Payamédicos: Healing with laughter in Buenos Aires

Clown paramedics at Hospital Posadas, watching their patient being interviewed
Clown paramedics at Hospital Posadas, watching their patient being interviewed.(Sijing Yang/Medill)

By Chloe Xu and Sijing Yang
Medill Reports

In the heart of Buenos Aires, the Hospital Posadas becomes a canvas of vibrant colors, harmonious melodies and infectious laughter, breaking through the silence of a February night. Amid this scene, a program known as Payamédicos — a combination of “clown” and “doctor” in Spanish — is revolutionizing the perception of clowns, tapping into the potential of laughter as a catalyst for healing. Medill Reports ventured into the captivating narratives of Payamédicos, unveiling the impact of their unique approach on the well-being of individuals. As the layers of tradition are peeled back and the fascinating world they inhabit is revealed, the transformative power of laughter takes center stage in their pursuit.



[Argentine music playing in the background]

Title: Everyone is waiting for Friday

[Clown therapists gathered in front of the Hospital Posadas]

Dr. José Pellucchi: To some people, laughter is something that would not have a place in the hospital.

It’s a conception of the Middle Ages where laughter was forbidden and illness was a punishment. People had to have a hard time in the hospital. But in general, they’re some remnants of those backward ideologies. Only some people still think that way.

After spending a lot of time in the theater, I had started my research. I graduated as a doctor, taking theatrical plays to hospitals. The patients who were able to go even brought their IVs.

To give those who can’t go a chance to see the plays,

I formed what we call theater. Later on it started to be called Payamédicos (clown therapy), because those plays had a focus with the genre of the theatrical clown.

[Therapists in dressing room]

Gabriela Soveron: We see some people once and never see them again. But some are in the hospital for a long time, and we see the change. Sometimes they are waiting for us, or they want to share with us.

They are waiting for Friday to arrive so they can tell us something. They wait for us and always give us love in return. We’re always welcomed. With the clown costume on, I’m no longer Gabriela, but Margarita. And Margarita is a fun and cute doctor.

[Soveron with patients in the hospital room]

Soveron: We want to greet you with different kisses we have. I have a little mouth.

Camila Duarte: Sometimes we feel bad, and they appear and lift your fear a little bit. I always take pictures with them. I have a wall filled with pictures in my house. And I have several pictures with them when I’m hospitalized. They give us that happy energy that sometimes we don’t have here.

Soveron: Good night, at least for now.

The hallways are nice here.

Angel Fermin Funes: This is Angel, we’ve been visiting him for a long time. Look, Angelito. Say “hello.” He is Angel. He’s very smart, he knows a lot of things.

Angelito: I send greetings for all my friends. I will hold you up, put your arms around me.

Fermin Funes: Come on, Angel! Let’s go to the balcony! Be careful with his foot. Put the chair there.

Paola Villareal: His finger is stuck. Look, he is scared!

[Everybody laughing]

I was helped a lot. He went through many stages, some of which were very traumatic. The longest hospitalization he had here was six months last year. We were only away for two and a half months.

So, we see them every Friday. The support they give us every Friday is priceless. He also tells me that when he gets better, he wants to be one of them. He waits for Payamedicos every Friday.

[Video from Villareal]

Fermin Funes: It brings you back again, it brings you back. You just saw Angel.

He’s been here since he was a kid for a long time, back and forth, back and forth.

[Video from Villareal]

And every time we meet him, he’s one of us. And he says he wants to be our friend, he’s one of us.  Many don’t like clowns.

[Therapists and Angel on balcony]

Fermin Funes: Let’s put this one up. I’ll put this one up if you like it.

I don’t like clowns very much. But there are people who love it, who smile a lot.

Jorge Alarcon: It’s cute, very cute. Laughing is always the nicest thing. You have to do it every day. You have to smile and be always happy. That helps the soul a lot.

Soveron: We can’t get out because we get super enlarged. We go super enlarged.

Alarcon: Yes, always. On Fridays we are waiting for them. Everyone, not just me. Because it’s going to give you immense joy to see them. The kind of positive vibe they put on everything. The truth is that it doesn’t pay for itself with anything.  It’s beautiful to feel all the love they give us.

Soveron: Let’s put it right here. Very good, Jorge!

And how do you feel when they leave?

Alarcon: You’re relieved, you’re happy. Like all the bad things that you had are forgotten and you’re really happy.

Go! Go forward! All is possible! Everything is possible with love and joy. Today we are transformed.

Soveron: Kisses to all! Thanks a lot!

Pellucchi: When you leave, you have to leave in a way that feels like you’re coming back. Because for  a lot of patients there, it’s the last time they really see you.

[Therapists leave from elevator and greet to camera]

Therapists: Hello!


Filmed in Buenos Aries in February 2023 with the with the support of local reporter María Florencia Cotignola. Sijing Yang and Chloe Xu are graduate students in the video & broadcast specialization. Connect with Sijing on LinkedIn. Connect with Chloe on LinkedIn.