The Best Balloon Pump Ever
by Don Caldwell
I have heard many people over the years, debate over what the best balloon pump is. Electric or manual? Hand pump or a free standing model? I feel that I have some special insight into this matter.
My own personal favorite is the classic 2 Way Hand Pump. It is not only a staple of our industry. It is one of the very cornerstones of our business. I love the 2 Way Hand Pump!
“But Don, don’t you mouth inflate?”
Yes. Yes I do. And that is why I love the classic 2 way pump. Because my pumps are responsible for some of my favorite gags.
Several years ago I picked up a book called “Balloon Bits By Suds”. It was a small pamphlet that had some great gags in it. It even included a version of the balloon game on my first video that pre dated mine by quite a bit (and here I thought I was unique).
He also had a balloon pump/snake can. It was one of the classic “Snake Can” gags (peanut brittle or other snack type container with large spring loaded snakes crammed inside) with the nozzle of a balloon pump glued to the end to make it look like a 2 way hand pump. This is brilliant!
In my act, I offer to show the kids one of my favorite toys. Then I reach into my bag and pull out a 3′ balloon. This usually gets an oooh.
I ask if they want me to blow it up and they almost always scream yes. Then I explain that I will do it, but the balloon is too big for me to blow it up by mouth, so I am going to use my pump. I bring out the balloon pump and attempt to inflate the balloon, but the pump seems to be jammed. I shake the pump. I look down the nozzle. Everything seems ok. Then I unscrew the bottom to look inside. Two huge cloth snakes fly out of the can into the audience, scaring the snot out of me, and sending the kids into uncontrollable giggles!
While trying to regain my composure I walk over to one of the kids who caught a snake and thank them for catching it for me while putting my hand out so that they can give it to me. The trick here is to make the child your helper, so that they all want to give you the snake back. Kids want to participate, and they want to help. But if you challenge them and it becomes a test of wills, you are going to loose. I always thank them for helping me once they hand me the snake and then look to the next child and do the same.
Once I have the snake, I place it back into the can. As I turn to take the next snake from the other child I let the first one fly back into the crowd. As the second one goes in I look over and see that there is another snake! I reach for that one and allow the other to fly back out now. This goes on for several minutes. I am of course oblivious to the fact that the snakes keep flying back out of the can. I just assume that there are more of them than I thought. Once I finally get both snakes inside the can, I ask if there are any more of them. Then I go to place the bottom back onto my pump and realize that it is sitting on my bag. As I reach over to get it, I allow both snakes to fly back into the audience. This is so much FUN!
A few important points:
Be careful with very young children. They are often easily startled, and once you loose their trust, it is almost impossible to get back.
Only use cloth snakes. They do make plastic ones that are often cheaper, but these will most likely be destroyed the first time they fly into the audience.
Do not let the snakes fly into the audience unless you have really good audience control. Otherwise you are never getting them back, or if you do it will be in pieces due to a tug of war contest (see rule 2).
This does not work for every audience and no matter how many times I do it I still get the occasional trouble maker who wants to play tug o’ war or keep away with the snakes. Nevertheless this is one of my favorite things to do with the kids.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Once I realize that the pump is not going to work, I decide to try to blow it up myself. First I blow it up just a little bit and then look at the kids and ask, “More?”
At least a few will yell yes, so I do. I blow it up a bit more and ask again, and again they scream more. The inflating of the balloon is of course way over done. I ham it up as much as possible, straining to blow up this gigantic balloon!
Now I have a dilemma. Once the balloon has been blown up to about a foot and a half, there are some pretty concerned kids. Many children are afraid of balloons popping, and this one is getting pretty big. I need to calm the ones who may be getting uncomfortable. So now, I ask the question again, I begin to get scared.
“More?” I ask timidly. This lets the nervous ones know that I don’t want this thing to pop either. Meanwhile, it encourages the braver kids to scream MORE!!!! These little sadists want that balloon to explode in my face! And people wonder why I love kids so much.
While I am doing all of this, I am also watching the kids. My gauge to know when the balloon is big enough, is just before the first kid cries. As soon as I see some one who is not going to be able to handle one more puff, I stop. The show is supposed to be fun, and kids who are truly frightened, are probably not having a great time. So exhausted, and panting, I gasp, “No more!”
Then I attempt to tie the balloon…..and fail. The balloon flies out of my hands and begins to rocket around the room! (This is obviously best done in a large theater or auditorium, or even better outside). I franticly chase after it and usually catch it just before the last of the air escapes. If that happens I will hold the balloon and look into the opening, pretending that it is blowing my face back. I then stomp back over to my prop case, throw the disobedient balloon inside, and slam the lid down in a huff.
The blowing up of the balloon was inspired by Jimmy Leo, who does a very similar routine. The whole thing takes between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the audience and how much I can milk the gags.
And then, just today I tried out something new. I had a group of kids who had just seen me a few weeks ago, so I needed something a little different. This time, when the pump jammed, I looked down the nozzle and got a face full of water.
As it turns out, the two way hand pump will pump out whatever is put inside it. Because of the clever valve system, it is pretty well sealed except for the hole in the tip of the nozzle. So I filled my pump part way with water, placed it into a large ziplock bag, and placed it nozzle end up into my balloon bag. When the kids told me to look inside the pump (expecting the spring snakes to fly out) they got a real surprise!
And what I love most about these two gags is that they make sense. Most balloon twisters use a pump of some kind, and most people know that. In any kind of a show you need to have motivation. Why am I doing this? What is that thing doing there? In a balloon show a pump makes sense. Then the fact that it does something completely different from what it is expected to do is what makes it funny (but you knew that).
So there it is kids. Two new ways to use your balloon pump. Have fun, and try not to get into too much trouble.