Arts, Kids

Little Laffs gets Big Laughs, by Halley Bondy

Birthday Max gets a lot of laughs from an enchanted audience at the Jalopy Theater. (photo courtesy Elizabeth Covington/twisted balloon company
Birthday Max gets a lot of laughs from an enchanted audience at the Jalopy Theater. (photo courtesy Elizabeth Covington/twisted balloon company

The third season of the kid’s variety show Little Laffs came to an epic, hilarious, adorable conclusion at Jalopy Theater on June 5, and they are getting ready to start up again. From ventriloquism to handkerchief tricks to sweet sing-alongs, Little Laffs, produced by Red Hook’s own Twisted Balloon Company, had everyone cracking up – adults included!

On the first Sunday morning of each month – with the exception of July and August – each Little Laffs show comprises three different, highly seasoned acts. The June show starred the hilarious clown and puppeteer Stewzo, the honey-voiced singer Suzi Shelton, and the vaudevillian-esque clown/magician Birthday Max.

With the exception of the odd tantrum or nap, most of the kids were rapt for the entire hour and a half. The opener Stewzo had them up in arms with giddy frustration when he mixed up the words to “Old McDonald,” and when his ventriloquist dummy Frank kept undermining his storytelling.

Suzi Shelton sang original, adorable songs to the spellbound kids, and she even brought up her daughters for an interactive sing-along. Lastly, the all-personality Birthday Max refused to end the show until four kid volunteers mastered a plate-spinning trick. Hilarity, magic, suspense – the show had everything!

Jalopy Theatre is the perfect space for this intimate performance. Kids can get up close and interactive with the acts, or – if they’re shy – they can hang back with their parents in the pews. For just $5 a child, $10 an adult, or $25 a family, kids (recommended for ages 4-7) get to enjoy some of the highest quality acts from around the world while the adults sip Bloody Marys.

Though they’re off for the summer, the fourth season of Little Laffs will pick up in September with a new batch of acts.

“We look for performers who have a lot of experience, and we need to see: are you good, are you funny, and do we like you in this moment? Because that’s what the kids want,” said producer, Todd Neufeld. “Birthday Max performed with David Copperfield, but the kids don’t care about things like that.”

Little Laffs doesn’t always include balloon acts, but Neufeld’s Twisted Balloon Company – located in a Red Hook artist studio on Creamer Street – is centered around Neufeld’s balloon performance. When he’s not producing (and sometimes performing in) the Little Laffs show, Neufeld entertains people with balloon art everywhere from cocktail parties to dentist offices to Bar Mitzvahs. He also teaches balloon art hopefuls through The Balloon Academy, which also operates in the Creamer Street space.

Balloon passion
Neufeld developed an interest in ballooning in high school, along with card tricks, magic, origami, and more. While at college in Boston, he started twisting balloons in front of audiences on the street.

“I thought, ‘I’ll just do this for now and get it out of my system, and eventually I’ll get a real job,’” he said. “But I realized that if I kept doing big, creative things people had never seen before, I could make money. Then I started getting hired, winning contests. And now, I’m still doing it, and I get to do something creative.”

Neufeld has since twisted everything from small animals to large-scale collaborative installations including a castle and a 5-story beanstalk.

Two years ago, Neufeld, who lives in Red Hook, tested the Little Laffs show at Jalopy. Though Jalopy doesn’t typically host variety acts, Neufeld reasoned there might be a need for consistent kid’s entertainment in a neighborhood so rife with families. The pilot was a success, so the show became a Sunday morning mainstay.

“There are tons of families with kids in this area, and many of them become regulars,”  he said. “We’ve seen so many changes. Maybe a 4-year-old will sit on their mom’s lap, totally wigged out the first time. But then the second time, they’re on the floor next to their mom.

Two months later they’re up front laughing and coming up to help. It’s been great to see some of these kids evolve and learn how to be a part of a live audience. This is a great neighborhood for that.”

For information on Little Laffs, head to www.littlelaffsny.com, and look out for the next season in September!

If you’re interested in booking Twisted Balloon company for your next event, head to www.twistedballoon.com

For more information on the acts in this article, head to:
www.stewzo.com
www.suzishelton.com
and www.birthdaymax.com