These St. Louis-area entertainers never grew up — but they’ve made a serious business of tossing toilet paper, electrocuting pickles, swallowing fire, juggling on stilts and answering onstage phone calls via banana.
Maybe you've seen them at the local library, maybe you've booked them for a kids birthday party or maybe you've watched them entertain on the streets of St. Louis.
They say that today’s kid audiences are a little tougher, their parents a bit more demanding. They know that in today’s age, a live entertainer is no simple replacement for a screen or video.
“Live entertainment is irreplaceable,” said Chad Jacobs, who performs a musical magic show for kids as Chef Bananas. “It’s something that has an infinite amount of value compared to a bounce house or a snow cone truck."
Joshua Routh, who performs as Oh My Gosh Josh, says he often starts a show with a fun lesson in audience etiquette — sit with legs crossed, hands in your lap, don’t pick your neighbors’ noses. “They’re so used to everything being on demand,” he says of kids. "They don’t know how to react during a live performance.”
We spoke to six local entertainers, who entertain the young and the young at heart, about what they do and why.
Oh My Gosh Josh
Who • Joshua Routh, 41, grew up in Florissant, now lives in Wildwood
More info • omgjosh.com
Family • His wife, Ginger, also runs their business, Circus Kaput, which manages performers and entertainers for events and parties. They do not have children. “I don’t know how people who have kids have the energy to do it," Routh says. "When I’m around kids, I give it 110%, then I go home to my quiet house with my four dogs.”
His act • Comedy magic, fire shows, juggling for school groups, parties, festivals and just about anyone else. He doesn’t chew light bulbs anymore, he says. “It’s bad for my teeth.”
How he got his stage name • His mother gave him the nickname because he was a daredevil with no fear and a “desperate need for attention” from neighborhood kids. “They would build ramps that they knew would collapse when I rode my bike off them, and I knew they would collapse, but that was part of the deal.” He said that’s one of the reasons why he’s a member of Sword Swallowers International, one of 100 sword swallowers in the world.
Background • As a teen he began working for a bounce house and entertainment company, Lefton Promotions, and traveled the country with them. Then he served with Americorps for a year doing fire service and created a clown corps for other workers as a way to help them fill service hours. He also attended the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco. “It’s always been a passion for entertaining,” he says. “You have only so many hours in your life. Why not spend it doing something kind?”
A big moment • He was at a children’s hospital entertaining a girl, around 12 years old, who was wearing a complex metal ring around her head in an effort to heal her spine. As he performed, the girl laughed and then started to cry, saying it hurt. Routh asked if he wanted her to stop, and she said no. He asked again, and she insisted he go on. “The moment I realized that what I was doing was causing physical pain, but at the same time, the laughter was the most important thing — it made me realize, even in our darkest, hardest time, we can still find joy. We can still laugh.”
Who • Rob Compton, 58, lives in Krakow, outside of Washington, Missouri, and grew up in St. Louis County
More info • babaloomusicandfun.com
Family • Wife Doris Kutz-Compton, a chiropractor; five grown kids; four grandkids
His act • A fast-paced, hands-on, musical comedy act for kids. “I try to make it as funny and involved for all the kids as possible,” he says. They throw around bean bags, play bubbles, toss toilet paper and bang on buckets. “It’s kind of like punk rock for kids. I have them up and down. To hold kids for an hour, you really have to give them something to do.”
How he got his nickname • When he was getting started in music about 25 years ago, he’d beat on plastic buckets and someone called out, “Babalu!” after the Desi Arnaz act. The name stuck. “I bought it, so it’s mine now,” he jokes.
Background • Compton plays guitar and has worked a variety of jobs over the years in the corporate world. He's also worked for the conservation department and for his family's tire business in Kirkwood. He’d play at his kids’ schools and started entertaining seriously in his late 30s. On weekends, he plays in a progressive country/folk bluegrass band called Wild Horse Creek. His son, Rob Jr., sings lead vocals.
On songwriting • He writes songs that will appeal to kids and adults and comes up with new ones, so he doesn’t get bored with his own material. Lots of kids want to hear the same songs. “Don’t Go Down the Slide Naked,” “The Wee Wee Dance” and “I Lost My Pants in the Swimming Pool” are among the favorites. “There’s a theme,” he says, laughing. “Preschool and school teachers will say, ‘we’ll ask you back because you don’t bore the socks off of us.’ That’s kind of my forte, I guess.”
On aging • Now, more parents with young children show up to tell him, “Aww, I saw you when I was 5 at my school.” Once a kid told him, “You’re not Babaloo. Babaloo’s not old and fat.” But as long as he can carry his own equipment and is having fun, he’ll keep Babaloo-ing. “I’ve thought about doing something else, and I’ve done other things, but nothing really sounds better.”
Dazzle, aka Cori Kazoo
Who • Cori Compton, 24, Krakow
More info • circuskaput.com
Family • Compton is the youngest child of Rob Compton, also known as Babaloo
Her act • On evenings and weekends she works with Circus Kaput doing face painting and rotates with two other performers, Jessica Reynolds and Grace Thompson, as a two-woman act, Razzle & Dazzle. They unicycle, juggle and do magic tricks. She’s also developing a solo musical act, Cori Kazoo.
Background • Compton grew up with her father always joking and singing, and as an older kid she performed in the summers with him. “We had this whole comedy bit where he would treat me like a little kid, and I’d be like, Dad, I’m too old for this, I want to sing more than ‘You are My Sunshine.’ Then I got into my teens, and I was too cool for it.” She studied studio arts, art history, business and French at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, where her boyfriend started a juggling club. The Rouths saw them perform at a student event and took her on, helping her mold her acts as a children’s entertainer.
