Pandemic Pandemonium

Enter laughing: A world of clowns

In a world of trouble, Clowns Without Borders goes to hot spots and lightens the load. At Pandemic Pandemonium, you can pitch in.

A few days into the tour, the clowns felt exhausted. Port-au-Prince, the capital city and chief port of the Republic of Haiti, lay in ruin. It was March 2010, ten weeks after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ripped the country asunder, killing an estimated 250,000 people. Twisted rubble disfigured the skyline and 40,000 tents overtook the country’s only golf course. Running water was scarce: The clowns, hot and humid, took small “showers” with purchased drinking water. On tour with an organization called Clowns Without Borders, and sponsored by Handicap International, which provides prosthetics and medical equipment, the clowns brought another kind of crucial medicine: laughter. 

They began their shows with a traditional clown parade in makeshift hospital tents, hugging and playing for hundreds of children with new amputations. The city was already ravaged by poverty and political volatility. The earthquake laid bare its flimsy infrastructure and vast inequities. For one clown, Portlander David Lichtenstein – known the world over as Leapin’ Louie – the experience exposed something else: the playfulness and resilience of the Haitian people. “On that tour, I heard the loudest laughter of my entire life, reminding me just how fine the line is between comedy and tragedy,” Lichtenstein said. “Comedy is overcoming and celebrating tragedy.” 

The people of Haiti are living proof of what Red Skelton so nicely put into words: “No matter what your heartache may be, laughing helps you forget it for a few seconds.” I like to hope Mr. Skelton had knowledge of the work of Clowns Without Borders, whose beginnings can be traced back to 1993, when school children in Barcelona raised money to send the Catalonian clown Tortell Poltrona to their pen pals in Croatian refugee camps. 

Following the 2010 earthquake disaster in Haiti, “Leapin’ Louie” lassos a happy crowd eager for a little relief. Photo courtesy David Lichtenstein