Jeff Civillico rides a unicycle on the back of the elephant in the room.
While juggling a plunger, a chainsaw, a 95-pound bowling ball, the Lincoln Memorial and a “razor-sharp juggling club.” And balancing Mount St. Helens on his chin. And making jokes about wedgies. And rehearsing for his career in television.
Yes, it’s hard to stop pedaling, catch five objects of unequal weight and dismount a two-ton giant at the same time — but this guy can do it! Because after years of toying with the elephant, he has learned how to embrace it.
With really long arms.
No. Here’s how he does it:
Civillico is not susceptible to the threats that face so many other entertainers. If no one laughs at his joke, he reasons aloud that the audience must not have liked it. If no one applauds a juggling trick they should have found impressive, he calls out, “Come on!” and wins their ovation with an even bigger display.
There’s a lot of prompting in this show (“I’m going to do a REALLY hard trick!” or “Here’s where you clap!”) but it’s all in jest. Civillico is a true entertainer, and he sees it as his job to make sure his audience has a great time.
It’s a good thing, too. You had to walk through The Quad’s ongoing renovation construction, follow nearly invisible signs and pay off the Billy Goats Gruff to get to his showroom, so Civillico’s not about to act like you owe him anything. He’s going to give you everything he’s got. Including jokes about how hard it is to find the theater. And a half-eaten marshmallow.
“My voice is sore every day,” Civillico says. (He shouts for more than an hour, egging on volunteers whom he makes help him mount his unicycle, spin plates on sticks and juggle with him side by side.)
“My knee hurts from doing those stupid kicks,” he says. (He punctuates the end of an act by kicking his left leg high to his side and then dramatically removing the resulting wedgie — or leaving it, just because he can.)
“I’m run down because I left it all out there,” he says. And he really does.
“Hey,” he says to a member of his crew after the show is over and his fans have left. “That ping-pong ball. Is that still there? Sorry. I don’t know why I do that.”
Having a “crew” is pretty new for Civillico. Before Caesars Entertainment brought him to The Quad, he spent a year and a half doing a one-man dinner show at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.
“I built my own stage,” he says. “I turned on my own spotlight. I ran my own cues with an iPod that was Velcro-ed to this patch of Velcro on my belt.”
He keeps that patch of Velcro on his belt to remind himself of where he’s been. He recalls poking fun at the 800-pound gorilla then, too. He would call out, “Can I get the spotlight over here?” and then walk across the room, adjust the light and return to his spot.
Before the dinner show, Civillico filled in at “V—The Ultimate Variety Show” and did guest spots for Nathan Burton’s afternoon comedy magic show. Before that, he worked on Disney’s cruise line.
He’s never had a job other than juggling and entertaining.
Civillico credits his fans with his continued success.
They’re a faithful bunch. When Civillico hosted a showcase to try out for the gig at The Quad, they came in such droves that only a fraction got a seat at the show. Then they crowdfunded the creation of his giant inflatable set, raising $11,000 in just six days.
Civillico has had his own show at The Quad for a year now, and his contract was just extended for two more.
“I love having the big space now just to play around with,” he said of the theater, which he shares with Frank Marino’s celebrity female impersonator show “Divas” and the junk drumming production “Recycled Percussion.”
“Now I can do fire,” he says. (He juggles flaming torches.) “[And] you can’t juggle a chainsaw in a dinner room.”
Civillico’s performance is still just as impromptu as his less formal ventures. His routines are all planned, but he estimates that 30 percent of what happens at each show is improvised. That’s inevitable when you invite audience members on stage and give them a chance share the show’s action.
In one of his cutest acts, Civillico brings up a young kid and helps the volunteer spin three plates on sticks. It’s a pretty clean segment, except for Civillico’s posing for the volunteer’s parents’ camera.
And except when kids pee.
Civillico says that happens a lot.
Asked whether the parents retrieve their children from the stage after they wet themselves, Civillico says no.
“No. Then I piss my pants,” he says. “That’s usually what happens. Then I make a joke about wearing black, and everybody laughs.”
Civillico says there’s a fine line between what’s “goofy” and what’s too much. He unicycles along that line throughout the show, shooting off rapid-fire jokes that are alternately sexual or quasi-political, all while juggling or leading a volunteer through a trick.
“That’s just ‘Shrek,’” he says, meaning that, like in the Disney-Pixar film, his show’s mature content flies right over the younger fans’ heads.
“The verbal is for the adults and the visual is for the kids,” he says.
Civillico says he has a few more years doing a stage show as his primary gig. Then he wants to host TV shows.
He’s already working with the Travel Channel on a show where he’ll travel the country finding street performers with amazing acts and inviting them to perform on a Las Vegas stage.
He’s also filming in July for another show that might air in late fall, and he’s reading for game shows.
That’s the best thing about Civillico’s charming ability to surmount that old elephant in the room: It helps him climb higher.
Civillico has the energy and talent to make it to the big league. And with his infectious personality and indomitable cheer, he’s a world-class success story waiting to happen.
His show is as outstanding as it is undersold. It’s both impressive and hilarious. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in town and an incredible bargain.
The only things predictable about Civillico’s show are that something crazy will happen and that he’ll love every minute of it.
Civillico recalls a show in which he offered an audience participant his half-eaten marshmallow and, unlike usual, the volunteer took it.
Civillico yelled, “EAT IT!” and the guy actually did.
“Oh my God. This is amazing!” Civillico remembers thinking. “This is live entertainment.”