No one goes to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in search of the next big thing. You're not about to see women in corsets or men in puffy shirts telling dick jokes on prime-time TV. However, as an act that started in those dusty Shakopee fields, the Danger Committee is looking to do what very few have done before: Go beyond the castle.
Some would say that the comedy knife-throwing and juggling trio has already accomplished that. Jason LeMay and Mick Lunzer won a gold medal in the 1996 International Jugglers' Association Teams Championship. After adding Caleb McEwen to the team, they made it to America's Got Talent in 2010, and received Howie Mandel's gleaming nod of approval. While similar acts have been known to stretch entire careers out of brief television glory, the Danger Committee is unfazed.
From the beginning, they set out to give their audience the unexpected. This includes turning a knife catch into a flaming knife catch with a bonus cucumber slice, going from juggling one stun-gun baton to juggling nine stun-gun batons, and turning Jack Dagger's measly cucumber slice into a cucumber slice on the Wheel of Death.
Despite one-of-a-kind stunts, a packed season of corporate events, and a fourth edition of A Stocking Full of Awesome -- their annual holiday show at the Brave New Workshop -- they're prepared for your skepticism.
"We've always said, 'If we can get in front of an audience, we always win,'" McEwen tells us in BNW's Experimental Thinking Centre before a performance of HUP! The Herald Angels Sing.
"We could have easily done a show at the Renaissance Festival that was only knife throwing and juggling, and it would have fit in, but it never would have gone anywhere," LeMay says. "We used [those feats] as a vehicle to bring comedy and to make people laugh."
After 19 years of writing, directing, producing, and performing at BNW -- leading to his current position as artistic director -- McEwen knows more than most knife throwers about building a successful comedy show. This knowledge materializes in the unconventional setup of a show within a show. McEwen plays Reynaldo, a master knife thrower with an ambiguous accent and a hatred of juggling, who is putting together an act with two die-hard jugglers. (Lunzer and LeMay try to go by their first names at the beginning of each show, but Reynaldo quickly dubs them "Bald Guy" and "Other One.")
It sounds simple enough, but don't be fooled. During a Q&A session after that night's show, McEwen reiterated a comment he has made many times on and off stage. Knife throwing consists of one feat: picking a point and hitting it. It certainly doesn't seem that easy when LeMay is spinning on a wheel with a cucumber resting on his tender, blood-filled wrist. But the group is humbler than any internationally ranked performers should be.
LeMay and Lunzer both state that they'd be hard pressed to find anybody else in the country who can throw knives the way McEwen does. Meanwhile, McEwen admits that he was intimidated when he first joined the troupe of world-champion jugglers. It's this modesty and camaraderie that has helped them develop their must-see acts, including their daily Renaissance Festival closer, Danger Show.
"It's basically an improv, comedy, knife-throwing show," Lunzer says. "We tell the audience up front, 'We're going to try a bunch of stuff, we're going to fail at half of it, someone's probably going to get hurt, and we're making this up as we go along.' That has given us a place to experiment. If the audience likes it, we work on it and it becomes part of the show. And if they don't we just --"
"-- let it die," McEwen finishes. They also confirmed the rumor that the first Danger Show included juggling a torch, a machete, and a jar filled with bees that had been collected throughout the day.
You won't see that trick in this year's holiday show, but they were willing to hint at what they'll be risking their lives with this time.
"Will it give it away if we say the new props?" Lunzer asks. "We've got a blow gun, a unicycle..."
"A four-and-a-half-pound meat cleaver," McEwen says. (Yes, he throws it.)
IF YOU GO:
A Stocking Full of Awesome IV: HUP! The Herald Angels Sing Now through January 3 Brave New Workshop Experimental Thinking Centre 824 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis $30 For tickets, call 612-332-6620 or go to etc.bravenewworkshop.com/TheDangerCommittee.aspx