Asked and Answered: finds his craft is a contact sport
Former world champion juggler performed at the Lied Center for Performing Arts last week.
Think juggling is a sissy sport? Think again. Nizer has been knocked out. He's sliced open his hand. And he's nearly ruined his hip socket.
Mark Nizer has juggled for kings and queens. He's opened for Barry Manilow and Bob Hope. And he's dazzled college bar crowds and elementary school assemblies alike.
But his most interesting crowd? He once juggled for the O.J. Simpson jury.
Talk about your captive audiences.
"I always say now, 'If you can't get a standing ovation from a sequestered jury, you're in real trouble,'" Nizer says.
Now Nizer gets standing ovations from folks who are free to come and go, including those at his performance last week at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.
Part comedian and part stuntman, Nizer juggles everything from bowling balls to burning propane tanks to electric carving knives. He juggles five ping-pong balls with his mouth. And he has spent years perfecting such high-tech high jinks as juggling laser beams off a smoke-filled auditorium.
Before his performance in Lincoln, Nizer talked about the thrill and tedium of his medium, the genius of Hope and Manilow and what furry animal he hopes to incorporate into his act.
Q. You didn't learn to juggle until 13. How do you go from that late beginning to performing with Bob Hope by age 19?
A. The toughest thing about performing is to really develop a personality. Mine really came from interacting with people on the streets in San Diego. If you can captivate a crowd that's just passing by, that's a really tough test. I'm a big believer that the street is the ultimate school.
Q. I don't know who this Bob Hope guy is. But what was it like touring with the incomparable Barry Manilow?
A. Barry Manilow was very, very cool. I learned a lot from him about being a showman. He's really a master at stage presence and at audience control and feeding off of their energy.
Q. Tell the truth. Which did you get sick of first - "Mandy" or "Copacabana"?
A. That's the funny thing. I used to practice backstage after I opened for him. One time, I was working on a trick with a soccer ball and some rings and I ran to catch the soccer ball, and I didn't see this lighting truss. I ran into it and was knocked out completely cold. A few minutes later, I'm waking up to "Oh Mandy you came and you gave without takin'." And I had no idea what was going on.
Q. On your Web site, there's a picture of you with Bob Hope, Jeff Foxworthy and Phyllis Diller. Who is the bigger comedic genius - Foxworthy or Diller?
A. (Laughter) They're both equal in their time.
Q. Seriously, what was it like doing USO tours with Bob Hope?
A. It was very, very surreal. Looking back at where I was at that time, it's just so funny that any of it happened. His only goal was to help people out. And, of course, he had this incredible wisdom. The most important thing he ever said to me was, "Show business is two words - show and business. If you remember that, you've got it going on."
Q. On your Web site, you say "If you don't like jugglers, you'll like Mark Nizer." That seems like an odd comment from a juggler.
A. The problem is, a lot of people associate jugglers with somebody they've seen on the street. It's easy to be lame. It's not like you've passed a test to become a juggler. Plus, it's easy to hide behind your juggling. I like to step in front of the props so the juggling is sort of secondary.
Q. How in the world did you come to perform for the O.J. Simpson jury?
A. I was really into the trial. I just sent my tape to (Judge) Lance Ito and said, "If you need some entertainment, let me know." They called and said, "We'd love to have you come down to court on Saturday." I performed right there in the courtroom.
Q. What did you juggle - the bloody glove, a lock of Ito's beard and the scales of justice?
A. Actually, in my act at the time, I juggled these two really scary looking machetes. But they told me I couldn't juggle the knives. That stunk. Just the sheer irony, the comedic element of that, would have been incredible. The sad thing is, the jury seemed really intelligent. I honestly left there feeling very happy that justice was in their hands. How wrong was I?
Q. You once used the fact that you were on the Arsenio Hall Show to get out of a speeding ticket. Do you still use that line on people?
A. Heavens no. I haven't mentioned that again. The funny thing is, I wasn't sure it would be a good thing at the time.
Q. You've got three daughters. Admit it - have you ever juggled them?
A. There is a way you can toss a kid back and forth with props in your hands. I wouldn't recommend it at home. But I can tell you what I am considering. I want to juggle five live gerbils. It would raise a lot of controversy. Think of the attention I would get from the protesters alone.
Q. I once saw Steve Martin juggle kittens in concert.
A. But those were fake! Could you imagine what would happen if I did it with real ones? People would go ballistic. Don't get me wrong - I'm part of the Church of Every Living Thing Is Sacred. So I would make sure they were safe. I could give them their own little motorcycle helmets.
Q. Juggle something.
A. OK. I've got a pumpkin and orange, a note pad and a salt and pepper shaker. (Fumbling of stuff.) Whoops. I dropped the phone.
Q. I gotta say - you really stink by phone.
A. It kind of loses its impact, doesn't it? We used to do it every week on the radio in San Diego. We were juggling stuff while we were jumping off of bridges. It was a lot of fun.
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