One of the most unique acts at this year's Groundhog Day Juggling Festival in Atlanta was performed by 31-year-old Gregg Hosfeld. This full-time comedy club and cruise ship performer exhibits a juggling style heavily influenced by many years of experience as a professional Frisbee player.
The Groundhog Day judges selected Hosfeld as the Most Stupendous of 14 acts presented. (Chuck Gunter was Most Amazing and Jeff Daymont was Most Incredible.) Juggler's World conducted this interview with him after the competition.
JW: Which came first, the Frisbee or the juggling?
GH: I started with Frisbee when I was 10 or 12, and I learned to juggle when I was nine. But I never thought I'd do anything with juggling so I gave it up. But I've always been real goofy. I found out a long time ago if it's stupid or has no social relevance, I excel at it. So I joined Sailor Circus in 1974 doing clowning, stilts and really cheap magic. It was a circus for kids in the Sarasota County school system, so instead of going to football or baseball after school I went to circus. I actually have a school letter with a clown on it!
JW: What did your parents think about that?
GH: When I was in the Sailor Circus they were pretty pleased, but my old man got pretty ticked off that I was still doing it 10 years later. But heck, I'm seeing the country, even seeing the world, and getting paid probably better than if I was doing some menial job somewhere.
JW: How did your career go after high school?
GH: I never went to college. I joined a circus and a petting zoo trying to make a go of that, but didn't do very well. Then I went back to Sarasota to some real jobs until Sea World in Orlando had open auditions in 1979. That was what I consider my first real professional gig. I did eight 40-minute sets a day five days a week for two years - Frisbee stuff, juggling, coins, walking around meeting and greeting people.
JW: So you really honed your juggling at Sea World?
GH: Yeah, but I got canned from there for "economic adjustments." But a week later Circus World had open auditions and I got on there. That's where I really tightened up because there were other jugglers to work with - Tim Kapp the trampolinist, The Hernandez Troupe and Bill Whitmire the trapeze artist. They also had a lot of tapes I could look at. Then I got a job at Shakespeare's Tavern doing the three and four ball routines.
JW: Had you started your professional Frisbee career by then?
GH: Yeah. My first tournament was in 1976. Primarily freestyle, then golf, and eventually I got into all the events. Whammo offered me a frisbee tour after the tavern juggling and I did that for a while. That was in 1984, doing school assembly programs in an RV in February in the Midwest - 20 below zero playing Frisbee. I'd warm up for the Frisbee stuff doing some juggling, but there was no juggling in the show. After that I figured I'd go out on my own and I starved for about 18 months. But now it's going OK between the comedy clubs and the cruise ships.
JW: What's your club routine like?
GH: Basically I do a lot of standup stuff. I do some five ball stuff at the beginning to grab 'em - five in the air, some weird multiplex patterns and five on the ground or on someone's table. It's not too elaborate, but they're silicone balls and I paid $25 each for them, so by God I'm going to use them! After that I do stand-up stuff, an impression of one of those wrinkly Chinese dogs, and I talk about Sarasota and my car. Then I have a spy routine, which is my signature piece along with my miniature Frisbee routine. In the spy thing I do a lot of three ball stuff and cigar boxes. I'm happy to say there are only two puns in there and they're so gross they work. Most of it is a stupid story about being offered money to reveal a local weatherman's color radar plans. The characters are played by the props. I used to challenge people to give me odd objects, even before I heard of the Karamazov Brothers doing it. The weirdest was when they gave me a cowboy boot, a lit cigarette and a popcorn basket. It worked out, though, and I got it around three times. I can also do B-B's, but no one can see if they're more than 10 feet away, so I don't bother.
JW: And what about the miniature Frisbee routine?
GH: I went on Stupid Human Tricks with it in November 1986. I keep a tiny Frisbee in the air with short staccato breaths blown from beneath it. I had never done more than 29 breaths and I went on the show and hit 40.
JW: How do your Frisbee and juggling work together to make you a unique performer?
GH: I believe the Frisbee freestyle has really enhanced my three ball work, some of the under the leg stuff and pirouettes I do wouldn't be possible if I weren't used to doing those moves with Frisbees. And they're some specific throws I've learned to use juggling because I learned them with a Frisbee first. One is with the right leg behind you and the hand behind the shin. I call it a "bad attitude" throw because it's like a ballet dancer's back attitude. I really like doing ugly moves, very contorted. People see me and say, "Geez, he's going to kill himself!"
