Rich Hayes is probably not a juggler you’re familiar with. I’m a juggling historian and was barely familiar with his name and knew nothing of his act or life. Even after I and several other juggling historians looked into his life, we found very little. The following is what we do know.
Rich Hayes was an English comedy juggler and clown born in York around 1890. His real name was Richard Ayres. He performed from at least 1911 until his death in 1933. He briefly worked with fellow English comedy juggler Will Norman before striking out on his own. Hayes specialized in ball bouncing off an angled wooden platform.
Rich Hayes could bounce juggle up to 8 balls, tying the world record at that time. One of his signature tricks was bouncing balls while blindfolded, as you can see in the following photo and illustration.
He also juggled balls in the air.
As you’ve no doubt guessed, Hayes was also known for his extremely odd appearance, which featured a very tall, cone-like forehead and protruding backside. These, along with his great height, extremely thin body, and eccentric makeup, made for a memorable character indeed.
A review from the Nov 3, 1922, Variety Magazine had the following to say. “Rich Hayes – Juggler – 12 minutes, Full Stage. A chalk face comic juggler aided by a black face boy assistant with a routine of genuinely funny comedy “bits” between his juggling stunts, the majority done with rubber balls bounded from a wooden platform. Hayes makes a rather ludicrous appearance, his tall, angular shape encased in black close fitting tights, and he utilizes every moment for comedy. He manipulates five balls with unusual dexterity and his intermittent side-plays are original. The youngster is not funny, but adds to the contrast, Hayes monopolizing all the comedy. It’s a good opening turn for any vaudeville program.”
(Author’s note: I, the IJA, and the entire juggling community oppose the practice of blackface, both historically and currently. Inclusion of it in this and any other article is for historical accuracy only.)
Hayes usually entered stage wearing top hat and an over-sized tuxedo with huge shoulders. Eventually the tuxedo was removed to reveal his thin frame and black tights.
Hayes was often billed as “The Lazy Clown.” A review stated, “He is an expert at ball bouncing. He bounces balls in every conceivable way and on every imaginable thing, doing so in a nonchalant, careless, languid manner, and it is this method that provides the fun.”
In 1926, while performing in Nebraska in the USA, he was summoned back to the UK to perform for King George. That same year he performed at the Wintergarten Theatre in Berlin. At one point in his career, Rich Hayes used a Robinson Crusoe theme for his act, with Hayes as Crusoe and his assistant as Friday with the stage set as a deserted island.
Rich Hayes passed away in Harrogate, UK due to tuberculosis on Oct. 1, 1933.