The Karamazov Brothers, Name Aside, Are Not Borscht Belt but on the Cutting Edge of Comedy

UPDATED 11/03/1980 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/03/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

Anarchy is the only way," one proclaims, as the foursome storms onto the stage amid an explosion of tuba blowing, wild shrieking and dervish-like dancing. Immediately the air is full of whirling blades, flaming torches and noxious puns. They're called the Flying Karamazov Brothers, but they don't fly, they're not Russian and they aren't brothers. They're billed as a juggling act, but, obviously, they don't just juggle.

Alyosha, Dmitri, Ivan and Fyodor Karamazov (Randy Nelson, 26, Paul Magid, 26, Howard Patterson, 25, and Tim Furst, 28, respectively) are combination vaudevillians, raconteurs, musicians and circus clowns who perform in clubs and theaters from coast to coast. They are booked currently into the Arena Stage in Washington and this week fly nationwide on an NBC reincarnation, The Tom and Dick Smothers Brothers Special.

Their show, subtitled "Juggling and Cheap Theatrics," won the Karamazovs a special off-Broadway Obie award for 1979, and two years ago they were named the second best juggling team in the world by the International Jugglers' Association.

"We're initiating a new art form," declares Nelson. "We involve and get feedback from the audience." In one stunt, the crowd is invited to throw any three objects no bigger than a bread box and weighing more than an ounce onto the stage for "The Champ," Patterson, to juggle. If he succeeds, he gets a standing ovation; if he fails, he gets a pie in the face. Items recently volunteered included a half-eaten ham-and-cheese sandwich, a bowling ball and a brassiere. In another Steve Martin-esque bit, the Karamazovs tease the audience by bringing two cats named Wow and Flutter onstage and threatening to juggle them.

The group calls its finale "Nine Objects of Terror." For 30 seconds the Brothers fling around a cleaver, a peace pipe, a bottle of champagne, a ukulele, a sickle, a rubber fish, a flaming torch, an egg and a skillet. At one point the egg flips into the pan just as the torch passes underneath to "fry" it. And at the very end, of course, the champagne blows its cork so the frantic Karamazovs can be toasted.

"Everyone should juggle," says Magid. "It's great for meditation." The four Californians began performing together soon after college (Nelson went to Santa Clara, Furst to Stanford and the others to UC at Santa Cruz). Four years ago they decided to share digs in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. "We went through the granola bit," Nelson recalls. "We had a total of $24 and an apartment we couldn't pay for."

Furst had been taught to juggle by his father, a chemist who'd been an Olympic-class gymnast, and Nelson knew something about coordination, having taken ballet classes at 17. Patterson and particularly Magid, who lost a fingertip in a bicycle wheel at 5, had nothing to recommend them as jugglers. But after two years of performing for dimes and quarters in San Francisco's Union Square, the group was slick enough to be hired for fairs and festivals and began picking up club and theater dates. Now the foursome receives up to $10,000 a performance and is on the road almost constantly, Nelson and Magid with their wives, Patterson and Furst with their ladies.

The team chose "Karamazov" because they liked being associated with "those passionate, dark, over-wordy characters" created by Dostoevski. "The idea of the Brothers Karamazov being modern-day circus performers struck us as funny," says Nelson.

Someday they hope to stage a juggling "symphony" for 20 to 30 performers. And ultimately, says Nelson, floating off into a fantasy, "we would like to be the first entertainers in outer space."

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