This is not something I’ve written much about, but in my 20s I worked, lived, and traveled as a full-time street performer. It is a rewarding, but challenging line of work, and I was lucky to be shown the ropes in Seattle by a pair of jugglers (Matt Baker and Alex Zerbe) performing as The Brothers from Different Mothers, and a magician / underground legend named Tom Frank. The Brothers taught me how to build and work a large circle show, while Tom introduced me to some of the finer points of the artistry and philosophy of the busking lifestyle. This is kind of funny, since Tom denies caring about theory or philosophy.
Nevertheless, he lives it and radiates it. Tom was mentored by, perhaps, the most legendary of American street magicians, the great Jim Cellini. Among many of Cellini’s pieces of wisdom, which I still carry with me everyday almost 20 years later: “Just being there with your shit is half the battle.”
In New Orleans, I learned some additional pointers from the brilliant Jimmy Talksalot who introduced me to the writing of John Fante and taught me how to street perform in the French Quarter without winding up in jail. I spent part of that summer taking notes about street performing, magic, and all things strange, from the one and only Harry Anderson. When Harry found out I was living in a cheap hotel next to a guy that sounded like he was dying of tuberculosis, he let me come stay in his guest quarters for a while. Harry passed away last year, far too early, but his approach to comedy, magic, and life have helped me travel and perform around the globe. Harry said that when he was little: “I wanted to have everything, and I wanted to get it all by doing magic.” Well done, Harry. And I’m glad a little of that rubbed off on me.