Donut Juggling

It’s a messy hobby to be sure, but as with anything unusual that I have pursued, it contained life lessons. And, donuts.

I have mentioned before that the question that tends to get me into the most trouble is this one: How Hard Can It Be? The answer is almost always, “A lot harder than you imagined, and if you knew that ahead of time, you would have never undertaken this crazy idea.”

An example of that for me is of course… Donut Juggling. Yes, it’s real. And yes, I am one of only a few practitioners of the art. And yes, it was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. But that is what protected the idea, which I will get into later. First, just what the heck am I talking about?

Years ago (too many stories in my life start this way now), I was looking for a new opening routine for my magic act. I wanted a quick bit done to snappy music, that showed skill and ability, that had humor, and that would let the audience know they were in good hands for the duration. That is the power of a strong opening in any kind of presentation. One minute can set up the next thirty.

After scouring magic archives looking for something I could adapt and modernize, I stumbled across an article from the 40’s written by a magician I admired named Robert Harbin. He had adapted an old vaudeville bit where a juggler would spin a Japanese Parasol and keep a ball rolling on top. He changed the ball into a rubber wheel and added a few new moves of his own. That is where I began.

I practiced at least an hour a day, usually three, learning the new bit. It would follow a pattern something like this: 1) Spin the parasol 2)  Place the wheel on it 3) Five seconds later, bend over to pick the wheel back up. Being a wheel, it had a tendency to roll behind things, so I got to move a lot of furniture until I learned to clear the room of all obstacles. 4) Curse at the top of my lungs and start again.


It took a month just to be able to balance the wheel on the parasol. It also took 14 packs of Ricolas to soothe my throat from the cursing. And I had yet to learn any fancy moves. I was going to need a lot more lozenges.

By the end of three months, I was pretty good. However, I wasn’t happy with the routine. It showed skill, it was neat to watch, and I had snappy music picked out, but it was still lacking some humor. A wheel is just not that funny. But a donut is. So, with a little liquid latex , I transformed the wheel into a powdered donut.

The beauty of that decision was that it also gave me the big finish I was missing. Just how do I end this routine? But with a donut, the path was clear. I had to dunk it, and I had to do it by flipping it off the parasol and catching it in a mug. That took another few weeks of practice, but in the end, it was all worth it. I possessed what I had sought. 90 seconds of silliness that set up the next thirty minutes of my act. Perfect.

It worked better than I had dreamed. It worked so well in fact, that quite  a few performers tried to steal it. And that is where the life lessons come in.

First lesson: The more hassle you are willing to endure, the better your reward. If something is easy, anyone can do it, and then it is not special. We love seeing people do things not everyone can do, and we reward them with our attention. That attention may come in the form of buying their products, watching them on stage or on the field, or hiring them to perform a service we can’t do.

The second lesson: If it’s difficult, very few people will steal the idea, so the difficulty is what protects it. Not from everyone, but from most, which is usually good enough. And this is why: One of the reasons someone steals an idea is because it’s easier than coming up with their own. That laziness is what will keep them from taking an idea that will be difficult to make happen. They will move on to something easier. Not always, but a high enough percentage of the time to ensure you are one of only a handful that can do what you do.

So, embrace the difficult. It will always reward you. For me, it has kept me flush with rubber pastries. What more do I need?