I know I am a fool! But I am getting quietly optimistic that we could be back at parties soon. I do hope so because it’s how I make a living! Rishi Sunak’s grants for self employed have ticked me along; I’ve ended up earning about 1/3 my usual income in the last year and obviously my diary for the year ahead is empty.
I have been volunteering recently at a vaccination centre in London and just WOW! It’s run brilliantly and the lovely other volunteers I work with make it a pleaure to be standing in a freezing car park directing cars and pointing people to the right path. I’m pretty star struck at the tea making zone to rub shoulders with the awesome NHS staff. What a time it has been for them it has been and how amazing they are.
I do not know what will happen in coming months and have really become numb to the good and bad news, but I need to be ready to go and up for a party because turning up full of enegy with a big smile on my face is what I am paid for. So I am working hard learning new magic tricks, writing jokes and getting fit. And boy has the last year given me material to write about!
For now, it’s not party time, so keep wearing your mask. Follow the guidelines and get a vaccine as soon as you are offered one! I’ve had my first dose and looking forward to the second one.
What do you think? When will you be having parties again?
Oh, PS I made a new showreel video of what I do. It’s pretty crazy and good fun.
Always loved daft props and costumes and particularly funny glasses. I have so many pairs! It’s funny how some get big laughs from kids and adults and some don’t really amuse. What are your favourite pair?
When I first met Brendan Rodrigues, I was still putting my legs behind my head for a living as a cabaret contortionist and Brendan was throwing bottles around. He was beginning to get really hot as a magician and over the next year the bar work fizzled away as his diary started bursting full with magic bookings.
Over the lockdown I knew Brendan was in the park practiving his old bar flair juggling skills mainly to keep fit and so I asked if he could give me a masterclass.
It was crazy fun. Check out the video. New funny videos every Wednesday.
I am being told by lots of magician friends that the video is too long for a showreel so I am going to chop it down to a 1 minute reel later today. Enjoy! Please subscribe to my channel for more silly fun.
I spent about 30 hours editing this! OK that might in part be because I was learning to use Adobe Premiere Pro. Wow, this software is so amazing! It was such a pleasure to play around with it. If you are a performer of any kind, I recommend very much to watch videos of your shows. It is very revealing and is helping me a lot to see the good things I do and the annoying habits that need to be dropped like laughing at my own jokes.
I got into working at children’s birthday parties because of balloon modelling. I bought a balloon modelling DVD but couldn’t keep them from untwisting and popping. That week a friend introduced me to the man who changed my life, the very funny magic man, Michael Wo.
Michael would carry a suitcase full of magic tricks and balloons wherever he went and I ended up doing the same for 3 years. He taught me to make balloon animals and we had great fun making them in the pubs for people and it earnt us free drinks, got us a few gigs and I got a wife from it (another story).
Balloon modelling is awesome. It has the wow factor. It has the aw factor. You can produce a teddy bear, a hat, an alien out of a few pieces of rubber in your hand. That for me is magical! Just check out the incredible things that David Crofts makes.
In around 2010, I wanted to become a clown much to the objections of my clown-fearing mother. I bought a unicycle, boxes full of joke props, giant shoes and loads more nonsense including balloon modelling balloons and a pump. This is when I met Michael Wo. I made a few balloon animals and put a few pics up online. My Facebook friends loved them! Their enthusiasm and likes pushed me to make more and more and ended up getting gigs by billing myself as, “The Happy Balloon Man!” It was brilliant because, with half a dozen gigs in the diary, I could finally quit the painful job I had at the time of being a contortionist. See this blog to read about that
I worked at all sorts of events making balloons and it was great fun at times. At others, it was frankly horrid with queues of angry parents furiously demanding the most complicated balloons I could make, “Right mate, I need 3 aliens for these monsters and 4 teddy bears for my other kids that are in the car!“
I ended up making balloons at a few children’s birthday parties. I was usually a side act, while a magician/entertainer was doing a show and games for the children, which is where I first thought of doing that myself. The kids were having a brilliant time. They were totally engaged and were laughing their socks off. I had never seen such an entertainer when I was a child. The shows and games I realised were much more fun than the balloon modelling that I was doing.
When I started doing children’s parties as an entertainer, I put a magic show together and then thought “I’ll make everyone balloons in the second half.” 30 happy laughing children in the first half became less and less so as they waited and started to get frustrated. Even with lots of jokes along the way, after 5 minutes, children get bored watching an entertainer making balloons and start to get frustrated that they haven’t got their balloon, then they may complain about the colour, the one they got, then comes the popping and crying.
