Any way you slice it, Californian Robert Gruenberg is no ordinary juggler. Forget balls and oranges—this 23-year-old aspiring comic has removed himself from the cutting edge of poverty by daring to juggle a running chain saw. As an encore, he’ll follow up with 12-pound bowling balls, flaming machetes and even frozen fish. Each weekend appreciative audiences along Venice Beach toss up to $600, mostly in quarters (“The people at the bank think I own a Laundromat”), into his open trunk.
While some may think his act requires a warning from the Surgeon General, Gruenberg is a genius at Stayin’ Alive (yes, that’s his theme song). “People thought I was out of my mind,” he says. “But I knew I could master it. Once you get used to the rhythm, you know when to let anything drop if you’re in trouble.” Luckily, he hasn’t been in any.
Understandably, though, people are less than willing to lend him a hand with his act. “I’m about to risk my life for your entertainment,” he tells onlookers, but then warns them to “step back, because I’m not very good at it.”
Born in New York and raised in Ingle-wood, Calif., Gruenberg attended nearby El Camino College. He began juggling a year and a half ago to make ends meet while, as an unemployed “serious” actor, he waited for his show-business break. One day in 1982 he became fascinated watching a sidewalk magician perform in Los Angeles. That night Gruenberg bought two card tricks at a magic store, set up shop on Hollywood Boulevard and netted $28. As a joke, he later tried juggling machetes. He suffered several cuts, but finally got the hang of them after marathon practice sessions. Flush with confidence, he moved on to fruits and vegetables. “I would go into supermarkets and practically juggle the whole produce department,” he says. “After I busted a couple of watermelons, they threw me out.” He moved on to chain saws after spotting them in a more hospitable Sears store.
While he clearly has people buzzing, Gruenberg isn’t sure he’s ready to add a second chain saw to his routine. Another one might cost him an arm and a leg.