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Chris Bliss on Juggling, Viral Videos, Ted Talks

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The odds of a particular video going viral are pretty long, and the odds that the subject of that video will go viral twice are even longer. Comedian Chris Bliss has managed to do just that.

The Washington, D.C., native started off in show business as a juggler, but realizing the creative limitations of that, he moved into standup in the '80s at the behest of some comedian friends here in Minneapolis.

"It took a while to convince me, because I was having such a good time with shiny objects," he says. At the height of his juggling success, he was part of Michael Jackson's Thriller tour. Then he had the epiphany. "After that tour, it was clear I'd probably be doing a 12-minute juggling act in Las Vegas for the rest of my life. That sounded like a more like a prison sentence than a career."

[jump] Even after becoming a comedian, Bliss closed his show with a brief juggling routine. In 2006, the internet caught up with him and a performance called "Juggling Grand Finale" went viral. Across all platforms it has been viewed over 80 million times (it's been posted multiple times on YouTube). It received a further boost when Fatboy Slim invited Bliss to join him on The Late Show with David Letterman and juggle to the U.K. pop star's single "This Old Pair of Jeans." That clip was also widely viewed.  "I'll close with it in Minneapolis, because they pay me a percentage of the door," he notes. "I'm no dummy. I also still enjoy it."

Two years ago he went viral again, only this time it had nothing to do with juggling. Bliss gave a Ted Talk, called "Comedy Is Translation," that also amassed a ton of views.

"That was fun, and that's where I think I started to discover the line through all this," he explains. "I had this this opportunity to speak at the Ted Expo in Seattle, and it got picked up by big Ted. I think it has half a million views now."

A comparative literature major in college, Bliss drew on the work of one his favorite authors, Gabriel García Márquez, or more accurately, by the man who translated many of the Colombian author's books, Gregory Rabassa. 

"The translations seemed so vibrant to me. I then found that Rabassa had written a book about the art of translation. In it he says, 'Every act of communication is an act of translation.' I just thought it was a powerful insight, and that's what I built the Ted Talk on. Why do we have so much difficulty communicating?"

Apart from being a standup comic, juggler, and viral video star, Bliss also oversees the MyBillofRights.org campaign, which seeks to put a monument to the Bill of Rights in every state capital as well as the District of Columbia. In 2012, Arizona dedicated its monument in Phoenix. Texas and Oklahoma meanwhile, are in the beginning stages of getting them built in their respective state capitals.

In February, Bliss will be part of a live show in Washington, D.C., called Let Freedom Laugh, along with Lewis Black, Dick Gregory, Tom Smothers, Cristela Alonzo, Ahmed Ahmed, and John Fugelsang. The show will launch the My Bill of Rights matching endowment fund, which will help groups from each state raise money faster for their individual monuments.

IF YOU GO:

Chris Bliss

Acme Comedy Co.

708 N. First St., Minneapolis

8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

$18

For tickets, call 612-338-6393 or visit www.acmecomedycompany.com