Well-known author Madeleine L’Engle once said, “A good laugh heals a lot of hurts.” Colfax comedian Steve Russell definitely agrees.
“Laughter is a great healer and great brain break. There’s a lot of sorrow and stress in life,” he said. “Laughter helps us forget about that, at least for an instant.”
Russell recalled the specific moment when he met a 90-year-old man after one of his shows. The man told him that his wife had died three months earlier and that his show gave him laughter for the first time since her passing. It was powerful — and something Russell has never forgotten.
“I realized that no matter how silly or inconsequential my skills may seem, even to me, there is someone who needs silliness to heal a hurt they might have.”
Attendees at the Eau Claire Farm Show will have an opportunity to share in the laughter as Russell will be performing what he describes as a variety/stunt/sideshow, featuring comedy, magic, juggling, a bed of nails and more. The family-friendly show, which is sure to draw people in age from kids to grandparent, will be performed both days of the farm show at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Russell’s career in entertainment began when he was just a young boy, helping his dad as he promoted his photography business at county fairs in the commercial building. Russell’s dad knew the key to get families to stay in his booth was to keep the children entertained, so he set Russell up with a ventriloquist dummy. And things seemed to just take off from there.
“I kind of got the bug there,” he said. “It is pretty common for 8-year-old kids to become interested in jokes, magic and juggling. And I also got into that phase — but I never got out.”
After mastering the ventriloquist dummy, Russell moved into magic, then found out about juggling by reading a book from the library. He admitted he’s not a “natural juggler,” but has found it to be fun and beneficial.
“It sharpens the mind and reflexes,” he said. “It also teaches you how to manage chaos, in a way. The juggler’s job is to take the chaos and kind of bring some order to it.”
Juggling is also highly improvisational, which translates into his comedy as well. There’s always a chance of failing and that everything could go “kerflooey” at any time, but it’s what makes the job fun for Russell.
Whether performing for a group of elementary school students, vacationers on a cruise ship or business people at a corporate event, Russell listens to his audience and makes adjustments as he goes, based on their reactions to what is happening on stage. Over the past 30 years of performing, his comedy has been written by just getting on stage and seeing what works.
And it certainly has worked. Russell has been featured on Live! with Regis and Kelly, Good Morning America, The Disney Channel and Wisconsin Public Television, and performed on Broadway and at the Lincoln Center in New York City. However, one of his most amazing experiences came when he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
“That had been a dream of mine since I was just an 8-year-old ventriloquist,” he said. “To be standing on that stage and doing what I love to do is almost indescribable.”
While Russell has performed at the La Crosse Farm Show in the past, this will be his first year at the Eau Claire Farm Show, and he’s looking forward to entertaining the crowds that come through.
“My goal is to entertain, however that comes to be,” he said. “I have an unusual set of skills that I use to surprise people — and it is my joy to perform.”