John Cassidy is 51 years old and doesn’t exercise. But during his last physical, his bewildered doctor told him he has the cardio strength of a marathon runner.
“My standing heart rate is 42,” Cassidy said. “Someone my age should probably have double that. They thought I was sick or something.”
Sick? No. Cassidy just has an admittedly weird talent, one that’s simultaneously placed his name in the Guinness Book of World Records and his heart rate in the same category as Olympic athletes.
With his strong lungs and dexterous hands, Cassidy makes balloon animals. Hundreds of them, nearly every day. He’s combined that skill with magic and comedy and packaged it as a family-oriented stage show that’s coming to the Lancaster Opera House on Friday and Saturday.
You may be already familiar with Cassidy. His show – marketed as “comedy, magic and really weird things with balloons” – has been a mainstay at the Erie County Fair for most of the last decade. It’s part stand-up routine, part magic, and part, well, weirdness – highlighted by a bit where Cassidy climbs inside a giant balloon.
During the show, Cassidy gives away some 150 balloon animals and sculptures, including a race car. Many of the balloon creations are made on stage at record-breaking speed. Cassidy is currently listed on the Guinness Book of World Records’ website for making the most balloon sculptures (13) in one minute. He’s also held records for most balloon sculptures in one hour (747), most modeling balloons inflated in an hour (717), and fastest balloon sculpture (6.4 seconds), among others.
“It looks like you’re watching a DVD while pressing fast-forward,” said Jen Cassidy, who is John’s wife, backstage manager and on-stage assistant. “It’s crazy fast. It almost seems like a camera trick because it doesn’t look like it’s real.”
Cassidy’s warp-speed ballooning skills have landed him on several national television shows. He’s done stand-up for Conan O’Brien, turned the Rockefeller Center plaza outside NBC’s “Today” show into a one-man balloon-animal factory, wowed Regis Philbin with an elaborate balloon hat constructed in 48 seconds, charmed Martha Stewart and even warmed up Anne Robinson, the icy former host of “The Weakest Link,” by constructing a balloon flower and handing it to her as she dismissed him from the show. (This stuff is handy for relationships, too: Cassidy also gave Jen a balloon flower on their first date.)
“We try to make people laugh and have fun,” said the understated Cassidy, who surprisingly lacks any hot air when talking about his talents. Ask him how he developed his talent and he’ll point to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Outliers,” which suggests it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill.
“After hours and hours and hours, you learn to do it without thinking about it,” said Cassidy, who began making balloons at age 6, performed at restaurants and kids’ birthdays through college, and eventually realized he could do it full time.
Cassidy became well-known in his hometown of Philadelphia, and he started touring and performing theater-sized stage shows about 14 years ago. Today, he travels with his wife and their 3-month-old daughter, Kayla.
“I did it for years and years and years, six nights a week, four hours a night, and then practicing after that,” Cassidy said. “I did it forever. You do it everyday, you become good at it.”
No hot air there.