Some strings attached
The YoYo People to highlight annual Zest FestBy CLAUDETTE KNIERIEM
Special to the Union Leader December 20. 2017 1:08PM
If you go...WHAT: Zest Fest: New Vaudeville Festival
WHEN: Dec. 27-30 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne State Park, 570 Ocean Blvd., Rye
INFO: www.pontine.org; 436-6660
If you remember learning to “walk the dog” with a certain Duncan toy as a kid, don’t miss YoYo Guy John Higby, who takes this classic trick to a whole new level.
Higby and his wife, Rebecca, known together as The YoYo People, will perform as part of the annual Zest Fest: New Vaudeville Festival at the Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne State Park, 570 Ocean Blvd., Rye.
The festival will run from Tuesday through Saturday, Dec. 26-30, with the Yo-Yo People’s show scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 29. The lineup also will feature juggler and variety showman Steve Corning Wednesday, Dec. 27; magician BJ Hickman Tuesday, Dec. 26, and Thursday, Dec. 28; and entertainer Bryson Lang Saturday, Dec. 30.
The yo-yo duo’s family-friendly comedy show includes yo-yos attached to bouncy balls, yo-yos with 10-foot strings, and multiple-looping yo-yos with hula hoops and unicycles thrown in for good measure.
With precise timing, high energy and just the right amount of sarcasm, they draw crowds everywhere they go. Their popular YoYo People act landed the Higbys an audition for “America’s Got Talent” back in 2008, and has taken them to 26 countries from Europe to New Zealand, where they return annually to some of their favorite festivals.
“We love the Comedy Festival in Melbourne, Australia,” said John, who will head there again in April with Rebecca. “It’s a month long, with 100 shows every night, in over 30 venues.”
In the yo-yoing world, John Higby has made quite a name for himself. The Anchorage, Alaska, native holds the 2008 Yo-Yo World Champion title and has four Guinness World Records under his belt, including one for the most matches lit with a yo-yo — 18 in just 60 seconds.
He’s also appeared on dozens of TV shows in the United States and abroad, including programs on “Late Night with David Letterman,” the Discovery Channel, and the children’s game show “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” on PBS. Higby even has his own Topps trading card and was named ESPN Magazine’s “Unsung Hero” of 2008. Locally, he has the distinction of being the only yo-yo performer to hold a license to perform at historic Faneuil Hall, where he has been entertaining crowds for 15 years.
Higby’s love affair with yo-yos began at age 11, after his grandfather showed him a few tricks on a vintage Duncan. As a teenager in Colorado, he joined a community of street performers as part of Boulder’s active busker scene. One of his favorite characters from those days was Dave the Zip Code Guy, who had memorized more than 30,000 U.S. zip codes and their corresponding towns.
Higby took his act abroad, performing for U.S. troops stationed in Turkey, Italy, and Spain. Busker festivals took him all over Canada, Singapore, and Japan, and a stint with a yo-yo company brought him to Malaysia to run national yo-yo contests.
In 2000, Higby crossed paths with Rebecca Loomis, his future wife and show partner, at a Denver store’s yo-yo club. A Maine native, Rebecca is an accomplished performance artist in her own right, not only as the yo-yo “yin” to John’s “yang,” but as an expert hula hooper. A YouTube search for the YoYo People invariably turns up videos of the couple wowing crowds of all ages with a banter that only comes when spouses work side-by-side doing something they love.
John Higby also has been painting yo-yos for 20 years, customizing versions for celebrities including comedian Mike Myers (who portrays Tommy Maitland as the host of the “Gong Show”) and the entire panel of guest judges, including Will Arnett, Ed Helms and Alison Brie, following his recent appearance on the show.
For the record, Higby scored an impressive 28 out of 30 for his performance, which saw him successfully use a yo-yo to light two matches held by a nervous Brie.
In all his years of yo-yoing, Higby said he can recall just one stunt gone awry.
“I was in Rome lighting matches with a yo-yo and a lit match tip flew up and hit me in the eye.” he said. “I managed to finish the trick while holding one hand over my eye.”
The couple now lives in Amherst, Mass., and travels near and far to festivals, schools, theatres, and anywhere there’s flat ground and enough open space for flying yo-yos.
When they’re on the road, they travel with an oversized yo-yo that John walks on during his act, as well as 20 or so standard yo-yos.
All that gear tends to make customs officials laugh.
“It seems every time we go through customs in Canada, they always want to see a trick,” John Higby said with a laugh.
His hopes for the YoYo People act include performing in Antarctica one day, and eventually taking yo-yos into space.