Juggler's World: Vol. 43, No. 2

Creativity According to Pat Hazell

by Bill Giduz

Pat Hazell is a Los Angeles based variety artist well-known to IJA members who have been to the past few festivals. His stage act blends magic, comedy and props, working with everything from Mr. Potato Head to Silly Putty to houses of cards. But he came from juggling roots and still maintains a close affinity to jugglers. He earns praise for his ability to entertain without blue humor, and does so finding comedy in the family situations that audiences find warm and true. His latest creative project was an eight-week May and June run at the Complex Theatre in Hollywood of a comic play he wrote, "The Bunk Bed Brothers." Hazell acted the part of one of two brothers who return to their family home and their old rooms on the occasion of their parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

You may have seen him on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Evening at the Improv, Comic Strip Live or appearing on the Showtime network as one of the five best comics in America. He has played the best comedy clubs in the country and done concerts with the likes of Rodney Dangerfield, Sheena Easton, Phyllis Diller and Jay Leno. He agreed to talk with Juggler's World about his own story of success and how it may help you be successful, too!

My Big Advice To Jugglers

My introduction to the IJA was the Santa Barbara convention in 1982, and it was pretty impressive to me. I had come from a magic background and been to magic conventions, where they talk about what they can do but don't ever do it. But at juggling conventions they do it, there's no bluffing. Everyone accepts everyone at their current ability level and inspires each other further. It stimulates your competitive, creative nature to see people doing things you wish you could do. At magic conventions, they don't think about putting in the hours, they see a trick and say, "That's a cool trick, I wonder where I can buy it."

I have continued to return to IJA conventions - Purchase, San Jose, Denver, Baltimore and Los Angeles, and emceed the public show in Denver.

The one thing discouraging about juggler's convention is that people are so strongly influenced by each other that many have no sense of identity. When you see something original on stage, you can count on seeing other people doing it a couple of years later. They say, "That's what works," and try to imitate it instead of asking themselves what works for them.

I'm impressed by groups like Airjazz, who spend a lot of time in the studio making stuff up. My big advice to jugglers would be to let themselves be influenced by other mediums, and not just other jugglers.

The people who really step out of the established boundaries, like Michael Moschen or Michael Menes, don't listen to anything but their own creative whim. They let their own desires and thoughts lead where they may, and develop a remarkable signature style. Airjazz has been exploring movement and dance, focusing on what they like until it's great. I respect that discipline and ingenuity, whether it's the thing that will give them a big break or not. At least they're determining their own fate.

Learning the business, though it's greatly important, is secondary to having unique work that you're proud of. There are tons of people who can handle the technical side of juggling, but what people are missing is the overall package - the costume, the music, the lights, and fresh ideas - those things that make up a personal style. Most people stop thinking after they learn the tricks.

Style is the hardest to learn, of course, because you feel you have the most to lose from your choices. Most people want to hear that it's all right before they make that leap. You want someone to do the uncharted waters first.

I'd suggest you just put yourself in a room with props and try to work with them in different ways. And why not forget about buying props from dealers at the convention, but rather buying them at a thrift store? Or look at something old and rediscover it. A lot of good things come from contemporizing old ideas, like Dan Menendez, who has modernized drum bouncing by doing it off a floor piano.

Ultimately you want a solid routine, but you have to have time for discovery. If you work only on a head roll you have only a trick, not a style. The tricks are attainable for almost every juggler, but you have to develop a personal style. Don't pick music because it's good juggling music, pick it because you like it and you feel good expressing yourself with it. Rehearse with a video camera going the whole time, or draw things, make sketches, jot down thoughts and feelings. Usually your instinct will tell you you're striking on a good idea. Then take the time to push yourself on that idea...

It Was Scary, But I Gave Up The Bra Trick

I was doing magic in public from age 10 on. It was OK to do goof-off things like magic as a kid, it's easy when you're young. And I had a bomb-proof act early on. That is to say, you could have plugged any magician into my place! But after a while it became embarrassing, because I realized it was the trick and not me. Probably when I decided I needed to make everything come from the core of Pat Hazell, rather than to just get a laugh for a trick, was my "lifting of a veil."

I used to do the trick where you tie two silks together, stick them down someone's shirt and end up pulling out a bra. It gets a laugh every time, guaranteed. It took courage for me to put that trick away for a while, but it made it easier to put away more and more standard tricks after that. Now when I'm on stage the audience has a sense of who I am, and so it doesn't matter if I drop a prop or flub a trick. I've defined myself so whatever I say I'm acknowledging reality and the moment. They like that, it means it's fresh to them.

When Michael Davis is handling a ball and telling a story, the audience is more interested in him and his telling of the story than in the trick. And from a business standpoint you know someone's got it made when people ask for Michael Davis by name, rather than just asking for a juggler...

Being From A Boring Place Helps Get Me Started

I lived in Omaha, Nebraska, from junior high until 1985, and began touring the area with Jek Kelley. He did his juggling act and I did my magic act. I learned a lot of juggling from him and we'd pass clubs when we did a street show together. Eventually he's the one who got me to attend the Santa Barbara convention.

