On Stage

Modern Vaudeville

Darren Collins juggles his talents

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Multitasking performer and educator Darren Collins was born and raised in Port Angeles, but in the years since he left Washington State, the modern vaudevillian has visited and performed in all but one of the 50 United States (Alaska, if you’re wondering) and has traveled the globe. Standup comedy, juggling, magic and knife-throwing are just a few of his talents. He’ll show off more of them when he presents “Throwing Up Gracefully” Jan. 18 at the Bellingham Circus Guild’s Cirque Lab.

Cascadia Weekly: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever juggled? What’s the most dangerous?
DC: Three cow feet, cut just below the knee—complete with skin and hair. I was in Kenya. My neighbors were about to make bone soup and I was like, “Hey, do you think I can borrow three of those?”

Most dangerous? Once a year, someone at a dinner party will inevitably challenge me to juggle knives from their kitchen. That’s really dangerous. But I used to heat a frying pan onstage over a camp stove, and juggle that along with a spatula and raw egg. I did that bit for two years. A red-hot frying pan isn’t just hard, it’s also kind of stupid. I burned myself several dozen times.

CW: What’s more difficult, throwing knives or standup comedy?
DC: Standup, by a long shot. You can’t practice in your basement or garage, so you have to take your first baby steps in front of small numbers of people who are likely to be actively judging you and expecting you to deliver a laugh every 10 to 20 seconds.

CW: So throwing knives is easy?
DC: I will tell you secret: I did win the 2010 Knife Throwing World Championships in the Long Distance category, but the only reason I did so well is that I had swine flu and was so numb from fever that I didn’t care. I got lucky. It wasn’t skill.

CW: What can audiences expect at your Bellingham show, “Throwing Up Gracefully?”
DC: To laugh and have fun. I’m at my best when performing for school-age kids, their parents and grandparents at the same time. I’ll do some magic, juggling and then a whole lot of nonsense in between. The nonsense is the best part. The adults always assume it will be an immature “kid show,” which it is, and then they realize that I’m just a really friendly, sardonic, adult comedian who happens to be making their kids laugh, too. It’s also inspirational.

CW: What else should audience members know?
DC: I perform almost weekly at the World Famous Improv Comedy club in Texas, but I haven’t done my act in Washington for nearly a decade. Plus, I’m selling swag for my charity, so you can help educate kids in Africa by coming, too.

CW: Your puppet work sometimes focuses on such heady topics as AIDS and educating people about water-borne illnesses, bird flu and other health issues, right?
DC: I started a charity where 20 performers can reach half a million people a year with my “edu-tainment” program that provides tangible lifesaving information in East Africa.

Yes, I can teach kids about bullying from a pragmatic, thoughtful and funny point of view here in the USA—and I do. However, using that same skill to produce a show that can teach kids things that will save their lives, their peers’ lives and the the lives of their families seemed like the perfect use of my particular skill set.

Kids in the United States need a lot, but what they already have that most kids do not have is access to information. So now Africa is the direction I am heading. If people check out http://www.projecthandup.org, they can see exactly the method and madness.

CW: Is it successful?
DC:  Edu-tainment works. Bill Nye. Sesame Street. The goofiest teacher you ever had in school. I went the direction of heady topics because it seems like puppetry and magic are the most impactful delivery systems for these topics. Human sexuality, disease, human sanitation, politics, these are things that you can’t just stand up and chat about in many countries—it requires a culturally appropriate and delicate touch.

CW: Did I miss anything?
DC: Please invite service clubs, youth groups, retirees and people who love to laugh. It’s the most all age-y show you’ve ever seen. My closing bit is an homage to the Flying Karamazov Brothers—one of my greatest inspirations in the performing arts.

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