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The Juggling and Comedy Team “The Passing Zone” Discuss New Theater Show Gravity Attacks with Yahoo! Voices

Posted by Levine Communications Office on February 22, 2012

The Passing Zone’s Jon Wee and Owen Morse Talk Juggling Careers

Date of Interview: 02/14/2012

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Being described by Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller as “the funniest jugglers, and the best jugglers, I’ve seen” is no easy feat. But Jon Wee and Owen Morse, who make up the International Jugglers’ Association Teams Competition gold medal-winning juggling and comedy team The Passing Zone, have done just that.

The internationally-renowned and frequent Las Vegas performers are among the most highly respected and well known comedy entertainment groups in the world. Besides holding four Guinness World Records and 18 gold medals, Wee and Morse are also recipients of the International Jugglers’ Association’s Award of Excellence, the highest honor awarded to a juggling act.

The Passing Zone’s live stage shows not only feature stand-up comedy, but roaring chainsaws they juggle and flying performers dressed as wayward astronauts. The two jugglers are currently on tour in a theater production, “Gravity Attacks!”

The Passing Zone’s unique blend of comedy, juggling and dangerous stunts has led to Wee and Morse appearing as finalists on the debut season of NBC’s hit reality competition, “America’s Got Talent,” in 2006. They have also appeared on “The Today Show” and “The Tonight Show,” and were invited to perform at The White House and for Prince Charles in London. Wee and Morse have even appeared in such films as “The Addams Family” and “The Aristocrats.”

Wee and Morse generously took the time to discuss “Gravity Attacks!” by phone from Los Angeles. They also spoke about why they decided to perform together, what the feeling of appearing on “Tonight Show” was like and what differentiates their live shows from other jugglers.

Question (Q): You two met in 1986 at a juggling convention, and decided to perform together after you both graduated from college. What was it about each other that convinced you to work together?

Owen Morse (OM): We were both performing solo as jugglers before that, and we just got to be friends. We had a similar juggling style, and we liked to pass clubs, which are the bulky, pin-shaped things. We could both do that at a pretty high level, so we both enjoyed throwing and passing clubs back and forth.

Then we realized we had a similar sense of humor and sense of style. We thought, hey, we should try to put together a show, it seems like it would be fun.

Jon Wee (JW): We were in college at the time, and we were at the end, and were wondering what we were going to do after. Rather than get a real job right away, we planned on throwing a show together.

OM: That’s what we did in 1988. We thought it would last a few years, and here we are, 23 years later.

Q: How did you both become interested in juggling?

OM: I learned in junior high school, from a friend on my basketball team. It seemed like a fun activity. I liked the skill aspect of it, and the hand-eye coordination, and the challenge of trying to add another object to the pattern. It was a fun hobby at the time.

JW: I was about the same age, 13. There was actually a mime teaching a class of juggling and other skills. I wasn’t as interested in the mime aspect, thank goodness (laughs). I did like the juggling. Once I learned how to do three balls, it just kind of clicked, and I started practicing like crazy, just trying to learn every trick I could. I met jugglers as often as I could, and it wasn’t long before I said, I want to do this as much as humanly possible.

Q: Two weeks after your first performance together, you won the Silver Medal at the International Jugglers’ Association Teams Competition. The next year, you won the Gold. What was the feeling like after winning the medals so soon after you started working together?

JW: It was really a huge thrill. First of all, performing and competing in front of all your peers is so nerve racking. Since we had so little time to prepare, we were really nervous about it. But the team who won was together for a really long time, and was on “The Tonight Show.” We came in like one point behind them. So we thought, we have a good thing going.

Q: Speaking of “The Tonight Show,” that was your first national television appearance in September, 1990. What was the experience like?

OM: That was pretty wonderful. To be on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” was such a huge boost to our career, and the outlook of the possibilities of our career. It was a stamp of approval for him to ask us on the show, and then ask us back the next year. (That was) a pretty big highlight of our career.

JW: Obviously, growing up, we watched it all our lives. That was the epitome, if you are a performer, to maybe get on “The Tonight Show.” I always had on my mind, wouldn’t that be something? So the fact that we were on the set, and with Johnny Carson, and listening to that theme music start, and thinking, wow. (laughs) My hands still sweat thinking about it today.

O: One of your later television appearances was as a finalist on the hit NBC competition series “America’s Got Talent” in its debut season in 2006. Why did you decide to appear on that show?

