Playing should not just be for kids and while I went down there to do some filming, I ended up having great fun playing with Juggling Jake‘s mini-bike, tightrope and walking plant pot thingies. I am doing some magic shows at Swan Shopping Centre in Leatherhead as part of their awesome Magic Mondays events every week in August. I think me and Miranda had more fun there than the kids.
Juggling Jakes does brilliant juggling shows and his workshops are so fun. He had so many fun toys which of course the kids were all over but so were the mums and dads. Really was great family fun. My favourites were the mini bikes. I used to own one and right it quite easily now I can barely get going on it without pulling 12 muscles.
Come down to Leatherhead; Swan Shopping Centre next Monday 20th August and 27th August. Bring the little ones too! Like Swan Shopping’s Facebook page here. They have great shops and cafes and lots of brill events.
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.
I hear this all the time from parents at children’s birthday parties. “Thank God it’s not another princess party!”
Princess parties are usually hosted by a young inexperienced drama student/out of work actress who is trained by a party company for a couple of hours, given a fancy dress costume, a cheap wig and a boom box with a dozen “princessy” songs to play on a tedious loop.
The boys do not get invited to such parties so certain friends and family members will usually be excluded and although some young girls will like “girly” princess parties, some girls will find the whole thing rather tedious as will the parents. You have been to one and you have been to all.
My theme is magic, fun and laughter and I like to have a good mix in my parties of magic tricks, routines, jokes, games and music that will please boys and girls as well as for the grown-ups to enjoy.
I play a range of music. Some songs that kids love but some music for the grown-ups too. We are all there for two hours. I was once at a party that I was not hosting and the entertainer played “Let It Go” on a loop for an hour. It was torture!
Princess parties are usually a disappointment. Book a more inclusive entertainer who will be fun for all. Avoid party companies who send out inexperienced entertainers.
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!
Woah! I did my first stand up comedy gig last night at the awesome Comedy Virgins at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell. I had been secretly studying and writing stand-up comedy the last few months to work towards my first 5 minutes on a stage without any balloons, magic tricks or a giggle-ready bunch of 5-year-olds in front of me.
I didn’t quite have the whole room barking with laughter but then I did get some laughs. So I think it was a success. It surprised me that the whole room cheered at the mention of “stationary” but that a stoic silence was met with my talk of “a rubber fist”.
They have a random order of comics on the night meaning everytime the compere calls for “a big to cheer to welcome to the stage…..” every act of the night puts down their drink ready to march to the stage. This was nice for me as I was the 43rd act of 45 on the night.
The very funny and lovely man Adrian Tauss was compereing. We briefly danced as I went on stage I seem to remember and as my five minutes ended I tightly hugged Adrian like a fireman who had dug me out of an earthquake rubble. My plan for next time is to extend the dance section to 4 minutes and drop some of the material I wrote for this set, maybe 38 of the 40 jokes.
I think this is a good rule for any service, but going for the cheapest children’s entertainer especially is not the best idea when a 4th/5th birthday party is such a special day. Whoever you book, read their online reviews and look at their website and videos. Are they professional? Do they entertain full time? Do they have a high-quality sound system that won’t be driving everyone mad with feedback noises? Will the children have a great time? Will they laugh and be comfortable in the company of this person? Are they experienced in the range of children’s parties that take place? I did one show last Saturday for 6 children of 4 and 5-year-olds and 40 adults but on Sunday, I did a party for 15 x 5-year-olds and 10 x 8-year-olds. It took a lot of experience to gauge the magic routines, jokes and the rhythm of the show for those different groups. This is something that only comes from performing at hundreds of shows.
The worst thing of all about cheap entertainers is that they might call and cancel a few days before because a carnival offered them twice the money to do 5 hours there or worst of all, the nightmare scenario of the entertainer not turning up at all! Suddenly you have a very disappointed birthday child and 30 little ones running around screaming and driving the parents to despair.
Book a brilliant children’s entertainer, not a cheap one. If budget is a worry, cut corners on having simple (or no) party bags, finding a cheap village hall, have the party at home (if it’s up to 15 children) or have a joint birthday party with another family to split the cost.
Avoid entertainers from cheap party companies as you usually won’t know who the entertainer is that you are booking and a lot of their entertainers are very inexperienced and trained within a few hours.
You will probably only have such a party once or twice. With a brilliant entertainer and fantastic magic show, they will have an unforgettable day, you will get great photos and all the other parents will be wondering how you organised such a brilliant party.