BEAVER CREEK — Imagine standing outside the closed doors of an elevator and hearing a faint, distant voice crying for help. In the case of Bob Newhart, he was a kind, civilian bystander who talked to the seemingly trapped victim, letting him know he was seeking help. The voice did not come from where it seemed but right next to him, from Andy Gross.
He had just fooled Bob Newhart.
“I pride myself on saying I never had a real job,” said the magician and comedian.
Of his many gifts, he uses a unique ventriloquist technique called voice throwing to emulate a distant conversation or poor connection. Gross began perfecting this act at a young age, pranking pet store patrons standing by bird cages by saying inappropriate things. He has fooled people outside airplane restrooms, elevators, and joked that he would like to try the technique at funerals to emulate a voice coming from a dead body.
The Vilar Performing Arts Center and Andy Gross’ Mindboggling Variety Show present Beaver Creek with a family-friendly performance this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.
Made for the stage
A family man himself, Gross is a husband and the father to three girls and one boy. He has passed down the title of performer to his children who are all working in acting in Los Angeles while Gross performs more than 150 shows per year around the country.
“When I grow up I want to be a magician,” he said as a child, to which his parents responded, “You can’t do both.”
From a young age, Gross was advancing his athletic career in racquetball. The St. Louis native became the youngest ever professional racquetball player in the United States at the age of 15. The sport was popular in St. Louis at the time, a city where five of the top 10 professionals played.
“It was actually a big sport in the late 80s and early 90s,” but, he said, the sport dramatically lost momentum after he moved to LA in the early 90s. Gross was left in his mid-20s to reassess what to do next for his career. Lucky for him he had been pursuing magic since the age of nine.
“If anyone should be mad at their parents it should be me,” he said of his diverse interests.
After moving to Los Angeles, Gross worked his way up in the comedy circuit, starting with open mic nights at comedy clubs until he became a headliner. Among his “mindboggling” acts, Gross created a prank where his torso floats around while he holds his bottom half from the belt down in his arms. He went to a local park to test out the prank.
“It was fun. Just getting the people’s reactions was the best part,” he said. Bystanders run off screaming and laughing, he explained, terrified of the unusual visual.
Finding a sidekick
Even with his burgeoning racquetball career, Gross always had a taste for illusion. He was inspired by the 1978 horror film, “Magic” in which a dummy comes to life and commits homicide.
“I was just so fascinated by it,” Gross said. “I saved all this money and bought my first good dummy.”
Gross’s newly acquired magic tool came to life itself one day when his cat crawled into the back and started hitting controls, causing the dummy’s head to move back and forth with creepy exorcist rotations. Gross was hooked.
In addition to ventriloquism and magic, Gross incorporates juggling, paranormal theater, illusions and comedy into his sets. He has performed in comedy clubs, cruise ships, fortune 500 corporate events, colleges and performing arts theaters around the country. His spontaneity and ad-libs have been compared to the likes of Don Rickles and Robin Williams.
According to Gross, the family-friendly show is “sophisticated enough for adults for a date night out.” While appropriate for all ages, it’s not 100 percent geared toward kids.
Gross can improvise with the best of his audience and even bring inanimate objects to life. Recently in a comedy club, a patron started arguing with his dummy. After some back-and-forth banter, Gross apologized and said he was joking to which the patron yelled, “You stay out of it! I’m talking to this guy over there!” It brings new meaning to the term dummy.
Tickets to Gross’ show are available by visiting www.vilarpac.org, by calling the box office at 970-845-8497 or in person at the box office.
Emily Sears is the marketing coordinator for the Vilar Performing Arts Center.