116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — For juggler and comedian Sam Malcolm, it’s the classic “chicken or egg” question of which came first — the comedy or the juggling.
Both go hand in hand, but neglecting either one is an affront to the art he embraces as a full-time juggler. The Denver, Colorado resident, 32, has known from a young age that he’s a performer at heart.
“I remember sitting on the bus running to town to go to school, and thinking about the things I wanted to say to my friends to make them laugh,” he said. “I was 8 years old, trying to write out my set for lunch.”
He took note of the ones that flopped and worked them a little more. The ones that were successful would be repeated to other groups of friends.
To jugglers like Malcolm and the many others coming to Cedar Rapids for the International Jugglers’ Association’s second time in Cedar Rapids, there’s no greater joy in life than making others laugh. When Malcolm gets a good laugh from an audience, he feels admiration that instructs him on how to enjoy life, too.
Fellow juggler Mark Hayward, who will be juggling while water skiing in a show next week, concurs.
“It’s an unselfish good,” Hayward said. “I’m feeling good because we’re all having a wonderful experience together in this moment that will never happen exactly this way again. It’s a special bond you get that’s right there, right now.”
The excitement of new tricks were what hooked the Madison, Wisconsin, resident, who also is a world champion yo-yoer, to juggling. But what’s kept him is the element of performance that requires more skill than anything he’s experienced.
“It takes a long time to get it. Every show is different,” said Hayward, 50. “Being on stage is the greatest thing I’ve ever done with my life by far.”
What: Watch jugglers perform while water skiing in a never-before-seen collaboration between the Five Seasons Ski Team and the International Jugglers’ Association on the Cedar River
Where: 2021 Ellis Blvd. NW, across the street from Ellis Pool in Cedar Rapids
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 14
Details: Watch the performance for free from the bleachers, or bring your own lawn chair. For more details, visit 5seasonswaterski.wixsite.com
To learn more about the International Jugglers’ Association 75th Festival, visit festival.juggle.org
Both Malcolm and Hayward started juggling at age 17. Malcolm was drawn in by a fire juggling performer outside of a Sonic Drive-In. Hayward got a yo-yo for Christmas and started putting on shows with his friend, who got a juggling book for Christmas.
At first, Malcolm aspired to be a circus performer. But after performing in the circus for a while, he felt like something was missing.
An impromptu street performance he took on when he needed some cash put him back on the path he’s on today.
“I had no idea what I was doing at the time,” he said. “I said one joke, and everybody laughed. I remembered the feeling, and that was awesome.”
After finding a mentor and easing out of his retail job after college, Hayward started performing full-time in 2004, when he turned 32. Since then, he’s toured the world, appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” “America’s Got Talent” and “NBC Nightly News.”
This year, he’ll up the ante even more in a “skuggling” performance never seen before in Cedar Rapids — juggling while water skiing.
In a collaboration with Cedar Rapids’ Five Seasons Ski Team, the International Jugglers’ Association will put on its first public performance in Iowa on the Cedar River, where the speed of the wind and the speed of the boat cancel forces to make juggling possible.
“This was such an underdeveloped thing before we started doing it (in 2017),” said David Lammers, a member of the Five Seasons Ski Team who has been coordinating the collaboration. “You’re doing this in an outdoor environment with wind going 17 to 20 mph because you’re being pulled by a boat. In the one direction, the wind is going to make it impossible to juggle. In the other direction, it helps you.”
With special equipment to make hands-free skiing possible, attendees can see a novelty that’s the first of its kind in front of a live audience in Cedar Rapids.
When they first started practicing it in 2017, the goal was to see what they could do in the water, Hayward said. The answer was, as it turned out, a whole lot.
Hayward’s favorite juggling acts are with eight to 10 other jugglers in moving patterns. New challenges like skuggling are what make the art form an ever-evolving fascination.
The International Jugglers’ Association Festival each year is the best way to sharpen their skills. To them, something as simple as throwing a few objects around has intrinsic value in life.
For the art form often relegated to circus performances, a small group of people take pride in making the world feel better about itself — putting their happiness first, even if for just a moment.
“I know I’m not changing lives. I’m not going to get the Nobel Prize for the best yo-yo joke, but I do make people’s lives better in small ways,” Hayward said.
“Maybe I’m not going to be the most famous comedian juggler ever,” Malcolm said. “But to those people who laughed, they enjoyed themselves, and they felt a little bit better. That’s always been more important to me.”
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