There’s a cobblestone circle outside Pier 43 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf where breakdancers duke it out with jugglers, psychics, three-card monte dealers, flame throwers, or whoever else shows up trying to make a fast buck. Dubbed “the Circle Pitch” it has just enough room for a small crowd to gather, said Berkeley cabaret showman Frank Olivier, who left Ringling Brothers Clown College to perform at the circle back in 1979. “That was the one year they decided the only ones who graduated were the ones who got offered a contract and accepted it,” Olivier recalled. “By that time I’d come back to the Bay Area, put together my own show, performing at Fisherman’s Wharf and earning way more money than the Ringling clowns were.”
A Berkeley High alumnus who started juggling at age eleven, Olivier got his first break in 1983, when he landed a role with Mickey Rooney in the Broadway hit Sugar Babies. Since, Olivier has headlined bills in Las Vegas and appeared on The Tonight Show. His own Twisted Cabaret and Pandemonium Vaudeville Show includes an S&M psychic who can only prophesize when he’s in great pain, a nine-foot-tall crossdresser “who looks like a Robert Crumb cartoon,” and a “despondent knife thrower” who has just been through a bitter divorce. Among the other highlights are Café Du Flambe (an entire flaming meal) and a “hamster juggling” routine which creates the frightening illusion of cute little hamsters getting trapped inside plastic balls and juggled. In what could be the show’s high point of twistedness (or nadir of low humor), a magician makes a bird disappear and tries to bring it back in a burst of flame — except he forgets which glove was supposed to contain the bird. Thus, one of the magician’s hands is on fire while he’s intently trying to light the other one. Olivier’s hunchbacked assistant comes out with a fire extinguisher and puts out the burning hand, and when the smoke clears, there’s a cooked squab.
All sorts of thrills await when Twisted Cabaret visits Julia Morgan Center for the Arts (2640 College Ave., Berkeley), each with its own “demented edge.” Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.; $15-$25. 800-838-3006 or JuliaMorgan.org