Walk through downtown San Luis Obispo on a Thursday night, and you might notice an unusual sight: two colorfully clad men — one riding a towering unicycle, the other balancing on a spindly ladder — juggling giant knives and flaming torches.
A familiar sight at farmers markets and festivals across San Luis Obispo County, street performers Jonathan Nowaczyk and Mark Wilder — collectively known as Something Ridiculous — have been entertaining audiences with their high-energy act for about a year.
“When we’re up there, we’re truly having a blast,” Wilder said. “We’re not (playing) characters. We’re just being ourselves. People respond to that.”
Wilder, who grew up in Needham, Mass., got his first taste of performing at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. The environmental studies student would dress up as the school’s difficult-to-identify mascot, the geoduck — a large burrowing clam.
“I had a lot of kids coming up to me (and) asking me, ‘What are you, a giant taco? A giant hot dog?’ ” he recalled with a laugh.
Wilder bought his first unicycle on his 22nd birthday.
“For me, it was a life-changing moment,” Wilder, 33, said. “I decided no longer to drink or do drugs or smoke cigarettes. I decided to take a different path.”
Starting out was not easy.
“When you first learn how to ride a unicycle, it’s definitely discouraging because you end up landing on the ground quite a bit,” Wilder said.
However, he soon mastered the one-wheeled contraption.
Now a diehard enthusiast who’s equally at home cruising around town on a 6-foot-tall “giraffe” unicycle or going off-road on a mountain-bike-style model, Wilder has even competed in unicycle basketball and hockey at UNICON, the World Unicycle Convention and Championships.
“As we like to say, ‘It’s more fun on one,’ ” he explained.
The former construction worker discovered his other passion, juggling, at age 29.
Shortly after moving to the Central Coast, he bought some juggling balls at Tom’s Toys in San Luis Obispo and joined the Central Coast Juggling and Unicycling Club.
Wilder made his debut as a solo street performer in 2010, sporting a pair of hot-pink Spandex pants he found at a Morro Bay thrift store. But when he met Nowaczyk at the Isla Vista Juggling Festival, he knew it was time to “combine forces for a bigger and better show,” he said.
An Indiana native, Nowaczyk — who goes by the stage name Von Jon — discovered juggling five years ago while living in San Diego.
“Right around 21 years old, I realized I didn’t want to work any real jobs,” the 26-year-old joked. “Through juggling, I can do something that’s very fun and that allows me to be athletic.”
Nowaczyk added: “I like to be a goofball. I like to be the center of attention.”
According to Nowaczyk, the duo’s name stems from their first performance at Isla Vista.
“Somebody said, ‘You guys need a title.’ I went, ‘Mark, it’s got to be something crazy. It’s got to be something ridiculous,’ ” the juggler recalled. “He went, ‘Stop right there. That’s it.’ ”
They’ve been Something Ridiculous ever since.
“It’s been quite a good match putting us together. I’m more of a physical comedian, and he’s a very accomplished juggler,” Wilder said. “Anybody can juggle, but not everybody can be funny doing it.”
As much as Nowaczyk and Wilder love entertaining crowds, they also enjoy sharing the circus arts with others.
“I really like inspiring people to try new things,” Nowaczyk said. “I come across so many people who say they (could) never juggle. Then I teach them to juggle, and they’re the happiest people ever.”
“There’s a learning curve,” his performance partner added, “but when you’re able to stick with it for a short period of time … (you) see immediate rewards.”
Wilder was honored in January 2011 by San Luis Obispo’s Parks and Recreation Department for his work with local schoolchildren.
“For kids, it’s a big self-esteem boost. You get it, and all (of a) sudden, you’re part of an elite group.”
See them perform
Something Ridiculous performs regularly at the San Luis Obispo Farmers Market on Thursday nights in downtown San Luis Obipso. Other upcoming performances include the Isla Vista Juggling Festival and Good Old Days Street Festival and Fair in Pacific Grove in April and the Arroyo Grande Strawberry Festival in May.
For more information, call 530-902.3293, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ridiculousjugglers.com.
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.