JW: Does your juggling help your Frisbee at all?
GH: They're both great hand-eye coordination skills. I've used juggling in Frisbee tournaments using three frisbees, but they count your drops and it can hurt your score if you don't hit it. It's a variety move, but the judges are kind of purists and don't consider juggling them as a true Frisbee skill. The freestyle stuff - spinning it on your fingers, doing the legovers, pirouettes, changing spins and turning it upside down - is more what they're looking for.
JW: Are you finding yourself more attracted to juggling?
GH: Yeah, the people are great, which is the same as at Frisbee tournaments, and all this trading tricks is good.
JW: The only problem is that you can make money at Frisbee tournaments but can't make any at juggling conventions, right?
GH: Well, I actually make more money with juggling than Frisbee. Frisbee tournaments were where I lost most of my money until recently. Even though I'm usually in the money in most events, there isn't enough to cover the cost of getting there. There are a lot of people who are really dedicated who don't make squat. In 1987 I won the World Frisbee Golf Championships in Toronto and got $2,500 Canadian. It was the best I'd ever played. I also won the Florida State Championships in 1981 and 1982, and made the finals in the US tournament in 1987 and 1988, but that's it.
JW: You entered the IJA Individual Competition in Baltimore. How do you compare freestyle juggling and freestyle Frisbee?
GH: As a rule I hate judged events because they're so subjective. I didn't make the finals in Baltimore, though, because I didn't hit anything in the prelims. It was without question, bar none, the worst I had ever done that routine. In some ways, though, the competitions are similar. In freestyle Frisbee you've got four categories - variety, difficulty, execution and creativity. But everyone's using the same prop at least.
JW: Will you enter the IJA competitions again?
GH: Oh yeah. I really want to do it in LA because I'll have time to practice the routine and think I can do it well. I want revenge on myself! Doing the routine so poorly in the preliminaries really made me mad. There's also a $40,000 Frisbee tournament in LA every year and I compete in that. This year it precedes the IJA convention by just three weeks so I want to work them out together.
JW: Do you think your Frisbee moves are appreciated by the juggling judges?
GH: I'm a little worried that they won't consider Frisbee to be juggling or manipulation. But if that's the case I have some questions to ask about diabolo, ball spinning, devil sticks, club swinging and hat manipulation. I think the main problem is that the judges haven't had any prior experience with Frisbee. In my opinion Frisbee is pretty damn hard, and I'm in the upper levels of the competition. I don't want to have one of my skills not count for anything.
JW: What's your future in Frisbee and in juggling now?
GH: For Frisbee in general, I've really enjoyed it but I can only do it for grins now because it's taking away from my career, which is juggling and entertaining. But I'll compete in Frisbee tournaments as long as I'm capable. I was considering retiring a while ago when I was still hot, but I couldn't. I really enjoy the freestyle competition. It's so "turbo," so intense, and you can do anything you want with your creativity. That's what I enjoy about juggling, too. The juggling I'll do until my body revolts, but my body has been said to be revolting already! I'm trying to work on more stand-up comedy to have something to fall back on once I'm too decrepit to juggle.
JW: How are you received as a variety artist in comedy clubs?
GH: It seems like the audiences really enjoy it. The owners themselves are questionable, but they have to be apathetic toward you so you won't ask too much money when you come back. Actually I think it's an advantage with the crowd and a disadvantage with the owners. But I have more venues available, like the ships that I've done since October 1988. I'd like to explore the vaudeville circuit, but haven't yet. I went to Benny Reehl's workshop last summer and he said he thought I'd do well there.
JW: How many juggling conventions have you been to?
GH: This is my fourth, and three of them have been in Atlanta. I was at the national convention here in 1985, last year's Groundhog, this year's Groundhog and last summer's convention in Baltimore. I like Frisbee golf a lot and that's my best event. I'm a weanie arm in distance even though I can throw over 350 feet. But you should see these other guys! I've got a friend skinnier than I am who threw 623 feet a while ago. Double disc tennis is a new event that's incredible. It's like space age tennis!
JW: We haven't seen you juggle clubs at all, why not?
GH: I just don't get off on clubs. I like balls and boxes and other bizarre stuff. Coin catches off the arm.