Greg Bennick is well-versed in keeping all of the balls in the air at once. It’s not just that he is well organized - he has been operating his own one-person business since he was a young teenager, by literally keeping all his balls in the air - Bennick is a professional juggler, a career he fell into when he was in sixth grade.
"I learned how to juggle entirely by accident," he recalled. "All the kids were allowed to sign up for a Wednesday after-school mini-course. I signed up for a coin-collecting mini-course and a school secretary switched my permission slip with another kid’s by mistake and signed him up for coin collecting and signed me up for juggling." The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
For the last 20 years, he said, he has never looked back, literally.
"I’ve been juggling and looking forward and up the whole time," he joked. And joking is the other thing that Bennick does well enough to earn a steady living at it for Greg Bennick likes to bill himself as a "comedy juggler." He most recently gained exposure by giving free samples of his act at the Simcha Celebrations Showcase on November 7 in Issaquah.
"I’m going to be highlighting some interactive routines that I would be doing if I was hired to come into somebody’s event," he said in a telephone interview with JTNews before the event. "I’ll be doing some interactive comedy and some comedy juggling routines featuring members of the audience."
As usual, Bennick selected audience volunteers to toss things at him as he threw and caught his props, and made them momentary stars in his act.
"I involve a member of the audience right from the start," he said. "I always make sure that the audience volunteers end up the hero - not just somebody on stage helping me look good. The audience volunteers on the stage always, some way or another, end up being the heroes."
Growing up Jewish in Connecticut, Bennick started working professionally just months after his first classes in throwing-and-catching, initially booking himself for a few local parties, then on to performing at synagogues in his area, other houses of worship "and just went from there."
"I started the class in the fall of one year and performed within three or four months of the next year," he said. "I just loved it right away and knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do." He said he even performed at his own Bar Mitzvah.
"Wherever the calls came in from, that’s where I would go," he said, as his career developed after his school years. In the 1990s, Bennick moved from his family home on the East Coast to attend Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, a private school where he graduated with a degree in theater. Since then he has made Seattle his home base, from which he travels far and wide.
When he is not performing for corporate clients like Nintendo, Microsoft and the Bon Marché, he plays private parties, schools and, in the spring and summer, fairs and festivals throughout the country.
"I’m available to do shows all year round," he said. "I just got back from southern California where I did shows for teenagers and junior high school students. I’ll be going out on the road sometime soon."
Bennick has also found a way to add some balance to his life not a bad idea for someone who spends a significant part of his professional life perched atop a six-foot unicycle. To counterbalance his laugh-inducing day job, he produces documentary films with a partner in Los Angeles. For the past three-plus years they have been working on a movie called Flight From Death that is anything but a comedy.
"We co-produced a documentary film about human anxiety about death on a subconscious level and how that anxiety impacts our day-to-day and moment-to-moment behaviors," he said. "It’s won seven Best Documentary awards at film festivals around the world and it’s currently under consideration for distribution."
If that has not been the kind of thing that draws people to his comedy, it has given him another unique claim for a comedic performer.
"I had one performer friend describe me: What I like about Greg,’ he said, is that he’s not only a juggler but an intellectual.’ I certainly don’t bill myself that way," he said, "but working on the documentary about human death anxieties has definitely catapulted me into that range."
Then, too, he sees an organic connection between the two interests.
"I’ve always thought that to live my life to both extremes is very important," he said, adding, "looking into entertaining people as much as possible and then, also researching what makes people upset and what makes them frustrated."
Both aspects help the other, he said. "By knowing what keeps people anxious makes it more possible for me to understand what makes them laugh." This is particularly important to Bennick, since he writes all his own material.
One advantage he gets from that is the ability to customize his shows for the audience, whether it’s a corporate convention or a B’nai Mitzvah celebration.
"If someone was to call me for a Bar Mitzvah show, I would work to tailor the act to a certain degree, to that individual," he said. "I’d like to know what they like, what they don’t like, where they’re from, a quick history of the family and that sort of thing. I can tailor the material throughout the show to the family."
While he has been doing it for almost two-thirds of his life, Bennick shows no signs of slowing down, or even glancing backward. "It’s been quite a ride," he said, "and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it."