger than life silly parodies of medical professionals. Like I play Nurse Nee Nee. There's a Dr. Weeble Wobble. There's an actor who plays Ralph, the Therapy Dog. And we use humor and physical comedy and improvisation to help relieve anxiety, isolation, and sadness in the medical environment.


Our tagline is Find Your Joy. And I feel that our performers don't necessarily bring the joy, but they are the catalyst to help kiddos find the joy in themselves even in a tough situation.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Really important work and can make such a difference in the day-to-day lives of kids and their families.




Before we get into sort of what you do now, tell us a little bit about your background in the performing arts. I went through a little bit of it in the introduction there, but you really have done a lot in theater.  Kind of walk us through your background.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Sure. Well, I have always loved theater. I did theater in high school. But when I went to college, I went to Northwestern University, I never thought I could theater as a job. So, I majored in journalism but did theater at college.


And then, when I graduated, I was a TV producer for the PBS Station in Chicago. But I sort of unconsciously pursued the theater career at night. So, I took lots of acting classes and improv classes. And then friends of mine from college, we founded a theater company called Barrel of Monkeys which was an arts-education theater company that the kids wrote stories and we turned it into a sketch comedy show. So, it was sort of like Saturday Night Live, but we invite kids.




And we would perform these shows in gymnasiums or in the cafeterias in Chicago public schools.  And because they were such big venues, physical comedy was such a huge part of our style. And so, I really cut my teeth in physical comedy in the gymnasiums of the Chicago public schools.


And I also was in a theater company called the Neo-Futurist where we wrote and directed and performed the show each week. And we tour that all over the country.


But then, while I was working at the PBS station, we did a story on the Chicago Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. And when I saw that piece, that was like my Aha moment. That was like "Oh, that is what I am meant to do," to be silly and use physical comedy to help kids laugh and feel better.




So, I quit my job at the PBS station and told my dad I'm leaving to become a clown. He was not too happy about it at that time. And I auditioned and I did not get in, initially. And I was devastated because this was my calling. But now, when I look at it, that first time, I wanted it too much for me.


In this work, your ego really has to take a back seat because it isn't about "Look at me, I'm so funny." It's about connecting with those kids and putting them in charge and helping them to find ways to give them control.


And so, I just want to say, to give you an example of that at my audition, my nose, we wear noses in Chicago and my red nose fell off.  And my partner who was a veteran person in this work right away said, "Dr. John," which was to kid, "Her nose fell off, what should we do? What's the prescription?" And Dr. John proceeded to give orders to my performing partner to cover my head in paper towels, put straws up my nose and in my ears.




And as we're heading out, I said, "Dr. John, how long will I have to live like this?" And he said, "For a hundred years!" and I leave the room crying.


But several years later, they called to come back and audition, and it was the right time. I was a much more seasoned performer and I understood that it's not about me. It's about the kids. And so, the timing all worked out right.


Dr. Mike Patrick: So, you mentioned physical comedy and physical theater, and then also clowns. Is this all the same thing?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yeah, the word clown has become to have such a stigma. And thanks to Stephen King and to different pop culture references, a negative one.




So, a lot of times, we say physical theater artists because clowns communicate with their body, even more so than their mouths. How we walk, how we move, it all is saying something to the audience. And physical comedy, like tripping over that banana peel, that's a big part of what we do. So, I will use the term interchangeably.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Got you. Again, when I first think of clowns, when I was a kid, I was actually really afraid of clowns. And so, kind of I see a clown coming around, well, this is of course before the pandemic. But you're at a restaurant, maybe they come around and do balloon animals or something, we would actually kind of rush our kids like, "Finish eating before the clown gets here."


Because of my past experience with clowns, my kids really didn't like them either. So, I think really seeing and maybe not using that word, because of that can be helpful for some folks. But really, it's up to the performer to make that come alive in a way that is encouraging and fun for kids rather than being scary.




Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yeah. Ultimately, the Good Medicine specialists, we don't use noses because of your past experience. And there actually is a thing called, oh, I'm going to forget, coulrophobia, which is the fear of clowns. And that is a real thing.


But ultimately, we have ongoing training all the time and it also is about sensitivity training. It's not about getting in your face but it's about maybe just engaging with your partner in silly ways. And people can just watch, and they can decide if they want to engage with you. That, ultimately, clown theater is about being open and receptive to the audience, which in this case, cares families or the kids.




And so, if the kid laughs, we react to that either with a smile, with fear, with different emotions. Or if they look away, then we look away and look to our partner and maybe juggle scarves back and forth to draw away from anything threatening. And just make it sort of whimsical to share that like "Oh, we're okay. We're just here to bring some lightness." And if it's ever a kind of thing when a clown is in your face, then it's a bad clown.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Right, exactly. And I think there's no better testimonial to the impact that you have on kids and their families than a girl named Rosie who you had contact with when she was five years old in Lurie Children's in Chicago. And she has neurofibromatosis and multiple brain tumors, hydrocephalus. She's had 40 surgeries and 6 in one year when she was in high school.




And this is someone that you really had a big impact on. And for her junior year in English class, she made a video about her experience with therapeutic performers in the hospital. And that speech is available on YouTube, Rosie's school speech. It's All the Way You Look at Life is what she entitled it.


And I'm going to put a link to that in the show notes for this episode. If you are listening to this and this has really caught your interest, please go to the show notes at This is Episode 492 and check out Rosie's school speech. It's really just a testimonial of the impact that you have had in her life. It's really moving.




Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: You know, with the pandemic, we pivoted to virtual visits. And I met Rosie when she was 5 and now, she is 16. And I've stayed connected to her mom on Facebook. Because we didn't know how to do this virtually, so we wanted to pilot and try it out with friends' kids and stuff.


So, I reached out to Rosie's mom through Facebook and I said, "I know she's 16 but would she be up for just logging in and Zooming in with us and let's hear what she thinks." She said, "Absolutely," and then after that she signed up every Wednesday that we have these virtual visits.


And she had said, and I think it says in that video, that this has been her toughest year battling all these illnesses that she struggles with. And just how serendipitous that we connected again after all this time. And it's just been really heartwarming to see her and play with her in different ways, because she's 16 now. But she teaches our performers just as much as we bring joy to her as well.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Absolutely. Speaking of bringing joy and laughter, how does joy and laughter intersect with health and wellness?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: I think its common sense that if you're laughing, if you feel happy, that's going to have obviously a positive effect on your mental health. But there's also a lot of studies that have come out that laughing actually helps you physiologically.


In 1979, a man named Norman Cousins published Anatomy of an Illness. And he found, at the time, it was one of the first studies that said that laughter actually had an analgesic effect for pain. It was a pain reliever.




Other more recent studies have linked humor and laughter with increased levels of pain tolerance and lowers anxiety levels relating to procedures. So, people can say that comedic performers don't belong in a hospital and I think these studies provide evidence to the contrary.


When I worked in Chicago, our first round was in pre-op, kids in the pre-op room waiting to go to surgery. And we would come in and engage with them with songs, with bubbles, just being ridiculous to get their minds off of what was going to happen, and their parents, as well.


Dr. Mike Patrick: We're going to include in the show notes some of the research studies that involved comedic performers. There's actually a lot of them. And there's research to show that comedic performance reduces pre-operative anxiety and children's experience of pain as you mentioned, decreases perception of pain and increases pain thresholds, improves mood and well-being of severely disabled children, improves autistic children's ability to communicate and reduces stress experienced by parents and nursing staff working with hospitalized children.




And just some of these, one published in 2017, Benefits of Medical Clowning: A Summary of the Research, one from 2019 in the European Journal of Pediatrics called Benefits of Medical Clowning in the Treatment of Young Children with Autism. Another, The Art of Clown Theater in Care for Hospitalized Children, Clown Therapy in the Hospital Setting: A Review of the Literature, and Therapeutic Clowns in Pediatrics, review, and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.


