Playing With Fire
Unusual act blends comedy, juggling
ByJason Duarte/Assistant Verge Editor

For a man who juggles electric carving knives, bowling balls and flaming propane tanks, the worst thing that's happened on stage to award-winning juggler Mark Nizer is getting his fingertip caught in a bike chain.

"I got my fingertip caught in the chain jumping on a seven-foot unicycle and it took off the tip of my finger. It was like one-sixteenth of an inch, but this thing bled like you have never seen before," Nizer said. "Blood was literally squirting out of my fingertip. Of course, you have to keep going, you can't just quit."

Nizer will perform during Family Weekend at 8 p.m. today in the Grand Ballroom of the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.

As he learned how to juggle things like bowling balls and flaming propane tanks, surprisingly, he never got hurt.

"I used to practice by making ones that were like that without sharp stuff and gas. The only thing is back injuries from all the bending over and flips and stuff that I do," Nizer said. "I fell off a stage once in New York City at a comedy club and hurt my back."

Amy Baumgart, University Board graduate assistant in the student life office, saw Nizer perform at a conference where UB books a lot of Eastern's events.

"They have a showcase of events and he's something that drew our attention," Baumgart said. "He had such a unique show; something that we hadn't seen from a lot of people."

As a kid, Nizer learned how to juggle and later began incorporating stand-up comedy into his act. Having been doing the combination full-time for 26 years, Nizer feels like he gets to live his dream every time he takes the stage.

When he started, Nizer thought juggling was the most important aspect of the show. The longer he did it, however, the more he realized the importance of comedy.

"Comedy is just such a powerful force, and it can take people to a whole level that just juggling can't," Nizer said. "One without the other, it really wouldn't be that special. You need the two together to really make it unique."

"He's very funny," Baumgart said. "He doesn't just juggle, he's a comedian. He brings a lot of comedy into the show and it's a lot of fun to watch."

Nizer likes to develop and introduce new tricks into his performance.

"There are moments where I'm trying to push the envelope and push myself a little bit, particularly if I'm doing a really clean show with no drops or anything," Nizer said. "Then I'll really start to push the envelope and try new things."

He also works in technology. He juggles lasers and does an interactive robot bit where Nizer acts as a robot on stage, interacting with a video playing behind him.

"I control all the stuff myself with little belt controls," Nizer said. "It's kind of an adventure of how much can one guy pull off on stage all while talking and being funny."

Nizer tours about 10 days out of each month.

He spends the rest of his time at his home in Charlottesville, Va., with his family, near the Blue Ridge Mountains where he hang-glides.

But when he's not at home, he travels the world.

"I was (just) in Amsterdam. The day before that, I was in Paris. The day before that, I was in Naples, Italy. The day before that I was in Monte Carlo. The day before that I was in Rome, Italy and Pisa," Nizer said.

For the most part, he needs an English-speaking audience since he incorporates a lot of dialogue into his show. He speaks French as well, so in places like France and Canada, he will work with that.

"I think my toughest crowds are probably with people being extra, extra old," Nizer said. "I gotta work a little harder to win them over, but once I got 'em, they're on the team and off we go."

Nizer has opened for Jerry Seinfeld, Barry Manilow, Christopher Cross and Ray Charles among many more.

Being Family Weekend at Eastern, Baumgart thought Nizer would be a great fit for this weekend in particular.

"He'll appeal to groups of all ages and we're hoping to draw in not just EIU students, but their families as well," Baumgart said.

"If you hate jugglers, you'll like my show," Nizer said. "It's very different and people are often very surprised. I do things that you won't expect and have never seen before. I always say, I don't get paid to perform; I get paid to get to the show. Money's to get on the plane and get a rental car. Once they say my name, that part's free."


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