The comedy juggler King Repp was born Alfred Wolf in Berlin, Germany in 1898. He grew up fairly poor, with his father working as the head waiter in a restaurant that had a variety stage. Young Alfred was exposed to performing artists through his father’s work and also due to the fact that his uncle was well-known billiard juggler Asra (Waldemar Paetzold).
At a young age, Alfred decided to become a juggler like his uncle, but was more drawn to the style of W.C. Fields than to Asra’s act. At the age of 15, Alfred entered show business as a tramp juggler and comedian. He eventually partnered with his nephew as A. W. Repp and Partner.
At some point, he was called the “King of Jugglers”, which was quite an overstatement. Nevertheless, the name stuck and in 1923 Repp decided to build his entire act around the idea of performing as a king. At this point he took on the name of King Repp.
By this time Repp had developed an eccentric character, style, and costume that included a preposterously long mustache, a top hat, monocle, and huge cigar. He merged this characterization with the king elements, sometimes coming out wearing a robe, sitting on a throne, and juggling with a scepter, crown and orb before finishing his act with his more usual routines.
His usual routines included juggling balls and catching them in billiard pockets worn on his belt.
He also was famous for his juggling of top hats. He is still remembered today as the first juggler to dye each of his three top hats a different color, which allowed audiences to follow his tricks much more easily and which was soon adopted by most top hat jugglers.
King Repp performed with boomerang straw hats and a very funny routine juggling balls around his enormous cigar, which was done as a parody of Rastelli’s ball and mouth stick work.
In 1928, Repp created his most famous routine. It was a comedic take on the Salerno ring, the famous trick of his close friend Salerno. The trick involved revolving balls inside of hoops that were attached to his hat, lower back, foot, cigar, and two sticks held in his hands. Sometimes he even used balls that glowed in the dark.
A few modern jugglers have set out to recreate parts of this trick. Below are two videos showing this work by Ian Marchant and Jochen Schell.
King Repp was the most famous German comedy juggler of the first half of the twentieth century. He was assisted most of his career by his wife Friedel (1892-1972). Together they traveled to five continents, delighting audiences wherever they performed. Repp juggled in the film Die Letzte Kompagnie in 1930. He performed until the mid-1950s, when problems with his larynx caused him to retire from show business. Repp was a very generous man. He paid for the funeral expenses of his friend, the great Salerno, who died penniless in 1946.
He also donated the money for a swimming pool in the French Buchholz area of Berlin that was his home after retiring. It still stands today. Repp also helped train Dieter Tasso. King Repp had once worked in a juggling act with the father of Dieter, so when Dieter began to put together an act in 1947, Repp was a frequent visitor to the practice studio and mentored Dieter, who was only 13 at the time. King Repp gave Dieter a set of top hats and taught him to juggle with them. He also gave Dieter his first set of cigar boxes.
Alfred Wolf died in 1968, but is still remembered today for his innovation and successful career as King Repp. If you would like to see video of King Repp performing, please attend the Juggling History Show at the 2017 IJA Festival. In addition to a live show featuring rarely seen old school juggling routines, a number of never before seen videos will be shown, including one of King Repp.