I love to learn people’s stories – to find out what brought them to all the moments in time that led to the present. As parents, I think it’s particularly important for us to listen to these stories as a way to understand each other.
Parenting is hard and we’re all trying to do the best for our families – including earning money to take care of ourselves and our children. This is the second (the first is here) in a three-part series that tells the story of parents with unique jobs – the kind that may make you wonder: How did they end up there and how does that work?
You don’t have to look too hard to find the fun dads at birthday parties, school gatherings, or on the sideline of the soccer field. The ones who know a bit of magic, can tell a cheesy joke without taking himself too seriously, and can juggle a water bottle, soccer ball, and dirty diaper are entertaining. But for seven-year-old Molly and four-year-old Lincoln, being the entertainment is their dad’s job.
He’s always the fun dad. He’s the dad packing up his equipment after an hour’s worth of work on the road, having put on a show for kids he doesn’t know. Their dad is Jason Tardy, a traveling performing artist who specializes in high energy juggling and self-described "offbeat comedy."
When Jason Tardy was 15, he and younger brother Matthew performed at a local talent show in their hometown in Maine. Their act consisted of lip syncing to Weird Al Yankovic songs, shameless silliness, and the confidence to act like fools. Professional juggler Mike Miclon was in the audience and saw all of the tools needed to be successful performers. Miclon became their mentor and taught the Tardy brothers how to juggle. Within months, Jason and Matthew were performing at birthday parties; by the time he graduated high school, Jason was working full-time as a performing artist. “It’s the only job I have ever had.”
It’s also the only job he’s ever wanted. Jason books himself, his brother, and a few other acts under his business name and talent agency Atypical Entertainment. For more than 20 years, Jason has been finding new ways to entertain his audiences while keeping his act fresh and fun for him, too.
He juggles fire, daggers, and plungers – sometimes while balancing on a yoga ball. He plays music on electronic bodysuits and a custom made 15-foot drum set he and his brother designed. He incorporates LED lights, body contortion, and balancing acts into his shows. He is literally a one-man band, beating his drum and tooting his horn, while tap dancing and tripping over his own shadow for the sake of humor.
“I love what I do! I love being creative and making people laugh.
When Jason first started to juggle he would practice up to eight hours a day; when asked how many hours he needs to keep himself sharp now, he said this: “I do not really practice anymore believe it or not. I warm up for a few minutes before the show but I put in all the practice a long time ago.”
When he's incorporating something new into his act he'll practice the skill a few hours a day for a couple of weeks before his the show. But when Jason is home, he's focused on the art of parenthood.
When Jason moved from Maine to Rochester, New York he was looking to meet new people. He started talking to a woman he met online and mentioned she should come to one of his shows. She did. They exchanged phone numbers. Phone calls led to dating, dating led to marriage, and marriage led to juggling life with a wife, two kids, and a full-time job as a self-employed, traveling performing artist.
“I do about 150 to 175 shows a year but most of those are quick. For example every Tuesday this summer I had a show at a local resort and I would leave at 5:30 p.m. and be home by around 10:00 p.m. So I could hang out all day with my family. Probably about two times a year I am gone for five or more days in a row. And most of the other times it’s a night or two here or there. And other times I can be home with no shows for a week or more during my slower months.”
One or two tours a month are with his brother. Most recently, Jason booked a 10-day tour after he and his wife agreed the financial opportunity was too good to turn down. Tardy loves being a dad and family man, but he needs to be a smart businessman, too.
When asked if he ever thought about a new career after he became a father, Jason was quick to answer, “No way.” He realizes the benefits of a job with a consistent income and built-in health insurance plan, but he prides himself on his ability to stay organized and disciplined enough make his passion financially work for his family.
He has performed on Disney cruises, at fairs, resorts, and even the White House on three different occasions. But his favorite place to play is at home. “I really think I see my kids way more than other working parents do. I have to take work when it comes but I really do have a lot of flexibility
When Jason was spotted by Mike Miclon at the talent show, he wasn’t just discovered, he was encouraged. Someone believed in him and that helped Jason believe in himself. Tardy relied on that while dealing with bullies in middle school and high school. “I had a lot of people say I should give up. That what I was doing was dumb and that there was no way I would ever do this for a job. I had some kids take my juggling stuff and throw it at me. I had people call me awful names and make fun of me. I knew that they just did not understand what I was trying to do.”
Jason’s confidence pushed him forward, helped him to ignore the nonbelievers, and has put him in a position to pass on what he has learned to others. Jason and his brother, Matthew, tackle the subject of bullying in their AudioBody performances done at schools for kids in grades K-12. The show mixes physical comedy with technology and music and helps students gain an appreciation for those things while encouraging kids to become creative problem solvers. The Tardy brothers tailor their show for each age group but always focus on how being kind is a “direct path to a successful future.”
Jason is living his best life because of his unwillingness to quit. The obstacles that he overcame are just a part of his story; the ability to do what he loves and support his family while doing it is the story of a lifetime.