Three Rivers Commercial News | Robert Tomlinson, Staff Writer
THREE RIVERS — How can one person go from having a professional racquetball career to becoming a successful entertainer with millions of YouTube views and countless performances around the country?
Just ask comedian, magician, and ventriloquist Andy Gross, who will be performing at the Riviera Theatre in Three Rivers on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 2 p.m.
Gross grew up in St. Louis, where when he was 9 years old, he saw the movie “Magic” starring Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margaret, which got him hooked on the idea of being an entertainer.
“I saw the movie Magic with Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margaret where the ventriloquist dummy was running around killing everybody, and I thought this could probably be happier when I’m older, so I think I’m going to pick this up,” Gross said in an interview with the Commercial-News. “It was just fun, and as soon as I saw it, I was bugging my parents about it, asking how I do this or that, and I remember my dad saying, I don’t know, go to the library and get a book.”
So, he went to his local library and picked up a book on ventriloquism, as well as ordering a mail-order course about entertainment which he said worked wonders for him.
“I never looked back from that point, I always thought it was so fun,” Gross said. “As for magic, I saw another friend a bit older than me do a couple tricks, and it stuck with me, and I kept both of them as a hobby.”
Entertainment in that sense was only a hobby for Gross, because he had bigger ambitions at the time as well: professional racquetball.
Gross said where he grew up in St. Louis was a “breeding ground” for racquetball, back when it was at its peak in popularity and becoming one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, with five of the top eight players in the country in the area.
“These guys were really good, and I was growing up with these guys and seeing them play, and it seemed like I was going to play professional racquetball and that was it,” Gross said.
And he did. At the age of 15, he became the youngest professional racquetball player in the sport, eventually making the move to Los Angeles and winning more professional tournaments in Southern California than any player in the history of the sport. He played professionally until he was 26, when he said racquetball’s popularity “just died.”
“I didn’t know what to do, and I was like, oh my god,” Gross said. “So the natural progression was to go from being a racquetball player to a ventriloquist.”
He started doing open mic nights at various comedy clubs in Los Angeles, mixing magic with comedy, which he said was “hard to do.”
“A lot of times, comedy clubs look down on novelty and variety acts and are strictly stand-up comedy, so I had to make it kind of funny, and I eventually made it really funny,” Gross said. “Before long they asked me to come back and do middle acts, and then I started to work cruise ships and corporate shows, doing big parties for them.”
Eventually, he then started performing in mid-size towns, and making a name for himself in the comedy landscape. However, Gross’ big claim to fame is a viral video from 2013 of him performing a “Split Man” magic trcik, where he walks around pretending he has been cut in half, at a park near his home in Los Angeles and filming people’s reactions. gross said he originally did the trick as a bit in his shows, but decided to take it outside to see what would happen.
“I went down to the park near my house, and my daughter at the time was only 13 or 14, and she had her iPhone out, filming the reactions of people,” Gross said. “I go, this is really funny, and then I thought I’d go out there one more day, put it all together and make a video.”
So, he made the video and didn’t think about it much. That is, until his daughter told him after a show three months later that his video had been increasingly getting views.
“My daughter calls me right after the show while I’m at dinner, and said our video has 7,000 views. I go, wow, I thought it would take two or three years to get that,” Gross said. “The she calls back 20 minutes later, and she said the video has 25,000 view. I’m thinking, this is crazy.”
By morning, the video had amassed over 1 million views and was played on Good Morning America the next day. With the success of his video and subsequent videos, where he has amassed a combined 100 million views on YouTube, he made an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and had his own NBC television special.
His work as an entertainer has been praised heavily, with some of his comedic ad libs being compared to the likes of Don Rickles and Robin Williams, which he thought was “really cool.” He says he enjoys performing, saying it doesn’t feel like he’s working when he’s performing.
“I’m always amazed that I could transition, support a family, live in Los Angeles doing something I absolutely love,” Gross said. “I’m working more than most people normally would, with the travel and long hours, but it really doesn’t feel like it.”
This will be Gross’ first time performing in Three Rivers, and he said he enjoys bringing his shows to smaller towns like Three Rivers.
Usually, the mid-sized towns don’t get that really high-caliber entertainment. They usually have to go far out to see that kind of stuff, so it’s nice when we get to play these venues.”
Gross said audiences can expect a variety between comedy, magic, and ventriloquism during his performance at the Riviera.
“I think the people come out to a show and they get pleasantly surprised, because sometimes they say, ‘oh, I’m going to see a little magic show,’ and they come out and say, ‘this was a Vegas-style show. This is really good entertainment,” Gross said.
“There’s going to be a lot of audience participation, some cards tricks and mind-reading tricks and more, and it’s all going to be fun.”
Gross’ performance at the Riviera begins at 2 p.m., with doors opening at 1 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students, and can be purchased on the Riviera Theatre’s website.