And you know what that means: We’re getting weird today.
Each week, we’re highlighting and celebrating elements of Portland’s wonderful weirdness, in collaboration with the amazing folks at Weird Portland United (WPU).
If you haven’t read them yet — you can find our February Weird Wednesdays here, where we interviewed The Unipiper, local artist Cedar Lee, and The Portland Sleestak.
And this week, we are doing a Willy Wonka-style entrance with a local weirdo devoted to making you laugh during the hard times, who has some legit cake-eating tips, can and will juggle anything under the sun, the ringmaster of the Sidewalk Circus, the one, the only: Spencer Sprocket.
What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.
Mind telling us a little bit about yourself and the work you do that adds to Portland’s weirdness?
I like to say that I practice having fun for a living. I want to live to be a spry 125-years-old. My plan is to eat right, stretch, drink water, and most importantly, be weird. Sleight of hand magic, multi-prop juggling, singing, dancing, playing music, all coincide with keeping my brain as healthy as my body. It’s been proven that juggling uses both sides of the brain, and that can help combat Alzheimer’s disease.
I aim to encourage others to pick up a new hobby and have a little more fun. Teaching magic tricks, slowing down my juggling in an understandable way, and watching the audience make the “Ooohh, I get it!” face is my favorite part of performing. I’m just a regular person who decided to do really fun things. I always say, “You can do everything that I can do, you just haven’t done it yet!”
How long have you been practicing your weirdness here in Portland, and what got you interested?
I’ve been weird all my life. In the 2nd grade I found out that individually raising my eyebrows got laughs. I liked learning, but loved making people laugh even more — especially as a student. Slowly, I learned the line between getting a laugh or being sent out of class. “Maturity is knowing when and where to be immature,” is something I learned to follow. I was fortunate enough to run into my 5th grade teacher a few years back.
I was happy to hear Ms. Wilson (👋 HI MS. WILSON! Thanks for being so cool!) say that I was “A lot to handle, but always polite.” In my early 20s I got a job as a summer camp counselor. My weirdness helped me excel and I was promoted each summer for four years in a row. Being funny in front of children meant that I had their attention. I would make jokes and then follow it with directions — walking the perfect line of order and chaos. Parents saw how much fun their children had, and began to ask me if I would do birthday parties.
Getting paid to come to a party, to make people happy, and get sent home with cake? It’s a dream come true. Ten years later I continue to learn anything I think is fun, and share it with anyone who wants to watch. Over the years I have expanded to stage shows, street shows, roaming entertainment, tutorials, school carnivals, festivals, live streaming, and other online events. Unfortunately, I have lost my taste for cake (birthday parties have a lot of cake go figure), and have had five lifetimes worth of it. Cake pro tip: The brighter the colors, the lower the quality.
Spencer was voted “Best Socially-Distanced Magician” in Willamette Week’s Best of Portland 2020 (📸: Courtesy of Spencer Sprocket)
How did you get involved with the folks at Weird Portland United?
When COVID hit, I felt like the city was crying. When we got the go ahead to distance outside I started going around my neighborhood juggling, dressing up as a mime, and just standing in my front yard waving and smiling at people going by. A friend heard about a $500 grant from Weird Portland United and thought I was the perfect fit. It was a huge honor to be recognized for the positive impact that being weird had on people in these dark times. When they called and told me I won, it felt too good to be true. I honestly asked Brian if it was an elaborate scam with amazing victim targeting skills.
“You won! We wanna pay you for being weird! Where do we send the check!” With the entertainment economy shut down it really helped make ends meet. I can’t thank them enough for the support. Especially Brian, The Unipiper. Such an inspiring weirdo. It’s not practical to ride a unicycle, dressed as a holiday-themed Darth Vader, playing bagpipes that double as a flamethrower. It’s funny, entertaining, and weird.
What does contributing to the wonderful weirdness of Portland mean to you?
Weird is different. It’s interesting, odd, thought provoking, and vulnerable. Weird is my art. A lot of things have been threatening the mood of Portland, rightfully so. I felt the weight of the world, like most of us did, and didn’t have my favorite outlet of entertaining.
It started with me wanting to exercise and keeping my wind juggling skills up, but was received as a special gift for those that saw me.
People smiled at me as if to say, “Oh my goodness, there is just something happy happening for once!” they would cheer and shout “Thank you!” Juggling LED clubs at night was a great time because my neighbors would be hanging out on their porch. I began to wonder if I could entertain one family at a time, from the safety of the sidewalk. The Sidewalk Circus was born. Entire apartment complexes laughing from their balconies. People were live streaming the show to friends and family.
I’m glad I found a way to entertain people while staying safe and distant. Happy to share it with my beautiful city who appreciates my art.
Where can folks find you online, and do you have any upcoming events, news, things you want to shout out?
I have been booking events for this upcoming summer through SpencerSprocket.com. Birthday parties, juggling and magic tutorials, web events for school charities, carnivals, auctions, and livestreaming on Twitch.
Every Monday at 10:30 a.m. PST, I do an all ages TV show, “The Spencer Sprocket Show!” An hour of magic, music, juggling, puppets, green screen fun, educational lessons, and lots more. Later this month I’m launching a trivia-comedy-game show for older audiences, “After bedtime, with Spencer Sprocket” — think, Wait-Wait Don’t Tell Me, Whose Line Is It Anyway, and The Price is Right, all in one show, and hosted by your favorite weirdo. All ages fun, but geared towards adults at 9 p.m. The plinko board is being built, phone lines set up, interactive fun will be had! Often people check Instagram to see recent projects and skills, @SpencerSprocket.
On March 27, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Woodstock Park, I will be performing for Art In The Park, an outdoor art gallery. Come see my booth for a chance to win a free birthday party and other awesome locally made art!
You can find Spencer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, and you can learn more at his website.
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