The Great Zucchini

I first heard about The Great Zucchini when I had a one-year old, and happened to read a piece by Gene Weingargten in the Washington Post called “The Peekaboo Paradox”(January 23, 2006).

It told the story of a dubious looking dude with a penchant for gambling and an poor money management, who had an incredible knack for making even the most skeptical parents fork over $300 for a 40-minute “magic”show.

These formerly skeptical suburbanites paid (and still do pay) handsomely because his principal magic trick is to engage a room of 10-100 preschoolers for half an hour. I had the opportunity to see him perform three years later at my son’s preschool, and learned first hand that both the parental skepticism and his celebrity status were absolutely warranted.

The Great Zucchini–a.k.a. Eric Knaus, a community college dropout and former preschool teacher–bills himself as “Washington’s funniest and most magical preschool & kindergarten entertainer.” He gears his show to 2-6 year olds, and they ADORE him. Kids love him so much that according to The Post, he makes roughly $100,000 from his 10-20 shows per week! His show centers around being boisterous while doing incredibly silly tricks, making self-deprecating jokes, and generally engaging in infantile behavior that most parents would typically discourage. His work has earned him preschool celebrity status.

How does he do it? According to Gene Weingarten: “After the peekaboo age, but before the age of such sophisticated understanding, dwells the preschooler. His sense of humor is more than infantile but less than truly perceptive. He comprehends irony but not sarcasm. He lacks knowledge but not feeling. The central fact of his world — and the central terror to be overcome — is his own powerlessness. This is where the Great Zucchini works his magic.

He performed in ripped cargo pants and a stained tee shirt, with a one-day beard growth and old tennis shoes. He started his show by addressing the kids in a booming voice and larger-than-life trick, and the littlest kiddos (1s and 2s) immediately started screaming and ran towards their parents and away from him.

However, the older 2s through 5s (plus a few ’08 grads who skipped school to see TGZ) acted as though they were finalists in competitive “Simon Says”game, where they carefully listened to and obeyed his every silly request for 30 minutes. Throughout his act, he employed “potty humor”(e.g., opening a plastic toilet and having water spray his face, brushing his brow with a “soiled”diaper), on demand dancing, scores of silly magic tricks, repetition (e.g., his worn in rabbit “Ruffle,”appears repeatedly while he’s looking away) and generally stuff that most parents wouldn’t deign to do. His humor is not raunchy, it is not offensive, it’s just silly, and in some cases stupid. Whatever I may have felt about his slovenly appearance when he started his act, was replaced by awe that he has such a gift for speaking a preschooler’s language. His arguably idiotic behavior, earns him riotous laughter, and lots of “buzz”.

So, in my humble opinion, his methods are strange (but in no way unsavory), and he is both a conversation piece and party starter. Anyone who can get 80 preschoolers to laugh on cue for 40 minutes straight is clearly a brilliant entertainer and worth his weight in crayons. Check him out at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, sporadically at Jammin’ Java or book him for a private party. You will get big brownie points from your child.

For more information, or to book a show, contact:Eric Knaus a.k.a. “The Great 271-3108

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OK Editorial Team

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