With perfect poise and balance, Chadd Deitz cruised across the concrete behind Stage Center on his bright orange skateboard.
The poise and balance came in handy since he happened to be doing a handstand at the time.
And that was just for starters as the stunt comedian known as Wacky Chad pedaled a toddler-size bicycle while a 10-year-old boy perched on his shoulders, juggled atop a 9-foot-tall unicycle and bounded above the heads of the crowd on a large pogo stick.
The multitalented Bostonian, 29, ended his Friday afternoon performance at the Festival of the Arts with a backflip on the bouncing orange apparatus, a finale that got the dozens of festivalgoers that gathered on the grass, curbs and bleachers cheering enthusiastically.
“Come on, people, high fives! I’m alive!” Wacky Chad crowed, running around slapping hands with his audience after he landed his last trick following a bit of technical difficulties.
He wasn’t entirely joking when he delivered the wisecrack.
“Every time I perform a show, I’m risking my life, and I’m doing tricks that took me 10 years of my life (to learn),” he said after the show. “If our job was easy, then it wouldn’t be a job, you know. That’s the thing about it: It’s dangerous and that’s why people do it.”
Bouncing into festival
Every year, festival organizers at the Arts Council of Oklahoma City invite a crowd-pleasing entertainer to be the event’s official street performer. Program director Christina Foss said festivalgoers this year have enjoyed Wacky Chad’s quick, quirky quips and jaw-dropping pogo stick tricks.
The venerable downtown “rite of spring” marks Deitz’s first Oklahoma gig; he is performing three shows a day during the festival, which runs through Sunday.
“Really good audiences. The afternoon shows, a little hot, but the audiences are still with me and they want to watch. But the late-night shows are really kicking it; they’re really doing well,” he said, adding he executed a difficult trick called a wraparound on his pogo stick Thursday night.
“I was able to pull off a stunt that I don’t normally do, because the audience was there, the energy was there. ... The audience was relaxed, they all wanted to watch my show, I had filtered out all of the impatient people that are like ‘Do a trick, do a backflip.’”
Jumping into a career
The Syracuse, N.Y., native has been working as a stunt comedian for about a decade, starting out as a 19-year-old who casually accepted a request to play a child’s birthday party for $50.
“I was a mouse at Chuck E Cheese, so I kind of knew how to skateboard and unicycle,” he said.
“I bought a pogo stick and a bunch of magic tricks. ... It was an adult pogo stick and apparently they just came out. I didn’t know it, I just saw a pogo stick and I was like, ‘I’m gonna buy this.’ So I started putting pogo in my show. I jump-roped and pogoed, went online, saw some really cool pogo stick tricks and then I was like, ‘Ooh, I can do that,’ and then they started making a bigger and better pogo stick.”
As he honed his craft, he started getting paid more and auditioned and was accepted into Boston’s street performers program. He also travels across the country as well as to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.
Toughing out bumps
Despite his decade of experience, Deitz sometimes encounters difficulties in his act that have nothing to do with his challenging stunts. Friday afternoon, a testy audience member heckled him to hurry up and get to the tricks, and he needed a do-over on his big backflip after the air inside his pogo stick leaked out, making for a rough landing off his towering unicycle and forcing him to pump it up again before he could pull off his finale.
“Street performing makes you tough. A lot of people are takers or walk-by people. They don’t really care to watch. They’ll just kind of sit and watch ‘cause it’s something to do. They don’t appreciate how many years you’ve spent doing it, how long it took you to practice, the polishing,” he said. “A lot of people are just losing their sense of live show entertainment. They’re so used to multimillion-dollar movies, they watch Netflix and YouTube videos, and it’s ‘gimme, gimme, gimme right here, right now, I don’t have time to wait.’”
Still, he relishes the moments when his act makes people laugh, cheer and eagerly snap photos with their smartphones.
“They leave with something that’s not tangible. They don’t realize it, but they just walk away feeling good about themselves. It’s something to talk about after, it’s something to just go, ‘Wow, did you see that Wacky Chad? Oh he was cool. That was really fun.’ It just makes their day better, I think,” Deitz said.
The act definitely left an impression on Dylan Speaks, 10, of Norman, the boy Deitz pulled out of the audience to test-ride his tiny bicycle and then tool around on the performer’s shoulders as Wacky Chad pedaled it for the laughing crowd. The McKinley Elementary School student, who comes to the festival every year, said the miniature bike was much harder to ride than it looks.
“It was pretty fun ... and it was not too scary. But scary a little,” he said. “It was a fun experience.”
Festival of the Arts
•When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
•Where: In the Festival Plaza, on Hudson Avenue and at the Myriad Gardens
•Wacky Chad performances: 1 to 1:30 p.m., 3 to 3:30 p.m. and 7:45 to 8:15 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 to 1 p.m., 2:30 to 3 p.m. and 4 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday behind Stage Center
•Admission: Free. Pets are not allowed
•Information: 270-4848 or www.artscouncilokc.com
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