So, there are serious literature in scientific publications about clowns and physical comedic performances. And we're going to put links to all of those things in the show notes so folks can find them easily.


What about the history of this? When did this sort of idea get started?




Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: I'm going to try to give you a little bit of history on this profession. So, Patch Adams, who there was a movie about him starring Robin Williams, he's like one of the most known, I'm trying to describe to people what we do. I always say its sort of like Patch Adams. And he toyed with bringing humor to medical facilities.


But it was really Michael Christensen of The Big Apple Circus who founded the idea of clown care back in 1986 in New York City. And this was, his idea was to bring a group of professional clowns together who were trained in hospital protocols and improvisation and circus skills. And they would work in teams of two and visit pre-approved patients at children's hospitals in New York and do like 10 to 15-minute engagements in those rooms.




And it was super successful in New York and they got a wave of press. And soon many of the top-rated children's hospitals in the country wanted this program. So Big Apple Circus expanded in all of these different satellites including Chicago where I joined the performance team there. But also, John Hopkins, Sloan Kettering, and Boston's Children's Hospital.


And they all bought in to this philosophy to that in a place where the child has no power, that bringing the clowns in there puts the child in charge. When we show up to the kid's door, the first thing we do is to ask permission. And if the kid says no, we are out of there. I feel that's the first gift of empowerment.


So now, even though Big Apple Circus went bankrupt. And now, there's still a Big Apple Circus, but different programs have now splintered. And now, there are individual programs across the country like Good Medicine Productions.




And we have a consortium here in North America called the North American Federation of Healthcare Clown Organizations. And Good Medicine is a part of that. And that is where we have a conference once a year and come together to talk about best practices and share different skill sets and to promote the credibility of this profession.


But Boston Children’s which is one of the most esteemed children's hospitals in the country, the clown program has been there for 25 years. And I think that is not only a testament to the quality of that program but also it speaks to the value that the hospital places on healing and laughter in the children's hospital.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Absolutely. Your current organization, Good Medicine Productions, what is your mission and vision? And did you take those things kind of copy from Big Apple? Or is this something different and new?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Well, Big Apple Circus was a circus first and then they had the Clown Care Program. Definitely, all the things that I learned as supervisor of the Clown Care Program I brought in to our pediatric and senior living program with Good Medicine. But we are not a circus.


So, we do one public performance a year that is it focuses on improvisation and clown theater. It's called Uptown Scrooge. And it's an immersive version of the Christmas carol, that takes an audience through the story of the Christmas carol on the streets of Uptown Westerville in Westerville, Ohio.




So, it's very interactive in the way that clown theater is. So that is our sort of circus but it's not a circus, if you know what I mean.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Our mission is to bring transformational joy through comedic performance, innovative storytelling, and improvisation no matter what we do. So, the idea is at the end of our public performance, people have gone through an experience that they feel joy. That's in our public performance. That's in our classes in camps. And that's in our pediatric and senior care program.


Our vision, really, is focused more on our pediatric and senior living program where we are part of the circle of care in pediatric facilities at Nationwide Children's Hospital and looked to as a resource to help in distraction and healing and bringing that laughter, not only to kids but to families and to staff. That's our long-term vision.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Absolutely. A lot of children's hospitals have professionals known as Child Life specialists within the hospital who do a lot of what you're talking about, in terms of really connecting kids where they are and at their level and using play and toys and activities and providing distraction. And I suspect that if you combined a degree in Child Life and a degree in theater, that would be a really powerful combination.