On being a woman in the business • Compton isn’t sure why the industry seems to attract more men, though she sees more female face painters. Girls at a party want to see themselves in the female performer, she said. Once, she was the only female juggler at a circus performance. Her dad overheard a little girl in the audience exclaim, “Look! It’s a girl!” “He got really excited,” Compton says.
On the future • Compton isn’t sure if this will turn into a career, but she has a hard time turning down gigs because she has so much fun. “Everyone’s happy you’re there. The event is always changing; the kids are, too. Everybody’s having fun, and my joy is bringing that joy to somebody else.”
Who • Joseph Higgs, 46, of St. Louis
More info • nitrojoescience.com
Family • Wife Amanda Higgs, an ADA therapist; five kids, ages 12-19
His act • He performs shows and science assemblies for kids, doing experiments in front of them (making coffee creamer explode, making potions change color, creating fog and slime) and explaining how and why they happen. He does about 100 shows a year.
How he got his name • In 2002, he began working part time for Mad Science of St. Louis, which does hands-on educational programming and shows for kids. He had to choose a name and thought “Nitro Joe” had a good ring to it.
How he got started • Higgs grew up in north St. Louis and started riding his bike to the St. Louis Science Center when he was 12. He began volunteering there at age 14, doing hands-on science demonstrations. He attended Hazelwood West High School as part of the desegregation program and was a theater kid, so the science shows were another way to perform in front of a crowd. “It was a perfect fusion of what I was studying in school plus what I was learning at the science center,” he says. Higgs got an associate’s degree and sold insurance for a while, then began working with Mad Science, eventually becoming a manager. In 2008, he ventured out on his own.
On making science the focus • While Higgs uses his commanding voice and constantly moving body to capture a room or gymnasium, he most wants kids to focus on the science and the concepts he’s teaching. “What I’m really most excited about is the whole aspect of learning and accumulating knowledge, stretching a mind so much that it can’t go back to its original size because it has so much information. If that requires I have to electrocute a pickle, so be it. Because it’s so cool.”
Who • Chad Jacobs, 46, grew up in Chesterfield, lives in Webster Groves
More info • chefbananas.com
Family • Wife Dana, a birth photographer; daughters Amelie, 7, and Aria, 4
His act • A food-themed entertainment show featuring magic, music, dancing and “just a lot of silliness,” he says. He wears a yellow chef hat, yellow Crocs and brings a bunch of banana props, including real bananas. “It’s whatever I can do to get people to laugh. When it comes to entertainment, I feel like it’s a time where as a performer you should be able to connect with people and get them somewhere else for the duration of your show.”
How he got started • A relative newcomer to the children’s entertainment scene, Jacobs didn’t perform as Chef Bananas until 2016. He loved magic as a kid and studied communications in college, thinking he’d go to law school. He worked for his family’s restaurant, Cicero’s, in University City, and also spent time in Colorado managing bands, managing a Mexican restaurant, owning a bakery and working as a professional poker player. He returned to St. Louis and worked for Cicero's and continued to dabble in magic, coming up with the character of Chef Bananas. He did his first magic show at the restaurant in 2016, and the restaurant closed the following year. He developed a Chef Bananas website and started cold-calling preschools and libraries, working to put Chef Bananas on the road. He did 100 shows in his first eight months.
Family reaction • “My wife specifically tells me somewhat regularly and other people that she is just in shock, that this is the person that I am? I was not this person. She didn’t realize I had this silly side to me.” He said he tries out new tricks on his daughters and that they love it, and his 7-year-old wants to know how every magic trick works, though he’s figuring out how far to take that with her. “She’s at the point where she can give me input, and good input. It’s pretty amazing.” He’s learning how to be a ventriloquist and has a monkey puppet and a brand new, custom-made banana puppet.
Who • Jeff Koziatek, 42, grew up in St. Louis County, lives in Kirkwood
Family • Wife Brandi, a stay-at-home mom; sons Cale, 11, and Aiden, 15
His act • In addition to juggling knives, unicycling and escaping from straight jackets, nowadays he does more corporate speaking and is a certified leadership coach.
Background • Koziatek loved acting and magic as a kid, and when he was 8, his parents signed him up for a juggling workshop because the magic one was full. “It changed my whole life.” He got an associate's degree in communication and theater and did formal acting training in New York and Los Angeles. He developed a couple of two-man shows (one with Joshua Routh) before creating Juggling Jeff in 1999. He toured the country with the National Theatre for Children of Minneapolis, teaching kids about the dangers of smoking, and created the Tooth Wizard and Land of Smiles program for Delta Dental. He’s also written shows about how libraries work, managing money and reading. “I think people noticed that I could write and take information and repackage that into a way that was accessible for kids.”
On tailoring to the audience • He’s done the same juggling show for a 10-year-old’s birthday party as he has done for a farm coop in rural Missouri. The key is building a relationship with the audience, he says. “The skeleton is the thing. I've got a basic outline. There are two types of performers: there’s a performer who says ‘look at me and watch me do this amazing trick.' The other type is, ‘we’re going to have an experience together. Let’s go for this ride.’ I’m that guy.”
Why he keeps doing this • “Because life is tough. To quote my mentor, he said, 'You will never underestimate the amount of pain someone else is in.' As an entertainer I try to create a space where people can set that down for a second. We’re constantly inundated with messages saying, 'You’re not enough; you’re not doing it right.' If I can meet someone where they are and just see them, and encourage that. I think we need more of that.”
“Live entertainment is irreplaceable. It’s something that has an infinite amount of value compared to a bounce house or a snow cone truck."
Chad Jacobs, who performs a musical magic show for kids as Chef Bananas