From an interview with Paul Hudert, a juggler who performs under the name Paolo Garbanzo at Renaissance faires and with the Flying Karamazov Brothers, by Rachel Lee Rubin, an American studies professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Rubin conducted the interview as research for her book Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture, published this month by NYU Press.
rachel rubin: So when did you start doing the Renaissance faire?
paul hudert: I found out about Ren faires in my college years and went, “What? Are you kidding?” The interaction and just the live theater and the kind of anything can happen, whatever, you know? And the people at the faire are ready for that. They’re already prepared to see something crazy.
rubin: Do you find that there’s been a shift away from more risqué and off-color?
hudert: Overall, the bawdiness level probably has gone down. But it’s more concentrated. There’s faires that do smokers—they all go in a tent, and they charge like ten or fifteen bucks and you get a couple of cigars and all the beer you can drink. And then the acts will come in and just tell the dirtiest, raunchiest jokes you could possibly know. For me, I like to have a show that everybody can see. I’m not about sexy. Every juggler does sexy. Like every juggler eats an apple. I’m not going to eat an apple, I’m going to eat an onion. I’ve literally had people who don’t understand how to interact with me because I’m not playing sexy. I mean literally girls who saw the show, and they were like, “Oh, I want to make out with him. But mentally he’s thirteen.”
rubin: And the people who come, the regular audiences, are there major subgroups that you notice?
hudert: It’s odd, because we reached a point in Renaissance-faire society, it’s what I call the “postmodern Renaissance-faire show.” I mean, not to name any names, but somebody uses a chain saw. People love it, because he juggles with a chain saw. It’s great. But how Renaissance is that, right? So there’s the post-modern Renaissance-faire performer who is aware of the fact that he’s at a Renaissance faire and will kind of poke fun at that idea that here I am wearing tights at the Renaissance faire. It’s like, are you in the Renaissance or are you a guy pretending to be in the Renaissance? But when you see four or five people walk in and they’re dead-on, you’re just like, Wow. I’d say half of those guys are like, “Well, this is what you’re supposed to really look like.” And they’ll go, “Oh, that’s not period. That’s not period.” I don’t think anybody’s trying to be period. What are you going to do? Here there’s the football crowd. They’re just normal people who want to go somewhere and drink beer and watch some guys whack each other with swords.
rubin: What is your sense of people who are devoted to hating the faire?
hudert: I have friends who won’t even link to my website. My Karamazov pals, they’re like, “Yeah, I can’t really link to your website because you’re mostly Renaissance-faire stuff.” They’re like, “Oh, we’re living in New York City. We’re trying to make it,” and all this stuff. But they’re sitting there struggling, doing clown gigs for a hundred bucks. I don’t walk out the door for $400.
rubin: What does your family think?
hudert: I mean, my mom will always say, “Maybe you should take some business classes.” I’m like, I have a degree. I’m obviously not failing in the business that I’m in. And my dad’s totally like, “Well, as long as you’re successful and doing your thing, whatever.” And since I appear to be more successful than one of my older brothers, I’m fine. I’m the golden child.
rubin: Brothers are really good for that.
hudert: He owes me money. When you owe the juggler money, you know you’re bad. There is a stigma. I do a bunch of cabaret stuff now. That’s what I wanted to do really. But poor little me makes way more money doing a day at a Ren faire than I do in a full two weeks doing the cabaret show. I get shit for this all the time, but I said this in a TV interview: “Renaissance faires are live theater without the stigma of live theater.” If I said the word “opera,” you think of boring. You think of snobs. But you can go to the Ren faire and drink your beer and look at tits and end up having a theatrical experience. It’s part of the subversiveness of the Ren faire. It’s like, “Ha, ha. I just gave you theater.”