And I just mentioned that if there are folks out there listening, and especially adolescents and young adult, it seems that would be a cool career for someone's who's interested.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yeah, definitely. And in Chicago and the other programs across the country, the Clown Care programs work directly with Child Life and are seen as like part of that team.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Now, your work, of course, as we mentioned is different than traditional clowns. And you had mentioned the clown that's kind of scary and in your face is a bad clown. What about clowning in general? Not necessarily in the medical environment, but what makes a good clown?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: I mean, traditional role of the clown is powerless, confused, prone to mistakes, yet persistent and hopeful. And for a performer to be that, they have to be really vulnerable. They have to be vulnerable to the audience and open.


And we talk a lot about 'breath' in clown theater and have that listening breath. You come out on stage and you take a breath first. And that allows you to see everything and also to hear. If one person laughs or coughs, then because you've given that listening breath, you'll notice it and then your eyes will go to that person who coughed. And then probably, the rest of the audience will laugh because they noticed you noticing a person who coughed.




And a good clown is really aware of their body. As I mentioned before, a good clown is speaking with his or her body as much as your mouth. So, you are aware that every movement that you make is a choice and it's saying something about how you're feeling.


A good clown knows when to look away. A good clown is more worried about being interested in something than being interesting. Does that make sense?




Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, it really does. So, a good clown is a performer. So, it's really a lot of thought and effort and paying attention to what's going around you. And so, really, you're not a lot different than a good clown. But sort of the bad clown I would say are those maybe who just put on the makeup.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yeah, and more about like, "Oh, look at me, I'm so funny." Like thinking about, just like, "Oh, watch me do my little trick," right, and not being aware.


You can't be a good clown without an audience. You have to have an audience and you have to be aware of your audience in a way that when you're a clown, there is no fourth wall. Meaning, you know that the audience is there. They know that you are there. Where I might be pretending to be a character, but we are in this together, myself as the clown and the audience.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Very enlightening. I have not thought this deeply about clowns. I don't think ever before in my life, but this is great. This is really a great conversation.




Let's pivot to the services and programming that Good Medicine Productions provides. What had things looked like before the pandemic? You were hit your stride as a company. What did that look like before the pandemic? And then we'll talk about a bit about how it's changed.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Before the pandemic, we would do a patient show at Nationwide Children's Hospital. So, kids that wanted to come down, we would do that once a month and it was very loosely structured. Four of our ensemble members would be there. Loosely structured and have some kind of theme. So, we might have a beach party them but there was no beach. And so, the kids would help us create the beach, what would we need.


We've done like a wizard theme, where we're still like our medical characters but we want to go to wizard school. And the kids use their fingers to have duels with us and always get us with the tickle jinx. And we're laughing and then they have the power to stop us or not.




One of my favorite themes that we've done is Nationwide's Got Talent, which is a spoof off of America's Got Talent, where the performers would try to show off a talent. Like they would do the floss and then Dr. Gooey, whose one of our performers would get out a big rope and start to floss her teeth. And then the kids would come up and be like, "No, no, that's not The Floss!" And they would come up and start doing the Floss, the dance. And then, problem solved.


But what's also beautiful there is not only would the clowns have talents that were terrible, and the kids would have to fix it, then the kids would come up and just do talents. From teaching us to dance to, this one girl, she was ten years old and she came up and started singing the song, the lyrics were like I love America, I love God and bear is great or something like that. Just singing at the top of her lungs.




And then we had this other girl. We had a hula hoop there. And this girl is attached to an IV. So, she's like, "Mom, I want to get up." And so, her mom's holding her IV as this girl shimmies up this hula hoop and starts hula hooping to show off her talent in the middle of the hospital. It was just beautiful.


So, we would do those once a month. And then, three times a month, we would go into the Sibling Room at Nationwide. A lot of siblings of chronically ill kids don't get a lot of attention. So that would give us time to just do like one-on-one clown play with the kids. That could be a whole scene at a restaurant with all the fake foods and things and have fun that way.


