There is, perhaps, nothing in our often dark and dreary world that brings more spontaneous happiness to grownups than the completely joyous laughter of a child; except, maybe, the grin of a seriously ill one.
Those who work with sick children have a special place in this world and those who can make them laugh as well are highest on that list of heroes.
In New Orleans, that’s where the Funny Bones Improv folk come in. This amazing group of volunteers can be found giving comedy improv performances in children’s hospitals all across the New Orleans area. Their mission, they say, is to share the gifts and benefits of laughter with sick children, their families and their caregivers.
“Improv is just a form of comedy in which everything is made up,” explains Emily Slazer, New Orleans Director of the organization that performs both in this city and in Chicago. In general, while the philosophy behind improv is team-based, Emily says there is no formal rehearsing of skits; just a warm up before each show so the performers can try to change their grownup brains to be, as she puts it, “more like kid brains.”
Together improvisers, children, parents, and even the occasional doctors and nurses work to create on-the-spot wackiness guaranteed to make everyone laugh. “Our goal is to give the kids an hour or so of just plain fun,” Emily says.
While most of the performances are for groups, Funny Bones improvisers will put the same energy into making just one child laugh if that child is confined to a hospital bed and cannot participate with the crowd.
Hospitals tend to organize children of similar ages into groups. But the Funny Bones crowd can make the giggles come even if there are huge age differences.
“We’ve done enough shows where all the kids are young or all the kids are older,” Emily says. “No question, it is easier that way. But in mixed age groups, we try to make the 16-year-olds as comfortable as the 5-year-olds. On paper that doesn’t seem like that’s something that would work. But we have gotten to the point where it does and those performances are something really special.”
Longtime New Orleans resident Janet Wilson is Funny Bones Improv’s newly-appointed Executive Director, responsible for what happens both in New Orleans and Chicago. Her goal is to grow their unique child-based improv model into more cities.
“It’s a priority,” she says. And she is already making progress. “Next year we will be working in Milwaukee as well,” she says, explaining that cities with active groups of people already involved in the world of improvisation provide the best way to expand the movement.
That’s how Milwaukee happened, she explains. “A person who knows of us connected us to a children’s hospital there.”
But wherever else they go, Funny Bones Improv New Orleans will continue to take care of the Crescent City’s children. Janet says they will continue to perform close to 100 shows a year adding laughter to the lives of hundreds of sick kids while reducing the stress of many hundreds more parents and caregivers.
So if you have always wanted to act out your inner child but never knew how, or you just simply want to support this comic cause, Janet Wilson and Emily Slazer invite you to contact them at www.funnybonesimprov.com. She’s looking to expand the team.