Time for a wee chat with Louis Pearl, a.k.a. the Greatest Bubbleologist On Earth!
What did you do before becoming The Amazing Bubble Man!
I studied literature and art at university... I thought I would be a writer of some sort. Then I stumbled into making toys as a way to earn a living. I began in 1980 by selling my first toy, the Bubble Trumpet, one by one on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, by the University. I had to spend hours demonstrating how to make large bubbles... Pretty soon I learned some bubble tricks. In 1983, my toy company was doing pretty well. I met a famous clown named Wavy Gravy and showed him my tricks. He invited me to his performing arts summer camp to teach bubbles to the kids there. While at Camp Winnarainbow, I met lots of musicians, and actors, and clowns, jugglers, acrobats, and artists of all stripes. Everyone convinced me that I should do stage shows with bubbles. I did my first show in 1983, and haven’t stopped since. I sold the toy company in 2002 when I had 147 products. Now I don’t sell toys any more, I just play with them.
What is the biggest or most spectacular bubble you have ever blown?
That is a tough question. The way I look at it, bubbles are about what’s happening right now. That is what s so special about bubbles... they pull everyone into being with them right in the moment. It is very hard to see bubbles in front of you and be stuck in your head thinking about something else... I cannot go back and tell you about any one particular great bubble, they are all spectacular.
What's the strangest thing you have put in a bubble?
I have put a lot of strange people in bubbles. Once I was performing at a wedding and was assigned to put the bride and groom into a large rainbow shaped tube of bubble. The groom was so drunk he found not stand still... he was stumbling around and I was trying to aim my bubble ring over this moving target... It was impossible but hilarious. I wonder how that marriage turned out?
Is 'Bubbleologist' a real word? Do you know other Bubbleologists?
It’s real to me. I started using it in about 1982, so it’s been in use for 33 years now. How long does a word need to exist before it becomes ‘real’?When I started I knew of about 6 people in the world doing bubbles. Now there are thousands. It is about to reach a tipping point I think, where mod people will actually know what I am talking about when I say I do shows onstage with bubbles. Most people I meet now have no idea what I am talking about. Trying to explain it is impossible. Imagine if you had never heard of juggling and someone told you they were a juggler... that they throw balls in the air for a living... that just sounds crazy!
Most people use Washing Up detergent to make bubbles, do you have a special formula and can you share it?
I have always said that, in the bubble business, the problem is the solution. I always encourage people to make their own solutions, and there are many recipes available on the internet. A simple and easy recipe in the UK is water and original Fairy liquid. About 16 parts water to 1 part Fairy. To make the bubbles stay moist, I would add some glycerine. This is a pretty good solution. To get the super big bubbles you need to add gums that allow the bubbles to stretch... try guar or zanthan gum for starters.
Do you have any celebrity fans or have you performed any of your stage tricks on a celebrity?
I’ve done private shows for The Sultan of Brunei, Don Johnson, and (now tragically) Robin Williams. The show for Williams was done about 20 years ago when his kids were young. He had a huge party for his son Zack’s 5th birthday, the day after Thanksgiving. There were at least 250 people there at his house. It was a big fun show and I felt very happy after that performance. Robin came up after the show and shook my hand. I was aware that he was the only person in that house who understood that high feeling you get after a good stage show. That was a special moment. It takes on a different meaning now after his tragic end.
Do you have a background in science, or qualifications that have lead you to become an expert in Bubble making?
I have always been keenly interested in science, but not so keenly interested in school. I went to university with a goal to study marine biology. I soon realized that I was more interested in studying the arts and ended up with a major in literature and a minor in art. UC San Diego, where I went to school is attached to The Scripps Institute of Oceanography. I became an assistant to graduate students studying local aquatic species. This entailed hundreds of hours a year SCUBA diving and studying the fish populations. I also became fascinated with the bubbles I was exhaling. I think that was the first time as an adult that I looked at air bubbles with a scientific curiosity. I began looking at soap bubbles with a similar curiosity.
Bubbles seem to have a universal appeal - what is it about them that engenders such joy in children?
Good question. I have a lot of theories around this subject. Children love bubbles because they are magical, AND because they get to DESTROY them. How many things are kids allowed to destroy? I was at a fair once, as an adult, where you could buy three small ceramic plates for a dollar and throw them at a metal wall. It was very fun to throw those plates at the wall and destroy them. It was a thrill.
Bubbles are also like dreams. They take people into a dream world. When you are having them, dreams are very very real, and you are completely entranced by them. Then, BOOM! you wake up and they are gone. Same with bubbles, all your other thoughts, worries and cares go away when you are making bubbles, then Boom, they are gone and you are back in the everyday reality... bubbles are like a bridge to dreamland.
Is there such a thing as 'Bubble Therapy'?
Yes, and I’m glad you thought it up.
How does the weather, heating, air con etc affect your bubbles?
The most important ingredient in any bubble solution is humidity. A soap film is incredibly thin, and it is mostly made of water. When the water evaporates, the wall of the bubble is so thin that a piece of dust can penetrate it and pop the bubbles. That is one reason why I like working in the UK, you tend to have a lot of moisture in your air. Doing bubbles in the desert is much more difficult. Also, the slightest moving air will blow the bubbles away. Most theatres (and even more so, TV studios) are designed to have good ventilation. This can be a real problem for me as the heating and cooling systems can turn on and blow my whole stage show away. I have to ask theatres to turn of the ventilation systems while the show is on. Even then, when I get a sold out show in a large venue, the heat emanating straight up from the audience will often create an eddy which pulls all the air onstage out into the orchestra seats and I have to try and chase the bubbles as they are pulled out into the audience.
You've travelled all over the world with your show - do you have a favourite city/country that you particularly like performing in? How do audiences differ?
I don’t have a favourite, but I do appreciate the differences. Americans are brash and loud and very excitable. I like that excitement. In the UK, audiences tend to be a bit more reserved, I often ask them to imagine their football team is scoring goals when my bubbles do what I want them to do, this always works. I was surpassed in Japan, as I always thought Japanese people were quiet, but those audiences were wildly enthusiastic.
How did you get your Blue Peter badge?
Blue Peter came to my show in Edinburgh 2 years ago. They filmed me putting their host in a bubble and did a little interview. This year, I’m going to Manchester to be on set at Blue Peter, so I will get a SECOND badge.
You are touring and performing with your wife, the musician Jet Black Pearl - what special element does live music bring to your show?
I really love performing with live music. Jet is able to watch me and improvise just the right music to accompany whatever I am doing. I don’t like to just do the same show over and over, so I do not have a set script. I have enough material to do each show slightly differently, so have a live musician is wonderful. I don’t use pre-recorded music because then I would have to do every show by rote to match the music. Having her do the music means that I really focus on the bubble work, I talk a lot less, and do a more ‘poetic' kind of show.
Are you available for children's birthday parties?!
Yes, I am. And you’d be surprised how old those children are getting, I’ve already done two 50 year old's birthdays this year.
What can we expect from your show?
A lot of amazing bubbles, fun laughter, beauty, and wonder. I use lots of effect to create the bubbles including lighting, lasers, helium, steam, lots of stage fog, and 30 years of wrangling bubbles into every imaginable shape, from square bubbles to huge bubbles, doughnut bubbles, people in bubbles, volcanoes, tornadoes torcanoes, rocket bubbles, flying saucers, alien creatures and flying foam.
How do your crowds usually react?
Lots of laughter, oohs, ahhs, cheers, and squeals of joy. Plus a lot of kids get to assist me onstage.