Or just Ralph The Therapy Dog, one of our actors, we have this one kid who would just take Ralph for a walk all around the Sibling Room. And so, that's what we would do before COVID.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Really sounds like so much fun. You’ve mentioned some members of your ensemble. So, you play Nurse Nee Nee, there's Dr. Weeble Wobble, Dr. Gooey, Ralph the Therapy Dog. These are professional performers who this is not necessarily a hobby for them, right?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: No. All of us, we are all paid. This is a job. And all are trained. So, all of them, they all had to audition. And they come with a theatrical background of some kind. But many of them don't have training in clown.


And again, that speaks to the sensitivity I was talking about, to being aware of your audience, breathing and the physicality. So, there's a whole training process initially of not only artistry and how to be a clown and why we use clown in this work. And then also, all the issues of hospital protocols, gown and glove, there's a training that we use.




We have a training of having a dirty pocket. Let's say we have a ball that we're playing with and it falls in the ground. That goes in your dirty pocket and we don't use that again. We don't used any cloth props. Everything has to be washed easily. So, there's training in that.


And then there's also child sensitivity training, how you work with a two-year-old as opposed to how you would work with an eight-year-old. Or how you work with a kid on a spectrum as opposed to not.


Example of that, we would be alerted that there was a kid who was really sensitive to loud noises at our show. And we had a bit where like after something, we would all clap. And so, we would talk with each other, we're like "We're going to do a snap." So, to be able to adapt quickly to that situation is important.




So not only that's the initial training, but then we have on-going training every other month where we have artistic training and then also talk about these protocols and reviewing these things.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, I mean, when you're in the hospital, you have to be aware of what the protocols are for that particular institution, good infection control techniques. As you said, engaging hospitalized children and even HIPPA compliance and understanding patient privacy and those sorts of things. So, there's a whole world of training that other performers don't necessarily have to think about that's really important for your work.


So then, COVID hit. How then did you pivot your services and programming in the age of COVID?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yeah, COVID hit and they said, "You can't come back to the hospital." So, we pivoted to virtual visits. And as I mentioned before, we piloted this in August with just contacting neighbors, friends, and reaching out to former patients. Because we didn't know if it would work. Like how are you funny on Zoom?




So, we piloted it. We would send those Zoom links. Kids would Zoom in. And we found what worked and what didn't work.


Child Life at Nationwide was just super overwhelmed, so they couldn't help facilitating these visits, totally understandably. So, we partnered with several non-profits that work with families who have kids battling illnesses and they connected with us. So, on Wednesday afternoons, a family can sign up for an appointment and we send them a Zoom link and we Zoom in and have a live engagement with their kid.




A few weeks ago, we met this girl and her two siblings, and the girl flitted at the camera. And this made me fall down and into a crash box. So, there was a big boom. So then, I slowly get up and I say something like, "I don't know what happened there." And the girl flits at the camera again and so I fall down the other way.


Well then, the siblings got into it. I was being thrown all around the room. My partner was just egging them on the whole time, like "Oh, I think you should do that again." At one point, I get up and I say, "Wait, why isn't Dr. Funzi falling down?" And so, the girl, without missing a bit flits at the camera and Dr. Funzi falls down.


So, we have found ways to make it work. And I would much rather be in person, but it's actually been super joyful as well.




And we also are working to partner with Ronald McDonald House and in June, we're going to be serving the meal there in character and engaging with families there and hope to make that a monthly thing as well.


And that has been our pivot and hoping to just find more roads to reach the families that need us most.


Dr. Mike Patrick: And so, these free visits can be scheduled in 15-minute blocks on Wednesday afternoons. And I supposed folks can get connected through your website to schedule one of those?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yep, our


Dr. Mike Patrick: Great. And we'll put a link to that in the show notes so folks can find it easily.


Now, in addition to virtual pediatric visits, you have also had virtual visits with seniors, correct?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yeah, we've had virtual visits with seniors. And that program has actually grown with COVID. Because especially that population is so incredibly isolated and so the activities directors were just at loss for what to do.




So, we already had connected with senior centers but there were some that we hadn't been to. And they heard about our service. And so how that works is, again, we Zoom in to iPad and the activities director will literally take us, our team, room to room to a person and we will have these visits, which had been really lovely and really successful.


