But maybe it wasn't juggling. It could have been tightrope-walking or fire-eating that Paul Magid (Dmitri) and Howard Jay Patterson (Ivan) began on a long journey that would eventually lead to the comedy act the Flying Karamazov Brothers. Or maybe it was that uncommon vein that runs through the limbs of born performers. That and a willingness to take a lot of risks.
The Flying Karamazov Brothers take their name from Dostoyevski's novel The Brothers Karamazov. Besides its two founding members, the group includes Mark Ettinger (Alexei) and Roderick Kimball (Pavel). These guys are not brothers, and all the flying is done by balls, pins, clubs, meat cleavers, and other objects designed to dazzle.
Patterson and Magid spent the early part of their career as the opening act for university productions. Upon graduation, they decided to take a chance and moved to San Francisco to become famous.
"We knew what graduate school meant, and so we figured we'd make enough money to pay for [it] by performing for a couple of years. We still haven't been back, but it's not too late!" says Patterson.
The Brothers' first full show, Juggling and Cheap Theatrics, was a series of acts at a dinner theater in Minneapolis, which led to the Ritz Theatre on Broadway in 1983. Since then, they have had three other stints on Broadway and have brought their blend of great juggling and bad jokes to audiences all over the world.
Catch!, their latest -- originally titled Broadway Bound ... and Gagged until September 11th -- is a tour of some of their most popular stunts from the past, including traditional juggling of ordinary items (you know, torches, sickles, and hatchets), as well as a tribute to the art of Japanese taiko festival drumming (on cardboard boxes, of course).
Music is a very important part of the show. Says Patterson, "We like to make music in the process of juggling, because we think juggling is visual music." The show also includes their version of musical chairs, called "musical clubs," which wouldn't be so unusual except the Brothers are the ones doing the singing (Irving Berlin's "Isn't This a Lovely Day").
Audiences members participate by challenging Patterson to juggle objects brought from home in a segment of the show called "The Gamble." Says Patterson, "If I can't juggle it, then I get a pie in the face. If I can, I get a standing ovation." Patterson says he's juggled some very strange things, including ice cream, livers, and a pig stomach stuffed with lime jello. But by far the strangest was a nine-and-a-half-pound dead octopus.
"I couldn't juggle it. It was too slippery, but the audience gave me the standing ovation anyway," recalls Patterson.
Although the Gamble is open to the absurd, there are a few stipulations: "I won't juggle any live animals or anything that could keep me from being a live animal," states Patterson. "It has to be smaller than a bread box, and I do get to modify the objects up to three times. For example, if someone brings a switchblade, I might close the blade."
Audiences are also encouraged to bring balls from home (or purchase them at the show) for the portion of Catch! where audience members learn to juggle and compete for the "Wooba Wooba Jack Prize."
Patterson says the thing he remembers most about Memphis from the last time the Brothers toured here is the barbecue. "I got out of the cab and it was the first thing I smelled. I didn't even check into my hotel; I went straight for the barbecue place."
Barbecue? Perhaps a few handfuls of sticky shredded pork would make a good gamble.
Tickets for the 8 p.m., December 7th show of Catch! can be purchased for $29 at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre box office at 1801 Exeter Road, by phone at 757-7256, or online at www.GPACweb.com.