Zaniac Embraces His 'Inner Dork'

Alex Zerbe, also known as the Zaniac, is performing all week at the Umatilla County Fair.

The best compliment Alex Zerbe ever received came from none other than Sharon Osbourne, wife of heavy metal icon and rock and roll crazy man Ozzy Osbourne.

It came following a performance Zerbe gave during the second season of America’s Got Talent. She said, “Alex, my dear, you are just too weird for this show.”

Needless to say, he didn’t get Sharon’s vote or enough to proceed to the next round, but Zerbe loved the comment.

Alex Zerbe
Alex Zerbe
“Of all the people to tell me I’m too weird,” he said Tuesday following one of his performances at the Umatilla County Fair. Going by the stage name, the Zaniac, Zerbe mixes yo-yos, card tricks (sort of), juggling, dancing and a heavy dose of comedy into his act. Just prior to one of his bits, Zerbe said that if the audience didn’t laugh, “it’ll be a bigger buzz kill than when your mom joins Facebook.”

That got a big laugh.

Zerbe is a high-energy guy who worked up a serious sweat during his act, which wasn’t hard to do when you’re performing under the sun on a typically hot day in Hermiston. After one minor mess up, Zerbe offered a reasonable excuse.

“I’m not used to performing in 95-degree heat,” he said while chasing down one of his props. His audience on Tuesday was a mix of young and old, with more than a few high school-age students.

“There’s a surprising number of teenagers in the audience,” he said, “and there’s only two of them on their phones. I’m impressed.” He called on a few members of the audience to help him out, including one young man who assisted him with a card trick (sort of). He held a celery stalk in his left hand and Zerbe, standing no more than four or five feet away, attempted to sling a card at the celery stalk, slicing it in half. He assured his assistant the trick was safe.

Zaniac 2
Zerbe shows off one of his many talents during a performance Tuesday at the fair.
“I’ve never hit anyone in the face,” he said. “I’ve never drawn blood.” Then, turning to the audience, he added, “I’ve never done this trick before.”

The first three cards he threw zinged passed the stalk, but the fourth sliced it clean in half. He and the audience member then celebrated with what Zerbe called the “awkward white guy chest bump.”

Another of the Zaniac’s gags involved putting on an over-sized mask with small container of water attached behind it and spraying the audience with water.

“I hope you enjoyed that,” he said. “It takes a long time to fill that with spit.”

Zerbe, who grew up in Seattle and now lives in Olympia, Wash., said he was a “weird, spazzy kid” growing up. He described himself as “socially awkward and overly exuberant” as a student. The seeds of his performing career were planted when he first saw some kids playing with a hacky sack. He tried it and was instantly hooked.

“That led me to failing out of college,” he said with a good-natured laugh. Rather than pursue a conventional career, Zerbe began performing in a tour of school assemblies. He then picked up juggling and a new thought entered his unconventional mind.

“I thought, ‘Yeah, I could be a professional juggler. I could do that as a job.’ ”

Little by little, Zerbe added more facets to his act, along with a good sense of humor – something that did not come easily, he said.

“I’m constantly trying to think of funny things to say in the act, but comedy is hard,” he said. He spent some time as a street performer, honing his act.

“I was good enough to draw a crowd, but I wasn’t good enough to keep them,” he said of his early days.

These days, Zerbe, who looks much younger than his 36 years, has something in his act that appeals to all ages.

“The kids like the tricks, the teenagers like the humor and the older audience members appreciate the talent and the hard work,” he said. But it’s probably the teen-age crowd that he connects with best.

“I like the teens,” he said “I feel a lot of teens relate to the dorkiness factor,” he said. “I say embrace your inner dork.” Zerbe said he does about 150 shows a year and tries to stick as close to home as possible so he doesn’t spend too much time away from his wife and two little girls, ages 2 and 4.

“So many people who do what I do are on the road all the time,” he said. “I don’t want to do that.”

But he clearly enjoys entertaining audiences. He ended one of his acts on Tuesday by juggling a 9-pound bowling ball, an egg and a flaming torch – all while standing on a board balanced on a cylinder. When he was through, the Zaniac thanked the audience, as well as a couple of more organizations.

“I want to thank the Umatilla County Fair and I want to thank my state’s work release program.”

Zerbe will be performing throughout the week at the fair. You can catch his act at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday; at noon, 3 and 6 p.m. on Thursday; at 2, 4 and 8 p.m. on Friday; and at noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m. on Saturday. Check out Zerbe’s website to learn more about the Zaniac and visit the Umatilla County Fair website for a complete schedule of week’s events.