Seeing W.C. Fields movies motivated me to come home and throw a hat at a hat rack all night long as I watched TV. I used to imagine myself married and coming home, walking in the door and saying, "Honey I'm home!" as I tossed the hat onto the hat rack like some sort of storybook husband.

I had some flashes of five bean bags in my act at one time, but mostly my train of thought with juggling and magic has become a denial of the skill. I thought the audience appreciated more someone who said it was no big deal. I'd do five bean bags and they'd applaud and I'd say, "It's nothing, it's from a kit!" or "It's self-working." That just seems to work with my style. I'd finish the top hats and say, "Thanks for coming to Roosevelt Junior High's talent contest!"

Nowadays the only juggling that remains in the act is top hat work. But I can do the devil stick pretty well and can pass clubs without any trouble.

I Make "The Big Move"

From the comedy standpoint, my Midwestern roots have kept my act wholesome. Performers on the East and West coasts get a subconscious attitude that everyone knows what they're talking about. But being midwestern meant I had to keep my referencing national.

There's also plenty of free time in the midwest. You can say to someone "Go fly a kite!" and they will! And they'll think it's a good idea! And they'll even say "Yea! And why don't you come with me!" I spent hours in the driveway balancing a cane on my foot and throwing cards because there wasn't much else to do.

Eventually my act was going pretty well in the region and I had to decide whether or not to take "The Big Step." The safety zone would have been to move to Denver or Minneapolis. But I had been headlining clubs and doing corporate works, so I figured moving to Denver would only mean I'd have to make another move to a bigger market later. So in 1985 I moved straight from Omaha to Los Angeles.

Good things can happen to you in LA. You might be in a regular showcase at the Improv on a night when there are casting people from the latest nighttime talk show in the audience. Or someone drops out on a Friday and on Monday I'm all of a sudden on the Merv Griffin show because I'm in town and available.

I knew that the TV exposure I could get in LA would increase my visibility and make me a national act. It's a much faster way than to take the time and energy to introduce yourself to each city individually by playing each club in it. Once you've been on TV everyone's seen you at one shot. It was really a business decision.

But TV can be an evil if you get overexposed. You have to control it and determine if a particular show is right for you. I believe in "visibility with integrity" to make it a longer lasting thing. Instead of getting on a show that just needs a variety act, it's better if they come after you because of who you are. You don't just become the 10th juggler in the wheel of a sausage machine.

TV has also changed my style. I've become more of a comic. My personality has begun to overpower my tricks. I realized I could get more from the audience with the verbal word than by creating a specific routine.

I still use a lot of tricks in my full live show, like the vanishing coins that get bigger and bigger, disappearing over an audience volunteer's head. That gets the best response. But that one trick is seven minutes long, so you can't do it on the Tonight Show...

I'm Into Experimental Cross-Breeding

Something I'm good at in terms of jokes is to look to the past. I do a lot of reminiscing about growing up. It rings true on stage because it was reality in my life. Other people didn't have a brother who got a raisin stuck up his nose, but they can relate to brothers doing stupid things.

I also look for cross-fertilization of things from different fields - like grocery stores and politics. Taking those two as a for-instance, Dan Quayle is the assistant manager of the United States of America, he's nothing but a second set of keys wandering around the White House waiting to lock up! There are a couple of good books to get you started on this type of thing, "A Whack On The Side Of The Head," and its sequel, "A Kick In The Seat Of The Pants," written by Roger von Oech. No self-help book is a Bible to live by, but you need to stimulate your creative thinking process because it's a muscle like any other that needs exercise.

Many other things influence my work. I might get something out of a library visit to browse the Dewey Decimal system. Artistically I'm into doodling or drawing. I also write a lot, not just jokes but screen plays or plays. It's easier to define a character if it's not yourself. I'm big at writing things down and making lists, too. There are piles of paper on my desk, in my car and by my bed.

Some people have a problem with writing things down because they think their ideas are bad. But it's just a tool of the trade. You might write down 10 stupid things and then have a hit on the 11th. And you'd never have gotten to that one if you hadn't worked through the first 10. I don't try to completely flesh an idea out, but just write two or three words. And then I go back later and expand on it. Or I might find a note months from now that didn't work then, but works with something I'm doing now.

People tend to procrastinate, and leave routines hanging as just looses strands of ideas. I say, "Do it!" and if it fails you at least learn from it. You don't even have to consider it a failure, but rather a trial and error on the way to getting closer to what you want.

I think creativity is a discipline. It only took a couple of years until I realized I needed to create a volume on every subject. I'm going to have to keep having ideas for a long time to stay in the business. And once you you forgive yourself for writing down stupid things, it becomes an approachable, fun thing to do.

Everyone is creative, but the weird thing is that people think you have to be a van Gogh to be successful. Well, you don't. I think people stop themselves because they say, "I'm not creative." The people who are good at it have just gotten those restrictive feelings out of the way. So give yourself the license to create.

Creativity According to Pat Hazell / Index, Vol. 43, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
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