- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Richmonder Paul Hudert juggles flaming torches, swords and several names.

During his early entertainment days in Richmond, he was one of the Garbanzo Brothers. He added Paolo to the front - the name his Italian immigrant grandmother used to call him. Then there’s Misha Karamazov, the Russian-inspired name from his two-year stint as part of The Flying Karamazov Brothers, an internationally renowned juggling and comedy troupe based in California.

Occasionally, the caped character “Steve, Satan’s Wizard” makes a cameo in his performances, albeit for the audiences more into South Park than Sesame Street.

But his most esteemed title is tabletop trivia worthy: Hudert is the only American to serve as jester in an English castle (“Take THAT British invasion!” his website reads).

Hudert, 36, received his bell-clad jester’s crown in 2007 near the shores of the Irish Sea at Muncaster Castle after an invitation to compete in an International Jester Competition.

As the official Fool of Muncaster and Honorary Fool of England, Hudert performed at several castle events and acted as king on April Fool’s Day 2008 in a traditional one-day role reversal.

During his seven stays at Muncaster that year - they had never had to worry about trans-Atlantic airfare for their jesters before - Hudert stayed in the Fool’s Tower complete with a spiral staircase where the original Tom Skelton, a.k.a. Tom Fool, resided - one of the more than 100 rooms in the castle.

The Pennington family has lived in the castle for the past 800 years and recently resurrected the jester tradition that ended with Skelton “around 1600, give or take 50 years,” Peter Frost-Pennington, who lives there and organizes the jester tournament, said in a BBC report last year.

Hudert, per tradition, was paid in beer - a crate of Cumberland Ale every month.

Hudert’s mother-in-law painted the castle and her rendering sits atop his fireplace mantle in his South Richmond home he and his family shares with a few other performers. Hudert pointed out the approximate location of Tom Fool’s tree, under which he thought up his performances at the top of the hill behind the castle.

The jesters of Tom Fool’s day were the bottom rung of society, just below peasants and servants, Hudert said. Still, the performers were hired by all sectors of society for their tricks and jokes.

“Being a fool means you get to hang out with anyone . you’re approachable by everyone,” Hudert said, referencing stories of tagging along with touring bands to being invited to dinner by the social elite.

Lately, this means hanging out with students at Richmond Waldorf School, teaching them how to unicycle, juggle and balance on walking globes nicknamed “Ball of Death.”

“Unicycling is a lot like bicycling except you can fall both backwards and forwards,” he jokingly warned as students tried their luck on the one-wheeled vehicles during a recent class.

Seventh-graders Joshua Goedert and Caleb Werner worked on perfecting a balance and juggling act they’ve been polishing for a few weeks. They jump on two balls on opposite ends of a mat and maneuver their way to the other side, tossing small balls between them with a high-five when they meet in the middle.

“It’s pretty addicting,” Werner said.

Hudert’s wife, Onça O’Leary, known for her belly dancing and event production including the Virginia Burlesque & Sideshow Festival in Richmond, helps with the class. Their sons, Kaelis, 11, and Talyn Arcane, 7, also attend the school.

“What I like about this school: it expands the definition of what is cool,” she said of the students’ entertainment training.

Mario Jackson, another seventh-grader, started juggling on his own last year and with Hudert’s guidance has worked his way up to four hacky-sack-sized balls. He carries them in his bag everywhere he goes, hoping for an opportunity to practice.

“Four balls are challenging, but it’s fun,” Jackson said.

As Hudert shows him the five-ball pattern, Jackson concentrates on the hand movements.

“It’s like music,” Hudert tells him as he demonstrates, bopping to the rhythm of the balls moving in and out of his hands.

“He’s going to do it one day,” Hudert predicted later. “Soon, actually.”

Hudert got his start from watching his uncle Christopher Hudert, who was the boss clown with Barnum & Bailey Circus by the time Paul was 9 years old. Without his uncle, Hudert said he might not have known full-time entertaining was even possible.

“If you didn’t know that was ever a possibility, you wouldn’t think you could do it,” he said. “In my world, I met all of them.”

It was commonplace for 30 or more clowns to be at his childhood Richmond home. They weren’t in costume by the time they got to his house but he got to know them and grew up knowing clowning could be a full-time job.

His brother’s friend first taught him how to juggle when Hudert was a 12-year-old at Albert Hill Middle School. By the time he was a sophomore at Richmond Community High School he had his first performance at June Jubilee, a local arts festival popular in the 1980s.

After studying theater technology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Hudert performed as one of the Garbanzo Brothers for six years before he left for San Francisco, feeling that the Richmond juggling scene had become too crowded.

“Richmond was a two-juggler town, and there were three,” he recalled.

For about six years, he was almost constantly touring at street and renaissance festivals, concert venues and even a six-month gig teaching at a circus school in Italy.

He can perform in three languages - four if you count his Italian accent reserved for his character Paolo Garbanzo.

Since his early days, he’s added fire-eating, tricks on a free-standing ladder and a crowd-pleasing routine of juggling a flaming torch, sword and onion - while eating the onion.

He still tours but not as much, staying close to his host of Richmond relatives. He’s still dreaming of what to put together next, drawing from his international career and myriad interesting people he’s met along the way.

“A jester doesn’t necessarily mean juggler, acrobat or comedian,” he said. “It can be everything.”


Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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