Don’t let Patch Adams hear you say that laughter is the best medicine.
“That’s crap!” he snarls.
If you’re planning to attend the Rolling Thunder Down-Home Democracy Tour and your impression of the 57-year-old Adams is based on the 1998 Hollywood movie in which actor Robin Williams caricatured him as a lovey-dovey doc in a white lab coat and a big red clown nose, prepare for a surprise.
Patch Adams is an angry, angry man.
He’s mad at the government. At the people. At health care. At the media. And when I talked to him by phone recently, he was even mad at me.
“Is this Patch Adams?” I recall asking.
“This is your lucky day,” he declared.
“I don’t think it’s very many people supporting the president. I think that because of what happened with the Vietnam War, people don’t know how to support our poor GIs and, at the same time, condemn our president.”
Leave that to Adams, who routinely refers to George W. Bush as “the stupidest, most dangerous man in our history.”
In fact, the subject of Bush — and, more specifically, of “the liberation of Iraq” — elevates Adams to his most strident:
“We’re protecting the f–king oil!” he gushes at one point.
“Democracy isn’t what you have; it’s what you do. So if you do not discuss the issues with people of different points of view [and] if you do not study and take part in the process, you’re not a citizen, you’re a robot.
“People are just supporting things like they support Coca-Cola,” he adds.
After graduating from medical school in 1971, Adams helped form the Gesundheit! Institute, a free hospital in rural West Virginia embracing various nontraditional approaches to medicine. He lives now in Arlington, Va., touring much of the year to raise money to build a new Gesundheit! facility.
“Health care can not only be affordable, but a really fun thing to do,” Adams declares.
“If [they] had any concern for our future, instead of just serving Coca-Cola, then the media would report on the millions of great projects happening all over the world — many of them, I’m sure, right in the Asheville area.”
The cynicism I mistakenly admit to:
“It’s intellectual whining. It’s pathetic. It’s saying, ‘OK, well f–k it; I’ll just live for myself.'”
Cynicism says it’s OK not to act, continues Adams — and it’s not OK.
Yet his railing at the world would seem to paint him as the ultimate cynic.
“Anger is not cynicism,” he snaps. “Anger is a healthy emotion when you have a Nazi president.”
With Rolling Thunder, Adams hopes to pass some of that anger along. Yet, asks the cynic, isn’t this event merely high-profile preaching to the choir?
At first, Adams waffles.
“What it may do is make uninformed supporters more informed,” he finally counters. “There’s a huge amount of discouragement and cynicism, and people who are riding the fence saying, ‘Oh, God, I’d like to change it, but there’s just no hope to change it.'”
But Adams does walk the talk — typically wearing big, red shoes.
Though he was recently prevented from taking a group of his circus-paint peers to China on account of SARS quarantines, Adams — a practicing clown for 40 years — has bozoed with groups in Afghanistan, Serbia and other places where humor has been bombed away. And he’s now trying to make arrangements to take a red-nosed contingent to Iraq.
So, Dr. Angry Clown, if it isn’t laughter, what is the best medicine?
“Friendship,” he proclaims. “Friendship.”