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Become a Bicycle Entertainer

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Are you a bit of a ham? What about learning to do tricks on a BMX bike, a mountain bike, a circus bike or a unicycle, and getting paid for showing off your tricks? This can be a very profitable business, but you must be good. It takes time to learn those tricks sufficiently to be a professional. You need one other thing: stage presence. If you cannot relate to your audience, if you are shy, or come off as aloof, you'll not do well in this business. However, if you are skilled at tricks, and people seem to like you, you may be onto something great.

I know it stretches my credibility, but believe it or not, I have done this business also. Let me tell you about my act:

I started by setting a unicycle on fire. Actually, I had two wicks mounted in the spokes of a unicycle which was laying on the ground. The wicks were soaked with camp stove fuel, and lit. I ran onto the stage and jumped on the unicycle with what is known as a kick-mount, lifting up the unicycle with my right toe, as I firmly stood on the left pedal. I also happened to be holding three juggling torches. I would ride the flaming unicycle back and forth a couple of times, and then light the torches from the unicycle flames, and ride by one more time juggling the torches. In case you are wondering, my pants were soaked with plain water before I came on stage. Next, I got an a six-foot tall unicycle, did some tricks and told some jokes. Finally, I rode around on an "ultimate wheel" which is just a wheel with pedals. It looks a bit like a unicycle, but there's no frame or seat.

As you can see, my show was juggling/unicycling oriented, but I would have done even better if I used more typical props, something the general public can relate to better. That would be bicycles! To do tricks on a BMX bike is nice, but that's been pretty well exposed. Lots of kids to BMX tricks, and fantastic ones! Mountain bike and road bike tricks are far less common, and the paying crowd, those who are over age twenty, relate to the bigger bikes much more.

There are lots of things you can do with a typical bike such as riding while sitting on the handlebars, wheelies (riding on the back wheel only), hopping, stopping (literally) on a dime, and balancing in place.

You can do even more with a modified bike. Without detracting from what appears to be a mountain bike, you can set up your bike with fixed, one-to-one gearing, meaning if you pedal one turn backwards, the wheel will turn one turn backwards. You can lengthen the frame, remove control cables (or use a BMX freestyle rotor), straighten the forks, and use short, straight handlebars. This allows you to do some really bizarre stuff:

* You can ride truly backward while sitting on the seat or handlebar.

* You can ride a wheelie forward, backward or rocking in place, while spinning the front wheel and handlebar around and around.

* With both wheels on the floor, you ride in a tight slow circle forward. Suddenly spin the handle bar hard to one side and continue to ride forward. The front wheel will spin wildly, but you can keep riding. Try it if you want an adventure, but wear knee, elbow and wrist padding and keep your hands clear of the handlebar!

* You can quickly climb up so that the bike is vertical. You sit on the headtube and ride the bike - forward, backward, and rocking back and forth. This is easier than it sounds - it is the same as riding a tall unicycle.

* One up on the headtube, you can remove the front wheel, spin it, set it on your head like a top, and juggle three balls, all the while balancing on the bike. It may take a while to learn this trick.

 

But that's not all. It would be a far better show if you can connect your tricks together. In other words, between tricks, you don't want to stop, stand on the floor, and then remount the bike for your next trick. You want to smoothly meld from one trick to another.

And more too. It really helps to write a bunch of comedy material to go with your act. Although not necessary, it can make the difference between remaining a good, but local and generally unknown performer to a national celebrity who performs at national basketball half-time shows.

Performers who have not learned to project their voices well, and who do not use wireless microphones, or who do not speak well, or who do not wish to do speaking, generally resort to musical routines. The musical routine simply means not saying anything, and doing your act while music is playing. You can set a big-stage, good-feeling mood with music. You don't even have to stay in time to the music or dance, although that helps. Music is acceptable, but just doesn't bring you the big gigs like good comedy can, except in Las Vegas.

Another option is to be a clown on a bike. A common but still workable routine is to have a bike which comes apart in alarming ways during your act.

There are a whole bunch of ways to get paid once you have an act together. The most obvious is to be hired by corporate conventions, county fairs, children's birthday parties for appearances.

Almost all communities have locally produced television commercials. An act like yours is a natural.

One of the best ways to start is street performing. Wherever large crowds gather, you show up in costume with your bicycle. Do your act. Pass the hat. This means that near the end of your act, you let people know that they are expected to put a dollar or more in a hat that you'll be holding when your show ends. This is not begging money. It is asking for payment for services rendered. Since they did not ask you to come on the street and entertain them, they are not obligated to pay - remember that. But, they are likely to be so impressed that they will want to pay you! The money they pay can be good. I have made as much as $1,200 in two day weekends doing this. And I was never a great entertainer - just good.

To maximize your income from passing the hat:

* Do a comedy act, not musical, although you can do some musical routines within a comedy act.

* Tell several 'hat' jokes - even very blatant ones so people will know what's coming. You want them to have their dollars in their hands before your act is over. If they have to dig out the money after the act, many will just walk away.

* If you have a helper or partner, have that person pass the hat also.

* Put a dollar in your own hat, first thing, and make sure everyone sees it. Make sure to let them know that you aren't after quarters and dimes. You want dollars.

* Do your act a thousand times. Live, in front of people practice will enhance an act tremendously.

* Make sure that it is legal to pass the hat where you have chosen to perform. In some parks and other places, it is not legal.

* You'll want to do some crowd build-up before you start your show. The idea is to get a large group around you, and bring them in close. Crowds generate crowds. This means that others in the area, when seeing a tight knot of a hundred people, will gather around to see what's up. Crowd building usually doing something impressive which is not part of your regular act, such as balancing your bike on your chin while telling jokes or introducing yourself in some offbeat way.

* Go to a place which is very crowded, and where people are not rushing to work, but have leisure time, such as arts and crafts festivals, tourist beaches, or Saturday markets.

The best part of street performing is that you can give your business card to everyone who inquires. You'll get calls for bookings. At first, they may expect you to work for free at charity events, or that you'll come to Johnny's birthday party for $15. But don't worry, you'll soon be getting bookings for $150 as your reputation builds. My suggestion is to do all the free charity events you can get at first, but turn down the $15 shows. You don't want part of your reputation to be that you are perfectly happy to work for slave wages!

For more information about unicycling go to any search engine on the Worldwide Web and enter Unicycle as the keyword.

Do not expect overnight results. It takes years to become a successful variety artist. I had a friend who dropped out of college to take up a career as a variety performer. He spent the next ten years supported by his parents off and on. In his eleventh year, he had the skill, he had the stage presence, and he developed a great three-minute routine in his one-hour act. Booking agents saw it, and during the next year, he was on the Johnny Carson show two times, on eighteen other late night TV shows, did perform half-time shows with the National Basketball Association, and performed in over a dozen countries. Eleven years after he dropped out of college, he was able to retire as a wealthy man. But it took eleven years, and for some people the breakthroughs may never happen - remember that!

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