Children hate the sound of balloons popping. Some are actually terrified of the sound. I often have requests from parents for ” no balloons!” Because they have had that wow pop cry* experience and it is something very sad for them that lingers.
What I have done for the last two years is stopped making everyone a balloon and tada, my parties are better than ever and my reviews are stronger. With plenty of music, magic shows, dancing, fun games, and a bubble machine, none of these issues arise and everybody is happy. What I still do is make a nice balloon for the birthday child in the calm of the food break. The other children understand that it is a present for the special child.
Balloon modelling I conclude is rubbish for birthday parties. If you are an entertainer reading this, consider dropping it from your party packages. Put fun games in that time instead or do more amazing magic routines.
For bigger events, DO book balloon modellers. But don’t just pick people who make amazing balloon models because I have seen “entertainers” grumpily making balloon in silence. But then I have worked with the fantastic Graham Lee, the awesome David Crofts and the dashing and glorious beast of a balloon superstar Russell Wells. If you are organising a large corporate event, fun day, festival do book a group of balloon modellers. Book 2 or 3 as demand will be high and they will quickly get swamped.
* “Wow, pop, cry” is a phrase that brilliant South Wales based children’s entertainer Simon Sparkles came up with.
Young Harry loves Spiderman. So why not hire “Spiderman” to come to his birthday party? Mascots are mostly a real disappointment to those who hire them. Firstly, most of them are illegally hiring themselves out in copyrighted costumes.
Secondly, it can often be a disappointment to meet the character you love from the amazing films especially for ages 6+; “why can’t he fly/climb the wall/fire webs/jump 100 feet?” Kids are not stupid. It can also for a little one be frightening to have a 6 foot tall Captain America suddenly in front of him out of the safety of the TV screen.
If you do hire a mascot character, book them to do a short 15-minute meet and greet, take photos and then bid them goodbye. That will make the experience more magical. A lot of cheap entertainment companies will offer for example “a Spiderman entertainer”. This will usually mean an out of work actor turning up in a fancy dress costume. The initial “It’s Spiderman!” excitement will wear off in 5 minutes and then the party is run by someone sweating profusely in a rubbish outfit.
Better is to hire a top rated entertainer who has his or her own unique style. This will be something new to everybody not a third rate version of an incredible Hollywood film.
I performed as a contortionist for 10 years across the UK and sometimes across the world. I worked alongside some interesting and lovely characters such as Gary Stretch in the Circus of Horrors who had a rare disorder allowing his skin to stretch like elastic and to perform tricks that you could never copy and would never see again in your life. There was the crazy but sweet Prince Albert who had an epic collection of facial piercings. And there was the brilliant Rod Laver who could play music not with a bass guitar, not with a trombone but by firing ping pong balls at gin bottles. One of the best acts I ever saw.
But the locations of my gigs as a contortionist were also pretty odd. Aside from the cabarets, and circuses, I was booked to pretend to be a normal dinner guest in a restaurant with a group of friends, and 15 minutes in, go into my contortion act at the dinner table. Just one dude, trying to impress his mates.
I was always small as a boy. I was the smallest boy in my year until the top year of high school. I’m probably about average now as a man but the day of one of my contortionist gigs, I felt like a very small man; when I was booked to do a show at a bodybuilding competition. Everyone in the building was bulging with muscles especially the women. I had an idea for two big fellas at the end of my act to carry me off stage with my legs behind my head. They did it but seemed rather uncomfortable and unhappy about it for some reason. I cannot imagine why.
As a children’s entertainer/magician, I thought the gigs would get less weird, but last year, I was booked to do a show at a doctors surgery. I assumed it would be closed for people’s appointments. I got there, they had a face painter and had done a bit of advertising. 3 children turned up and so did people for their doctor’s appointments. Suddenly I found myself entertaining (?) a half-full room of people needing medical assistance. Those who were delighted by me, were the doctors as they would pop out to call their next patient into their rooms. The doctors did enjoy my stool sample joke.
Speaking of which; I registered at a new doctors a few years ago. I went to a check-up session with a nurse. She typed into the computer some details and took a urine sample from me that I had been asked to bring. I then said to her “I have brought my stool sample, look!” She continued to look at her computer as I repeated: “look, look, my stool sample!” As she fixed her gaze to her computer she sternly repeated “I do not need to see that!”
As I have lowered the tone already, I had a fun few days shooting a TV advert for Easyjet where I had to get in and out of a suitcase in central London. See the video here
At the time, I was a vegan and trying to build muscle in the gym so I was eating a lot of chickpeas and lentils. Yes, you guessed right. I farted while zipped in the suitcase, twice!