‘In Jest’ gives Chautauqua families permission for fun


According to Nels Ross, even bumbling fools can be incredible successes.

Drawing from influences that include juggling, mime, and clown comedy, the self-proclaimed “bumbling fool” will perform his act, “In Jest with Nels Ross,” twice tonight, at 5 and 7 p.m. in Smith Wilkes Hall as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

“I get at least as much joy out of it as the audience,” he said. “I believe what I do is a taste of heaven. When you laugh, there’s no pain, no worries — you forget your troubles for a moment. Those are beautiful moments.”

Upon returning to Chautauqua, where he has performed about a dozen times, Ross hopes to create these moments for audiences young and old.

“I love it, the family audience,” Ross said. “When you can perform for all generations and they’re enjoying it together, it’s the best.”

The enjoyment of a family audience may stem from Ross’ own familial associations with his act. Ross first began performing when he was only 10 years old, working alongside his mime and fire-eating mother. The performer has now begun a partnership with his 13-year-old son during some of his shows — though his act at Chautauqua will be a solo one.

Inspired by his mother’s storytelling, dance and mime routines, Ross became a performer. He continued his professional development during a stint with the circus when he was 20 years old and throughout his own solo career starting at 24. He cites instructors from the Ringling Brothers and Cirque du Soleil as further influences in the development of his technique.

“It was in its formative stages at 10 years old and really developed a lot when I was 20, performing with the circus. Since then, I’ve had a lot of experiences to build on,” Ross said. “Even though I’ve had all of these influences, I try to show my own style and personality.”

Over his 30-plus-year career, the style and personality Ross expresses in his act have changed.

“As I get older, I have adapted my act in small ways, incremental ways. There may come a day when I’m not juggling torches on a 6-foot unicycle,” Ross said.

Though Ross was careful to not reveal any secrets about the content of his performance, it’s unlikely today will be the day he hangs up his unicycle.

Above all, Ross said he hopes Chautauquans will arrive at the show expecting to have a good time, as they will be given plenty of chances.

“I don’t think you can make anyone have fun,” Ross said. “I think you can only give them opportunity and permission, and that’s what people will have here. They’ll have opportunity — plenty of opportunity — for fun.”