Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Columnist Lisa Ferguson: Magician Paul has a ball with juggling act

Lisa Ferguson's Laugh Lines column appears Fridays. Her Sun Lite Column appears Mondays. Reach her at [email protected]

It doesn't take much effort to recall the names of some of show business' legendary comedians -- Burns, Berle, Gleason, Hope -- and masterful magicians -- Houdini, Blackstone, Cardini.

But how many jugglers have left as great a mark on entertainment history? Can't think of any?

That comes as no surprise to Todd Paul.

"Jugglers aren't cool," he says, speculating the skill has "just never been all that popular" among audiences in the United States.

Before the nation's jugglers grab those big, sharp knives they're known to toss and show Paul the hard way just how uncool they really are, they should know he's one of them.

Paul, who began studying magic at age 5, has been juggling since he was 10. Three years later he was performing for crowds on street corners in his native Northern California. The 35-year-old demonstrates his blend of comedic magic and juggling through Sunday at The Comedy Stop at the Trop.

"People ... when they think of a juggler, they think of their kid's birthday party," Paul said in a recent phone interview from Laughlin, where he performed last month, "and that's definitely not what my show is."

Anyone can juggle a bunch of rubber balls. So Paul takes it a step further: He manipulates four crystal balls in a stunt called "contact juggling." He spent the summer of his 18th year teaching himself the technique after watching David Bowie's character, Jareth the Goblin King, perform it in the 1986 fantasy flick, "Labyrinth."

In his show Paul rolls the balls around his head, over his hands, arms and chest. "It actually looking like it's floating ... I've done it so much now it's lost some of its power to me, but I try to remember the first time I saw it, and it's really incredible."

When he was a young lad new to the magic/juggling business, Paul says, "I did everything sort of serious, just looking for the 'wows' " from audiences. But when sleight-of-hand flubs brought chuckles from crowds he decided being funny was, well, more fun.

He recalls the first laughs he received onstage, during a grammar-school talent show. The then-11-year-old was balancing atop a rolling cylinder and juggling a trio of machetes. "It just struck me that I'm in a room full of adults and they're letting me juggle knives ... and I commented on it, and it killed 'em. Everybody started laughing," he says. "What a great feeling that was to make all the adults laugh, not just the kids."

Before kicking his performance career into high gear, Paul worked in the early '90s as a "flair" bartender (remember Tom Cruise's stylized antics flipping bottles in "Cocktail" and you get the idea). When the bar where he worked debuted a weekly comedy night, Paul stepped in as the show's host. "I'm meeting all these comics and watching everybody's act and I'm thinking, 'This is the way to go, making people laugh. Being serious about it is definitely not the thing for me.' "

Neither, he discovered, is being shticky. Paul garners laughs through his magic, into which he incorporates juggling. A couple of years ago, he begrudgingly added an old standby -- juggling a chain saw -- to his act.

Tossing the power tool is a standard shocker employed by many jugglers. But Paul, who began performing in Las Vegas four years ago, is not a fan of the trick. "When you're a decent juggler, it's really not that hard," he says, "but people want to see the chain saw."

As part of a 20-minute card trick, he explains to audiences how jugglers who use saws are "just resorting to cheap theatrics." But when the card trick goes south, Paul picks up the chain saw in an effort to redeem himself.

When it comes to theatrics, Paul knows his stuff. From playing at comedy clubs and corporate engagements nationwide, he's learned what is required technically to provide the ideal performing -- and showgoing -- experience.

Paul, his wife, Shelly, and business partner Brad Bonar Jr. founded Comic Delivery. The trio devised a formula for turning the -- yawn -- "entertainment portion of the evening" at large company events into top-notch comedy/magic/juggling shows that sometimes star Paul, but often feature stand-up comics with whom he performs nationally.

At most corporate shindigs, "It ends up being the worst possible of all situations for an entertainer," Paul says. "They'll have 500 people on one side of the room and 500 people on the other side of the room, and a dance floor in front of you the size of a football field."

In a 1967 Chevy panel truck, Comic Delivery brings a stage set, sound and lighting gear and other equipment to venues. For a fee of several thousand dollars, Paul says, "We walk into their banquet room and we turn it into a comedy club and we control the entire event, and our shows rock."

Who knows: Maybe someday Paul will park the old truck at a Las Vegas casino and set up his own permanent production in a showroom. "I think that would be a great thing for an act like mine." And a huge leap forward for jugglers everywhere.

Out for laughs

What becomes of former "Star Search" contestants? Find out Monday through June 15 when Mike Saccone, who in 1989 claimed the talent show's top comedy prize -- a cool $100,000 -- plays Catch a Rising Star at Excalibur.

Up for a crossword puzzle? Here's the clue: Comic whose name appeared twice in 1997 as the answer to TV Guide's puzzles; nine letters. The answer: Bruce Baum, who completes his stint Sunday at Riviera Comedy Club.

New box-office hours for Comedy Zone at the Plaza: Tickets can be purchased from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. The showtime and ticket price -- 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, $14.95 plus tax -- remain the same.

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