I was born
in Paterson New Jersey, home of Lou Costello, Allen Ginsberg, Hurricane
Carter and people like that.
My folks were broke and moved a lot. When I was ten years old
the family moved to suburban Southern California but we weren't
a good fit so we moved back to the Jersey ghetto. It was good to
know that there were other ways to live.
I attended college in Memphis in 1967 where I had the double major
of antiwar demonstrations and civil rights. That became too difficult
a load to carry after Martin Luther King was shot there in Memphis.
In 1969 I left school to hitchhike around and see for myself what
the world was up to.
I traveled across America for a couple of years sleeping in roadside
rest stops, the cabs of moving trucks, hippies crash pads, city
parks.. But I was awake part of the time.
After Woodstock I came through Memphis again ... this time with
rainbows and stars in my eyes and mud still on my pants. I tried
to work regular jobs but, no matter how short I cut my hair or
tried to conform, everyone saw the hippie in my eyes. I had to
choose a goal and accomplish it. It didn't matter much which goal.
I set my mind on random and picked Europe. It was among the tales
that I had told, someday I would vagabond through Europe seeing
the Old World through young eyes ...
I went back to Jersey, lived with my parents, took a factory job
and ... set a date for quitting. Ten months, I would work all I
could, overtime if they had it.
I wouldn't go out at night, just save the money for a trip to
This wasn't a promise to myself to become a responsible human
from now on, only an effort to focus one time on one thing beginning
to end. Anything that would help me get to Europe, I would do.
Anything that wouldn't, I wouldn't.
I wouldn't go out at night and
spend money ... I'd stay home. I needed to entertain myself,
TV was dead boring (well, okay, Star Trek, but otherwise ...).
I thought of toys; when I was a kid, some kids were good with a
yo yo: loop de loop, rock the cradle, round the world. I wasn't
one of those kids. But now I was 21 years old, I could figure this
thing out. I was smarter, more coordinated ... I got a yo yo and
played with it every night. I got good and then I got bored.
So I got one of those fly-back things (wooden paddle, elastic
and red ball babbada babbada babbada babbada). I did that every
night. I got good and then got bored.
Then I got some soap bubbles; I'd make a big one, then a bigger
one, then bigger.
I was a smoker and I would fill them with smoke. I started seeing
them do things; two bubbles in the air would bounce off of each
other, or join together, or come together as one! If you ook closely
at suds for a long time you will go crazy ...I know, I did it for
years. I became obsessed. I played with bubbles every night for
the rest of the ten months. When I went to Europe, I was good at
bubbles. Now it's almost 30 years ... and I'm better.
I was never a great street act, a bit of wind and I was in trouble. I did
meet some of the great ones and I was inspired by this form of sudden
entertainment that leaps out at passersby and assumes them into being
My show was called Tom Noddy and the Travelin' Puppets. Hand puppets with
social satire. I performed on street corners, in bars, in childcare centers,
parks, all-night donut shops ... anywhere. I don't do much with puppets
anymore but my friend Mousie still makes some trips with me.
With the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Avner the Eccentric, Reverend Chumleigh,
Artis the Spoonman, Moz Wright, Jan Luby, and several others, I worked
trying to convince street performers that we are the vaudevillians ...
but without vaudeville. We hoped that we could build a new form from the
cold ashes of old entertainment form. We still do some wonderful big New
Vaudeville events, but we could never made it make money.
After years of insisting that people come out from behind their TV sets and
come to see live performance (I called New Vaudeville "Entertainment
for a post-television generation") my friend Avner convinced me that
I'd better go on TV before someone else copied Bubble Magic and took it
to TV first. "He'll be the bubble man and you'll be doing HIS act
for the rest of your life." Good point. When they called I agreed
to go on That's Incredible, a popular show with a weekly audience of forty
million people.They had me return to the show two other times but it never
resulted in any other work for me. Then I went on Johnny Carson's Tonight
Show in 1982. Fortunately, I had just then moved out of my van into a house
with a telephone. The phone didn't stop ringing for years. I did the Tonight
Show 3 times, other American TV shows, big variety shows in most of the
countries of Europe, television in Japan, South America, a couple in Australia.
Several of these shows had me return and I became well known in several
countries. The camera just loves soap bubbles. For me, unlike most vaudeville
performers, it really can be an artistic medium."
After my first appearance on the Tonight Show I started getting calls from
comedy clubs suggesting that we follow the big TV exposure with comedy
club appearances. I went instead to a science museum in San Francisco and
persuaded them to do a Bubble Festival ... focusing on the physics of soap
bubbles and on my performance. The Bubble Festival was a big hit; NBC and
CBS had it on the national news that week, all of the San Francisco media
featured it, there were interviews on NPR, London Times, Christian Science
Monitor ... they all told the same basic story: "The kids and physicists
are gathering this week in San Francisco ... " 15,000 people showed
up at the Exploratorium and soon science museums all over the country called
wanting to put on Bubble Festivals. I still do many of these festivals
every year. They are a delight, mixed audiences of every age with my performance
followed by questions and answers.
I'm okay with the physics, I really don't understand mathematics ... but
the mathematicians love what I do. My photo has been featured in text books
and I often perform at math conferences. In 1998 I demonstrated at the
International Congress of Mathematics in Berlin. This is where they give
the Field's Medal (the math equivalent of a Nobel Prize). This has led
to several other mathematics events for me.
The German version of vaudeville. This art form is alive and well in Germany.
I do a lot of this these days. It shares some of the same sort of modern
history as the New Vaudeville movement in America ... Some European performers
were finding ways to bring audiences back to the variety arts. In Berlin
this led to the Scheinbar Variete, Chamaeleon Variete and the Wintergarten
Variete. The idea caught on and now there are theaters open for this kind
of entertainment throughout Germany with more opening all the time.