Juggling for laughs
For 22 years, Barry Friedman and Daniel Holzman have steadily followed one mission, which is simply to elevate the image of jugglers.
Professionally known as the Raspyni Brothers, the two friends have performed their comedy juggling act on every continent except Africa.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about jugglers,” acknowledged Holzman last Friday from the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui, Hawaii. “A lot of people think the only way we work is to do children’s parties or Pier 39. But we basically get to go for free to resorts and conventions that lots of people attend and get paid an amazing amount of money for a one-hour show or sometimes even just 15 minutes of performing.”
As if to prove his point, Holzman and his partner were relaxing that very afternoon in $300-a-night rooms, with all expenses paid by the Underground Contractors Association. Their work for the association consisted of one 60-minute show the night before.
The Raspyni Brothers are used to this red carpet treatment; they’ve received the star treatment since 1992 when they began accepting corporate jobs.
Before that, the 1984 and 1988 International Team Juggling Championship winners had an abundance of high-profile jobs to choose from, opening around the country for major draws such as Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Howie Mandel, George Burns, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Dennis Miller and Lou Rawls.
So far, they have more than 100 national television shows to their credit, including repeat performances on the “Tonight Show,” “The Howie Mandel Show,” “An Evening at the Improv,” “The Circus of the Stars” and “Live with Regis and Kathy Lee,” as well as special appearances on “The Presidential Command Performance” for President Reagan and “The Jonathan Winters’ Showtime Special.” They’ve worked in alternative venues, including Judge Lance Ito’s courtroom before the sequestered O.J. Simpson jury one Saturday morning in 1995.
Those are great accomplishments, especially since neither Holzman (now of the East Bay) nor Friedman (now of Grass Valley) set out to be juggler-comedians. They met by chance in 1980 in a Sherman Oaks park as Friedman juggled three clubs just for fun. Holzman rode by on a bike and struck up a friendship with Friedman by uttering: “Hey, I started juggling a few years ago. Let me try that.” At the time, Holzman was a grill chef and Friedman was a warehouse forklift driver. Both were students at a local junior college.
The partners quickly explained that jugglers, being a minority, tend to stick together. Within two years, the two drove from Southern California to the Windy City to try to land a gig at the Chicago Renaissance Festival. That first performance evolved into a five-month tour that included stops at the Minnesota and Texas Renaissance festivals.
Since 1992, the duo’s emphasis has shifted to mostly international corporate shows five to 10 times a month.
“We moved from Las Vegas revues, to cruise ships, to TV, to opening acts where we got a reputation for ‘a funny visual act that didn’t step on toes,’ to corporate,” Holzman reflected. “The corporate company market just came up as needing an act for a morning meeting kickoff or an after-dinner headline show. It’s just a fun rocking comedy show with only 10 percent being about the company, its competitors, slogans and products.”
Their show is focused predominantly on comedy rather than juggling, the two performers stress.
“We don’t go in on each other’s shoulders or ride huge unicycles,” Holzman pointed out. “Juggling is the hanger that we put our comedy suit on. It’s not a juggling show per se, it’s a juggling show for those who don’t want to see a juggling show. It’s kind of like Victor Borge using the piano, not to please the classical music fans, but to display his comedy.”
First seen in Grass Valley opening for political punster Will Durst this past October, the Raspyni Brothers return Friday to the Center for the Arts.
Friday’s 90-minute show is billed as a sitcom with props or, as Friedman describes it, “having fun with large toys such as golf clubs, paddle bars, flipping dogs, knives, bowling balls and trampolines used in many nontraditional ways.”
About 15 minutes of the show is actual juggling.
“Our thrust is more verbal than juggling. We won two awards, we don’t have to practice anymore more on our juggling,” Friedman boasted tongue-in-cheek. That statement shouldn’t fool potential audience members, however; their professional name is a tribute to famous 20th century Italian juggler Eduardo Raspini (both brothers have visited Raspini’s burial site several times) and a nod to “raspy,” which is slang for a hard trick.
And juggling keeps them in better physical shape today than when they were growing up.
“I was extremely klutzy, I had the shakes until I was 15, my mom couldn’t believe I became a juggler,” Friedman said. “Twenty-five years of juggling teaches you to be graceful.”
At least in the case of the Raspyni Brothers’ routines, juggling also demands that they stay in shape just for the bathing suit portion of the show.
“It also helps if you’re hairless,” Holzman added. “Barry just shaved his body and got a Speedo for Friday’s show, he wants to be aerodynamic.”
KNOW AND GO:
WHAT: Raspyni Brothers performance, appropriate for all ages
WHEN: Friday at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
ADMISSION: $10. Proceeds benefit South Yuba River Citizens League. Advance tickts at Herb Shop Records, Yabobo, BriarPatch, The Book Seller or by calling (800) 594-8499.
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