Wanted: Singing, Dancing Knife-Juggler

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are famous for their originality, telling jokes and playing numerous musical instruments — all while they juggle. Now, after 34 years of performing, one of the founders is ready to retire. Replacing Howard Patterson is a lot harder than juggling meat cleavers and a carton of eggs though.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers have been doing their music and juggling act for decades. They have taken their routine to Broadway, TV, and to theaters across America. Now, 34 years later, one of the founding members is retiring.

Alex Goldmark went on tour with the brothers and has this report.

ALEX GOLDMARK: I first met the four Flying Karamazov Brothers a few months ago, when they asked me to fill in on a short tour around the Midwest. At the time, I didn't realize they were one of the biggest icons in juggling and vaudeville. I also didn't know how to be a sound engineer, but that didn't faze them. So we all approached our trip in Karamazov fashion - prepared to improvise.

Mr. PAUL MAGID (Dmitri Karamazov, The Flying Karamazov Brothers): God bless this journey...

Unidentified Man #1: How long do you give him?

GOLDMARK: I had heard it was a time of transition for them because one founder was leaving, but I didn't even know all their names until we were lumbering out of Manhattan in a 22-year-old tour bus.

Mr. MAGID: It used to belong to (unintelligible) proud to be an American, born in the USA - that guy. And it was his chick singers' bus. That's why everything is all pink and got mirrors inside.

GOLDMARK: That's Dmitri Karamazov - real name, Paul Magid. He started the company with his college dorm mate Howard Patterson. In the early days, they performed for donations on street corners and at festivals. On a whim they named themselves after the characters in the Dostoevsky novel. They had no idea people would assume they were Russian siblings for decades to come.

Mr. MAGID: Howard and I used to just hitchhike from one gig to the next. That's how we'd get somewhere. And, you know, now we have bigger vehicles.

GOLDMARK: A few hours outside New York City, our big vehicle stopped working and I got my first lesson in how the Karamazovs approach the unexpected.

Mr. MAGID: You must not have seen a broken down bus.

GOLDMARK: Has this bus broken down before?

Mr. MAGID: I am an expert. I specialize in it. It's my (unintelligible).

GOLDMARK: Do we actually know what the problem is?

Mr. MAGID: No.

GOLDMARK: But nobody seemed too worried and the bus was fixed soon enough. After watching a few shows, I realized that their habits on stage has seeped into their offstage personalities, or vice versa. All the onstage mishaps are treated with quick-witted comic levity, getting a laugh even out of a juggling mistake.

Unidentified Man #1: Hurry, pick it up.

Unidentified Man #2: I don't think anybody noticed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMARK: Improvisation has become their hallmark, in part because in every show they start to juggle three objects the audience brings in a routine they called The Gamble. Co-founder Howard Patterson, aka Ivan Karamazov.

Mr. HOWARD PATTERSON (Ivan Karamazov, The Flying Karamazov Brothers): One of the best gambles was at the first time we were playing at Lincoln Center, and the objects were a bag of little dead frogs - and it was like for some kind of medical experiment or something - and a chocolate cream pie and a slinky. And it was just like I was stirring this cloud of frog and chocolate and wire.

Unidentified Man #3: Two, three, two, one...

GOLDMARK: I have to say, it's inexplicably satisfying to watch a grown man juggle things like an octopus, Jell-O and a music stand. But Patterson is done with that now and easing into retirement, giving his brothers another change to adapt to.

Mr. PATTERSON: I basically have it out of my system now. I don't need to do this anymore. So, okay, let's just find a replacement for me. Let's get someone who's a pretty good musician, a pretty good juggler and a pretty good actor, a pretty good dancer, a pretty good martial artist, you know. And it turns out that guy doesn't seem to be out there. And that realization I am very flattered by.

GOLDMARK: Paul Magid says replacing Patterson is impossible.

Mr. MAGID: Finding someone who can bring a whole bunch of new stuff and is different and maybe doesn't have the same (unintelligible), very possible.

GOLDMARK: Starting this fall, an Australian actor named Nick Flint(ph) will adopt the stage name Maximov Karamazov. In the meantime, he's hard at work on his juggling.

Mr. NICK FLINT (Maximov Karamazov, The Flying Karamazov Brothers): I did like five hours everyday. Suddenly I'm like, oh, I'm improving. That was good.

GOLDMARK: Flint is also a practicing guitar, ukulele, ballet, and getting fitted for a kilt in preparation for his debut.

For NPR News, I'm Alex Goldmark in New York.

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