Living the Dream: Go to Clown School

Write it down. Make it happen. Live your dream. How Laurie Michelman became a clown.
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Laurie Michelman (aka Lou-Lou Lollipop)

Auburn, New York
Age 45
Separated, two kids
Attorney and part-time college professor

My Goal

To be a clown

How I Did It

My mother lived for years with a form of leukemia. In 2006 her health worsened and it struck me how fleeting life was. I began to reevaluate what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I made a list of goals and at the top was going to clown school, something I'd always thought about. My parents used to take my siblings and me to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, and the clowns were my favorite part. They still are. When I graduated from college I toyed with enrolling in clown school but I wasn't really ready to take such a risk.

After my mother became really ill, though, I thought: This is my moment. I researched clown schools and signed up for a weeklong program at NY Goofs, a clown school in New York City. We focused on skills like applying makeup, juggling, and balancing (I can now balance a folding chair on my chin). And we learned to develop characters. I created Lou-Lou Lollipop -- the name is from "Louie," my childhood nickname. A week later I found out my already-sick mother had developed lung cancer, which would eventually take her life. When I went to visit her in the hospital she was sitting in a room filled with sad, scared people getting chemo. Before I walked in I took my red clown nose out of my backpack and put it on. Everyone burst out laughing. My mom was laughing and crying at the same time. I decided right then and there that I wanted to volunteer as a hospital clown.

I began to offer my services at local hospitals, children's organizations, and charity events. Word spread and now I appear as Lou-Lou about twice a month. So often, when someone enters a child's hospital room, it's to poke or prod, to run tests or ask a million questions. I want to bring a few moments of laughter and relief to kids and their families. I give kids a chance to be silly and let their imagination soar. I teach them magic tricks and take them, for a few moments, to a happier place.

What I Learned

Laughter really does have healing powers. I'm reminded of this every time I visit a kid in a hospital and a parent says, "This is the first time he's smiled since he got here." Hospital clowning has a spiritual aspect to it, too. When you deal so closely with sickness and death, you assess what's important. You learn not to dwell on the past or worry about the future. You're forced into the present. I want to encourage people to enjoy every moment -- especially the one when a clown walks into the room and pulls out a rubber chicken.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2010.



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