A Stand-Up Guy Happily Juggles His Passions
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
NEW YORK -- It's just a guy, three balls and an ornate stage at some unnamed live event. The Beatles' melancholy "Golden Slumbers" begins playing on a loudspeaker, and the gray-haired man in the dark shirt and pants is suddenly juggling in perfect sync to the music.
For 4 1/2 minutes, he tosses and grabs, his hands and body language capturing the pace and mood of the Fab Four as they build to the rousing three-song finale of the "Abbey Road" album. When the music ends and the last ball is caught, the crowd is on its feet, roaring. The man takes a bow and walks off the stage.
If you own a computer, odds are you've seen this video, which went viral in January and has been viewed, by conservative estimate, more than 20 million times. Given that most of the check-this-out flotsam of the Internet is freak-show material -- Japanese kids playing marimbas, a moron trying to ride an elk -- this performance is startling. It's not merely good. It's actually moving.
Nobody is more startled than the juggler himself, a 53-year-old stand-up comedian and D.C. native named Chris Bliss. He posted the clip, from a 2002 comedy festival in Montreal, on his personal Web site four years ago. As best he can tell, someone happened across it in January, cut and pasted the link, and sent it to friends. Who sent it to friends. And so on, and so on, until Bliss was spending $12,000 a month on bandwidth fees to keep the video playing on his site.
"I'm just praying the Chinese have blocked it," he jokes. "Actually, someone suggested that I post it to Google video, and that's helped a lot. It was viewed 3 1/2 million times there in the month of March alone."
It's Monday evening and Bliss is sitting in his room at the Millennium Hotel, getting ready to appear today on "Good Morning America."
"My bags took 45 minutes to show up," he says, fresh out of a taxi from JFK airport and sounding remarkably unbothered. "What are you going to do?"
Bliss is tall and quick to smile. There's something serene about him. Wearing sneakers and a Tommy Bahama shirt, he looks like a CEO on permanent vacation.
The "GMA" invitation is one of dozens he's fielded in recent weeks. He's heard from Carson Daly's people, from "Ellen," from some new Simon Cowell show. "Dateline" wanted him to do battle in a "juggling war" with some guy in a "Diss Bliss" video, a routine that used the same music but with five balls.
He's been asked to juggle before King Carl Gustav XVI of Sweden. The Big Apple Circus sent out a feeler. The Illinois Symphony Orchestra has been in touch, as has the Cornell Woodwind Ensemble and a faculty member at the Berklee School of Music.
He's politely declined them all. Because, as it turns out, juggling really doesn't interest Bliss. It's something he's been edging away from for years. It was the sum total of his act for a long time, in the '70s and '80s, when he played arenas as the opener for bands, including Michael Jackson and his brothers for the '84 "Victory" tour.
These days, Bliss is a full-time touring comic, doing mostly topical humor at corporate events and occasionally in clubs. But what he really wants to talk about isn't his next gig. What Chris Bliss wants to talk about is the Bill of Rights.