Bliss Diss

Saturday 11 March 2006This is more than 17 years old. Be careful.

I’ve been listening to Penn Jillette Radio as a podcast, and enjoying it a great deal. He’s funny and articulate, and I appreciate his political opinions, even when I don’t quite agree with them. He’s had interesting guests (who knew that Gilbert Gottfried did expert impersonations?). And he talks about show biz, including clowns, magic, and juggling occasionally.

But I was surprised by his reaction to Chris Bliss, the juggler who juggled to the finale of Abbey Road. Penn didn’t like the routine, asserting that the juggling skills were mediocre. I have two problems with this: First, Chris Bliss could have looked smoother during his routine (he grimaced a lot), and there are certainly more difficult routines, but he’s hardly a mediocre juggler. Second, Penn and Teller to me have done a good job showing that presentation is almost more important than the technical challenge of the act. They’ve made a specialty of doing classic magic tricks in unusual ways. So Penn seemed a bit hypocritical for criticizing Bliss’s technical abilities.

Penn claimed on the radio that Jason Garfield could do the same routine, but with 5 balls. Jason Garfield has incredible juggling skills, so I didn’t doubt that he could do it, and he’s also an angry competitive guy, so I didn’t doubt that he would do it.

And sure enough, Garfield has done it. He’s written a sputtering screed about Bliss’s routine, called Bliss Diss, and included a video of his 5-ball routine to the same audio track. It’s a remarkable routine, with many incredibly difficult tricks, including 5 balls in one hand, double back crosses, 5 over the head, pirouttes, and so on. Garfield is one of only a handful of jugglers technically accomplished enough to perform it, maybe the only one.

But, in the end (no pun intended), Bliss’s is the better art. I’d like Bliss’s routine to be more polished, but Garfield’s is too complicated for audiences to relate to. Garfield berates Bliss for getting applause for a simple 3-ball cascade, but the genius of Bliss’s routine is the way a simple trick can be fit into the routine at just the right spot to be appreciated, just as the Beatles put a simple piano chord into the song in a way that made it a masterpiece.

Jason Garfield clearly understands juggling, I’m not sure he understands art.


Agreed. Garfield's routine looks mechanical and rushed. If he could put the fit 'n finish on his routine, the argument would be over.
From the topic, I thought this was going to be about a programming language ;-)
Michael Chermside 5:02 PM on 11 Mar 2006
Thank you. I'm not a juggler (well, 3 balls when I try hard), and I don't follow juggling. But I watched both these videos, and I was amazed. I agree completely with your conclusion: Jason Garfield's presentation was technically amazing... I probably don't know enough about juggling to truly appreciate HOW amazing it was. But Chris Bliss's was, well, beautiful. Watching it, I get the impression (whether it's true or not) that he COULD juggle 5 balls... but he chose instead to use just 3, and do it perfectly.
I'm impressed with both. And to echo what you've said: Bliss's is much better choreographed and Garfield's is much better technically.

But, more importantly, Bliss thought of it first. It's kind of like saying I kind silk-screen a Marilyn photo better than Andy Warhol. Maybe I could, but that's not really the point. Bliss had a cool idea and perfect execution of it; he deserved all of that applause.
Something Garfield seems to have missed in all of this is that Bliss's routine was a "grand finale" to a standup comedy routine at Montreal's Juste Pour Rire/Just For Laughs comedy festival, not to a tour-de-force juggling act. There was more that preceded it -- and I somehow doubt from the tone and structure of the text diss that Garfield would do nearly as well at Bliss's "day job".
The point you made about artistic decisions was well made. I could make the same comparison to the piano part in the Beattles song, when it comes to simplicity. No doubt, Garfield is the more technically talented juggler, but hey, Bliss had a better camera crew, a better venue, better lighting, and a bigger crowd there to see him perform.

I can play that Beattles piano part using sixteenth notes everywhere they use quarters, but I don't see myself selling millions of records.

On the other hand, I guess I can understand the frustration of an artist who is measurably better at their craft than a comparable "hack." Unfortunately, in art, it isn't about being the best in a technical sense. That's part of what makes it art...which is a seperate thing from popularity with the masses at times as well.
I agree with those who commented and I was frankly surprised by the virulent nature of Garfield's criticism. Bliss' video, as I understand, was one of the phenomena that occur on the Web when something catches a person's fancy and gets transmitted through ever expanding e-mail trees. I don't believe that Bliss was at all self-promotional. A true advocate of his "sport" like Garfield should recognize the value of such publicity that will likely get a large number of people to investigate juggling and even buy his book. Garfield's response suggests a big but fragile ego.
I am amazed at the extremes this performance produced - both positive and negative.
I think what people who respond positively are really experiencing is the sheer joy with which he is moving - he could be air drumming or doing a bad spontaneous dance for all anyone cared.
On the negative side, he is repeating just a few moderately difficult tricks while wildly exaggerating his body movements. The nay sayers probably hate air drumming and bad but spontaneous dancing...
The idea that juggling balls to a Beatles song is in any way "artistic" is ridiculous. I'm not a juggler, so I couldn't do Bliss' routine, but I'm also not an idiot, and thus don't get swoony over a guy making faces to a Beatles song. The only thing that is worth appreciating in either performance is technical skill, and on that Jason Garfield wins hands down.
Jason Garfield is a juggling whiz, but Chris Bliss is an entertainer. His juggling has some inherent humor, better musical tempo, and he has other skills. Garfield complains because he's bitter. Jason, develop a comedy routine, smile some, get your own audience to provide applause and, who knows, soon you may succeeed, You can juggle with 5 balls, but you'll need another pair for stand-up.

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