Bello Nock. “Time” magazine named him “America’s Best Clown.” The NY Daily News said he might be “the greatest athlete” to set foot in Madison Square Garden.
It’s not a contradiction. This funny man is both a daredevil and a world-class athlete. He’s leapt over elephants, performed skywalks above two major stadiums, traversed a high-wire on a motorcycle and dangled from a trapeze suspended from a helicopter flying over the Statue of Liberty.
The tools of Bello’s trade include sway poles (his father’s invention), a motorcycle globe, bungees cords, trampolines — you name it.
“IncrediBello!” is his latest show. It’s now on stage at Historic Asolo Theater. Usually, it’s above the stage. Fortunately, we caught up with Bello when he was on the ground. He was happy to answer a few questions.
Your Swiss ancestors founded Circus Nock in the 1700s. That’s quite a track record! What was it like growing up in circus family?
At the time, I didn’t think it was odd or unusual — it was just my family. Having grown up and seen other families, I can now make a comparison.
Other families say, “Don’t take work home with you.” That rule exists for people who hate their work — they don’t want their kids to hear them griping at the dinner table.
In my family, work was a passion. Around our table, we’d hear them say, “Today we achieved, we inspired, we made!” My mom and dad brought their work home with them because they loved it.
Were you the class clown?
One-hundred percent. I was the class clown in school, at work and at home. Let me paint a picture for you. I’m a seventh-generation circus performer — but I come from a family of daredevils, not clowns. I was a redheaded, buck-toothed, pigeon-toed nerd — and, by nature, a clown.
As a kid, being funny was my way of getting attention. When people laughed at me, I didn’t say, “Oh, boo-hoo. They’re picking on me!” I’d say, “They’re laughing at me? Cool.”
How did you go about creating an original character after the long parade of clowns who’ve come before you?
Wow. That’s a big question. In a way, I didn’t create him. He’s so much a part of me. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I’m going to create an odd character!” He’s always been there.
Over the years, I’ve honed my character, yes. But I didn’t put him together from bits and pieces. “Bello” is my name, or one of my names. OK, I’ll admit it. He’s me! When I perform, that’s who I am. I’m just being myself in a big way.
So your character’s not a mask. He’s you with an exclamation point.
Exactly. Being a clown is not an external thing. Most people think that to be a clown, you need to wear big shoes, a big red nose, pancake makeup and all that. But it’s not something you put on.
Growing up, I naturally combined my family’s daredevil tradition with my own inner clown — the two ends of the spectrum. The entertainment industry taught me how to captivate an audience. But I never needed the makeup.
How would you describe your character?
The guy you see on stage isn’t always the same person. He can be creative, smart, agile and strong. Or he can be dumb, embarrassed and lost. But no matter what, he always tries. And he keeps trying. If he fails, if he falls, he’ll always get up, brush himself off and get back at it again. Don’t quit! That’s one of Bello’s many mottos.
As was once said, “You can’t keep a good clown down.”
I love it!
Let’s talk physical comedians and daredevils. Who’s on your list of heroes?
Well, I’ve got a very long list. In movies and TV, there’s Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Jackie Chan, Burt Reynolds ...
Really. You know, he once said, “I’m a stunt man who can act.” He’s not that old, but he’s in rough shape because he did own stunts.
I had no idea. What about your heroes in the circus world?
Oh, there are so many traditional clowns and daredevils — too many to mention. They inspire me with their incredible skills and amazing feats. I love all the people who hit a high level!
But I also love people without technique. Little kids inspire me with their innocent comedy. It just comes naturally to them.
What’s your approach to clowning?
I try to work at a very high level. I don’t want to be cheesy, embarrassing or disrespectful. Some clowns get by with the easy stuff. Four-letter words, dropping pants, taking a pie in the face. But that’s just lazy.
You avoid the cheap laugh. You go for something special.
Yes. I want to pull emotions out of people, not just laughs. And I also don’t want to keep doing the same thing. Some performers are content with that. Their act is always the same — very linear. But that would drive me crazy.
Tell us about “IncrediBello!”
There’s singing, dancing, magic, illusions, agility, high wire, extreme stunts, comedy, clowning, the beautiful girl, the strong man — pretty much the whole range of circus arts from the traditional to Cirque du Soleil.
Old or new, it’s based around the history of the seven generations of my family. I’ll perform new material — things you’ve never seen. I can guarantee you I won’t just walk across a wire. You’ll see me do crazy stunts on a wire; ride the world’s smallest bicycle; balance on a chair; build a pyramid. It’s going to be an action-packed show the whole family can enjoy.
What’s your most satisfying performance?
It’s what I’m doing right now at the Historic Asolo Theater. I was born in Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and I went to Tuttle Elementary School and Sarasota Junior High. I’m so proud to be back and performing in my hometown, which will always be a circus town.
When I travel around the world, they usually introduce me as an “international circus superstar from Sarasota, Florida.” What greater honor is there?