Meet Dr. Kuku and Dr. Pipi, Bulgaria's First Medical Clowns

Why you should care

Waiting for opportunity to knock was the last thing two Bulgarian theater majors wanted to do. The first? Plying their trade for kids in dire need.

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You graduate from Bulgaria’s National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts with a degree or maybe with a degree and a pantomime specialty, and you end up being an actress, director or theater teacher for kids. Plus lots of postgrad work involving clowning. And then you discover that this pays more poorly than expected. Moreover, have you ever tried getting people to take a clown seriously?

Visiting children’s wards as medical clowns convinced Lapatova and Kirova that laughter can be one of the better medicines.

Iva Lapatova, 25, and Yanita Kirova, 31, tried, but beyond this was the eureka moment when the two friends were watching the treacly Robin Williams flick Patch Adams: They would affix themselves to Bulgaria’s underfunded hospitals to make staying in those hospitals a little more pleasant for the youngest occupants. A move that officially made Lapatova and Kirova the first Bulgarian medical clowns in a hospital system sorely in need of it.

Visiting children’s wards as both medical clowns and “mumbo-therapy doctors” convinced Lapatova and Kirova that laughter can be one of the better medicines. They goof, joke and clown their way across an experience that for many kids lacks a comforting face. With fluorescent fright wigs, rubber noses, striped stockings and a bag full of mock medical devices, they work a job that not only now pays but has also given them cause to imagine that setting up a medical clown school, where they can train those who want to dedicate themselves to their mission, is not that silly of an idea.

Even better than that, while teaching kids pantomime and doing art and theater therapy for schizophrenics, Lapatova and Kirova — aka Dr. Kuku and Dr. Pipi — have an evolving laboratory where they can workshop what works and what doesn’t, creating a situation where they’re actually making a positive difference. And if the proof of the pudding is in Lapatova and Kirova and the pratfalls they pull, well beyond proof of concept-style dreaming are the several other clinics that have signed on for their services.

Which is to say: The best kind of laughing matter possible.

Video by George Mihaylov.

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