And we were talking about earlier, the studies about humor and wellness. And because of the growing numbers of baby boomers, as they aged, there's been lots of studies with them and humor therapy. And they found that performers like the Good Medicine specialists were as effective at bringing down aggression levels in dementia patients as medication. As effective as medication, much less expensive, less side effects. So, there's research behind the work we do with seniors as well.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, really remarkable. So, things are kind of changing now with the pandemic, in terms of mass mandates going away for those who are vaccinated. And so, there are some more safety in in-person settings.


And I saw on your website that you have plans this summer for a wizard camp, including maybe in-person wizard camps. Tell us about those.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yeah. So, coming up in June, it's going to be outdoors. But we're still being on the safe end. So even though it's on outdoors, it's for kids 8 to 12, and masked outdoors.




And the idea is that we have these characters, Professor Pandora, Whoopie Pie Bisquit, and Professor Vivian Vee Vandalow. And it's all inspired by the Harry Potter series. And kids come for two days to use theater to create this wizarding world and create potions that work to remind us about the importance of kindness and caring and taking care of our environment.


So, it's super silly and super fun. And any proceeds that we make go to our pediatric and nursing home program.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Great. And again, in-person but you're also having Virtual Wizard Camp on Zoom as well in July.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Yes, we did this last year as our first pivot, which was super successful. And that allowed people not in our area as well to participate. So that is super fun. It's an hour every day for a week. It's like you're Zooming in to a secret wizarding club. We do things like broom drills, where we make a broom and then do some silly dances with it.




And same thing, we make potions and do lots of fun things we do in person. But we call it Whoopie Pie's Army Goes Underground. So, it's this fun little club.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. And then, next May, to kick off 2022, you have an event coming up called Every Brilliant Thing. Tell us a little bit about that.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: For the rest of this year, we probably won't be doing any public performance for 2021, just with COVID lingering in the air. But the first thing that is in May, we hope to do a show called Every Brilliant Thing.


And it is a joyful play about mental illness. It's a one-woman show about a girl whose mother suffered with depression. And to help her mom, she started to make a list of every brilliant thing she could think of, like ice cream or swimming pools.




And the way the story plays out, it's told in collaboration with the audience. So, when the audience comes in, they get a card with a number. And like number three, ice cream, number four, swimming pools. And throughout the show, the actor will call out a number and different audience members will say those things.


I actually think coming out of this era of COVID in the spring, it will be even more impactful and a joyful experience for people. And we're hoping to partner with the On Your Sleeves Campaign because it will be in May to make a connection to Mental Health Awareness Month as well.




Dr. Mike Patrick: Absolutely. I mean, that engaging collaboration with the audience just sounds really, really fun.


Now, a lot of folks are not in Central Ohio who listen to this podcast. We have folks really from all across the country. And there may be lots of people who don't have this kind of service available to them in their immediate vicinity.


What strategies can parents and their kids and families use to sort of mimic and increase their joy and laughter at home?


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: That's a great question. I just don't think you can minimize the power of being silly with your kids. Even the most base silliness, sometimes people will say, "Oh, don't make a fart joke," or something. But sometimes, that is the easiest to get a kid to laugh. And you're stressed out as a parent or the kid is stressed out, make a fart joke.




My son loves this show on Netflix called Larva and it's about this like little larva of insects. And half of it is all fart jokes. And he just thinks it's hilarious. I think especially if you're tired, just put on a silly show.


The other thing I think to think about for parents because we are all so stressed out. We are coming out of COVID, but it has been a stressful time. And there has also been a lot of studies of just making yourself laugh can bring down blood pressure, can bring down cortisol levels.


So, there are things out there called laughter therapy. And it doesn't have to be that fancy, but even just making yourself laugh.




Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Or just the act of smiling can really make a difference in how you feel.