OM: At that time, the show was presented to us as being created by the producers of “American Idol,” but just for variety acts. We thought, well, that seems like a good fit for us. We didn’t know much about the show, or how it was going to go.

It was the first season, so the show hadn’t been on. We thought, if it can do for variety acts what “American Idol” is doing for singers, that would be huge exposure. So we took the leap, and it went pretty darn well.

Q: Besides juggling, you are both also known for your comedy skills. You have opened for such comedians as Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Bob Newhart, Bob Hope and Penn & Teller. What is the feeling like, appearing with such legendary comedians?

JW: Well, the interesting thing is, our careers started as jugglers, learning juggling and being fascinated by that. Pretty quickly, the comedy started taking over as the most important part of the show. We are still interested in being world class jugglers, but we really get the thrill out of making people laugh. That’s such a big part of what we do.

After our performances, people say, they shouldn’t say you’re jugglers, they should say you’re comedians. The comedy was better than any stand-up comedian I’ve ever seen. I think that’s one of the surprises that people get when they come see our shows. They get that it’s not just about juggling, it’s about laughter and having a good time.

Q: What has been the public’s reaction to your juggling and comedy shows been like since you started?

OM: It really has been pretty amazing. The comment we hear over and over is, we had no idea it was going to be this funny. They do appreciate the juggling and skill, but it’s the comedy that surprises them, and they enjoy so much.

JW: It’s a strange thing, juggling isn’t something the public really cares too much about, or follows. We’re at the top of the field in the world of juggling, and if we were this good in the world of tennis or basketball or rock ‘n’ roll, we’d be huge. (laughs) Everyone would know who we are. But because the general public doesn’t really follow juggling, and doesn’t care about, and doesn’t think it’s all that interesting, we have to prove ourselves each and every time.

Q: How do you come up with both your juggling and comedy sketches? What differentiates your work from other jugglers, and merit the awards?

OM: We try to find props that audiences can relate to, and are familiar with. One of our recent creations was a piece where we’re juggling rat traps. I think it’s one of those things where everyone’s sort of familiar with (laughs) the death-defying properties of a rat trap, and how unfortunate it would be if you snapped one of your fingers in one of those.

JW: In addition to that, juggling things like chainsaws. Anybody who’s ever run a chainsaw tells us, you guys are crazy (laughs) for throwing a chainsaw and catching it. They go, I can’t even get mine to start in my garage.

We try to build our shows around things people can relate to, and get the audience to get involved on stage. We love to get people on stage, and do stuff with them. There’s even one piece where we juggle three people from the audience.

Q: You’ll be touring through mid-April in the U.S. and Canada. What type of juggling and comedy is being featured in the tour?

OM: Between our full 90-minute performance that will feature our chainsaw juggling and people juggling, a full 90-minutes worth of entertainment.

JW: The show is called “Gravity Attacks!” The premise is to have a good excuse to have us get on stage and have a good time. We’re traveling around the country, trying to fight gravity. We think a lot of people just accept gravity for what it is. We’re out there, trying to fight it.

OM: We think it’s bringing us all down, and as jugglers, we’re trying to beat this thing, once and for all.

Q: Your first movie appearance was in “The Addams Family movie,” where you doubled for Gomez (Raul Julia) and Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) in the Mamushka dagger-passing scene. Were you always interested in working in films, and what prompted you to appear in the movie?

OM: They saw us on “The Tonight Show,” and we got a call from them shortly after our appearance. They were looking for two jugglers who could be both stunt doubles and also help with a little coaching for Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd. That was one of the nice benefits of the exposure.

Q: Do you have a preference of your stage routines over film, or vice versa, and would you like to continue in both mediums in the future?

JW: I think both are fun, but I enjoy the immediate response of live performance. It’s gratifying to tell a live joke and a new joke, and see how it plays, and see the immediate response.

OM: As fun as that is, I think it’s about time we do a bus pic, a cross-country road picture, or something like that. A fish out of water, or something like that. A couple of jugglers in corporate America. I think a movie like that is there.

JW: Stealing the hearts and minds of the ladies all over the country. (laughs)

OM: I like it, I like it.

JW: Something like that, or maybe a sitcom.

To find more information about The Passing Zone, check out their official website. Their official demo reel can also be seen on YouTube.

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