The other great thing, just a little plug, is that our virtual visits that are on Wednesday afternoons, anyone can sign-up for those. They're free for any kid. So, no matter where you are in the country, you can sign-up for that if you want a little burst of joy in your life.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That's one of the great, I mean that is positive coming out of this pandemic, just in terms of we're all getting a little bit used, maybe overused to connect virtually. And so, it does provide opportunities for connecting with folks all over and not necessarily just locally.


As you talked about families, you mentioned putting on a show. And I know when I was kid, that was a really fun thing to write a script or do a variety show or a comedy show. And so, writing a play, even little simple ones and performing them. And everyone's got a phone now. It's easy to videotape them and share them with family and friends. And that can be a lot of fun for families.


Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean the power of like stepping in a different role and giving the kids the power to, even if your kids can't write, have them dictate to you.




Have them tell you the story and you write it up. And we are in part improv company. So, a big proponent of what we do is, "Yes, and?". A scene can't continue unless you say, "Yes," and support it.


So, you're sitting there, typing and your kid says, "And then the toad turns into a glass of peanut butter." And you say, you type it out and say, "Yes, and what happens next?" That's really powerful for kids.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. Lots of fun stuff and the important stuff as we think about health and wellness for kids and families.


Once again, your website, Good Medicine Productions, we'll put a link to that in the show notes so folks can find you easily. And then all of those other things that we talked about, the journal article and such, will also be in the show notes for folks to find,, Episode number 492.


So once again Kristie Koehler Vuocolo, founder and artistic director of Good Medicine Productions. Thank you so much for stopping by today.




Kristie Koehler Vuocolo: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.




Dr. Mike Patrick: We are back with just enough time to say thanks once again to all of you for taking time out of your day and making PediaCast a part of it. Really do appreciate that.


Also, thanks to our guests this week Kristie Koehler Vuocolo, founder and artistic director Good Medicine Productions.


I kind of tease this in the intro to the program but I did want to cast a spotlight on one of the podcasts in the IPN Podcast Network, formally known as Parents on Demand. And that is, the podcast called Yoga, Birth and Babies. The host is Deb Flashenberg.




And I'll put a link to the podcast in the show notes for this episode, 492, over at so you can find it easily.


But the podcast is about just what the title would suggest, yoga, birth, and babies. But they have lots of really interesting episodes, a couple of them to highlight for you. One on Failure to Progress in Labor with Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins who is in OB/Gyn.


And that one covers what is failure to progress? What does that mean? What factors influence having a long labor? How can you best support moms during a long labor, negotiating a labor schedule, removing scheduling pressures from labor, risks of long labor, balancing risks, and benefits. So really just an interesting confirmation about labor that is taking a little longer than what you expected and so it gets termed failure to progress.




Another really interesting episode is Trust Your Body During Pregnancy and Birth with Dr. Carly Snyder who is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist. And this one covers normal emotions during pregnancy and birth, anxiety and depression, treatment strategies including medicine that's safe to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding, strategies for coping with change, learning how to loosen your grip on control, building confidence and parenting skills and supporting other moms.


So, it's a really interesting podcast. I would encourage you to check it out again. We'll have a link in the show notes to Yoga, Birth and Babies.


Don't forget you can PediaCast wherever podcasts are found. We are in the Apple and Google podcast apps, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, and most other podcast apps for iOS and Android. 


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And since Nationwide Children's is jointly accredited by many professional organizations, it's likely we offer the exact credits you need to fulfill your state's Continuing Medical Education requirements.


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Thanks again for stopping by. And until next time, this is Dr. Mike saying stay safe, stay healthy and stay involved with your kids. So, long, everybody.




Announcer 2: This program is a production of Nationwide Children's. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time on PediaCast.


One thought on “Medical Clowns: Joy and Laughter Are Good Medicine – PediaCast 492

  1. What a fascinating podcast with Kristie’s company and inspiring that this is happening for sick children and those in nursing homes. Way to make a difference Kristie and team!

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