Dr. Blood, Magician/Clown for the Older Kids
David Kaye was born in 1960 and grew up in a seemingly typical middle-class family out in Flushing, Queens. He was what some would call a nice Jewish boy. He wanted to grow up and become a magician. His sleight-of-hand dream came true and his conjuring act included clowning and comedy. But his magic career took a strange turn and now Kaye earns his living as Dr. Blood?a voodoo man who earns his keep by scaring the holy hell out of kids.
I recently called Kaye at his 14th St. apartment to talk about Dr. Blood. He's 41 now, and at the prime of his clowning years. Kaye came off as an affable man, and when something strikes him as funny and weird, he'll let loose a maniacal laugh.
"As a kid I picked up magic as a hobby. It was something I wanted to be good at. As youngsters magicians aren't the smartest kids or the most athletic. Magic becomes their hook to stand out. At least it was my way to stand out. When I was 12 my parents finally let me take the subway alone from Queens. I would head to Times Square and go to Tannen's magic shop every Saturday afternoon. Magicians from all over would hang out there and do tricks, and that is where I learned most of my magic."
Kaye finished high school and went on to college at Northwestern. He graduated with a degree in communications and got a job in publishing at Doubleday.
"I hated that job. Hated it. I quit after nine months and broke out my magic tricks and started street-performing. I did magic and made balloons in front of FAO Schwarz, Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. I didn't go up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art like most street performers because I wanted to entertain children. Somehow I gravitated to kids. I got good and started making money?and I was shocked at how much money you can make as a street performer, much more than I was making at Doubleday. Double what I was making in publishing."
Kaye eventually found himself down at the South Street Seaport auditioning to be an approved street performer. He got the job and his act was a clown named Silly Billy who made animals out of balloons and performed magic tricks.
"I did that for three years, and people liked me because, along with the magic and balloons, I did a lot of talking comedy, which the parents liked. People started to ask me if I did parties so I gave them my card...and said yes, I did parties. Soon I was doing 50 percent parties and 50 percent street-performing. I must have been good at it because it really took off and I got away from the street. I did my own thing. It was unusual?it wasn't sweet and gentle and lovey-dovey clowning, it was rough-and-tumble and the kids loved it."
Kaye had a nice party business going, but once kids hit seven or so they tire of Silly Billy clowns and want more. Kaye knew what the kids wanted?they wanted thrill and chills, so he created Dr. Blood. Now Dr. Blood shows net him $450 for an hour performance. And he's in demand: he's booked two months in advance.
"About five years ago I started losing clients because the kids were getting too old for Silly Billy the clown. So I got the idea for Dr. Blood because kids seven or eight or older love to be scared. Back then a popular reading series was Goosebumps and I put that in my ad. The stories were scary and I knew that was something people would recognize. Dr. Blood took some work, because at first I was too scary. I would go too far. But I learned how far to take it and now my business is about split even between Silly Billy and Dr. Blood."
Kaye explained to me how the act works. He comes to a kid's party as Dr. Blood, dressed in bloody scrubs and wild hair. He gets the kids to listen to a story about Dr. Blood meeting a witch doctor as he passes out props of shrunken heads, bones, tarantulas and a brain.
"I set the stage so the kids aren't sure if I am really crazy or just kidding. Eight-year-olds like to be in command and they love to tell you that you're a fake. I'm always raising the stakes because if I don't, they're like, 'Go ahead, magic boy, show me.' I have to really scare them to get them to suspend their disbelief for a while. Scare them enough so they cower but want to keep watching."
After showing the props Kaye goes into his "geek tricks." He sticks needles in his arms, slices his wrists and uses a chopper to lop off body parts.
"The last geek trick is when I take an electric power saw out and seemingly saw through the stomach of the birthday child."
For his final act Kaye hands out Dr. Blood kits and gives the kids props to take home and use to frighten their friends and family.
"I give them a finger chopper, a rubber cockroach, a nail going through a finger and blood capsules. I teach them how to use the stuff?it feeds into the whoopee-cushion practical jokes that kids love."
I asked Kaye if any of his lessons backfired.
"Well, after one party a woman called me up and asked if I could send her son a new cockroach. She woke up and saw a cockroach in her refrigerator, so she threw what she thought was a dead roach, and all of the food in the refrigerator, out. When she told her son he started to cry. [He] told her that the roach was a fake and he wanted a new one."
In his ads he has a skull and the warning that Dr. Blood is for children seven and up, with "Free funeral if you're scared to death (Ha ha!)." I asked Kaye if he's seen a drop-off in business since 9/11.
"I guess I should take out that 'free funeral' thing. Business is down since 9/11 because of the recession, but the ratio of shows I do of Silly Billy and Dr. Blood remains the same. The Dr. Blood act doesn't have violence or terrorists in it like 9/11. Dr. Blood is more of a voodoo show, and it isn't the same thing."
Kaye realizes that his calling is a strange one. Kids get it right away and most parents just go along with it because it is what their progeny want.
"I think New York is the only city you could do a show for kids like Dr. Blood. This wouldn't play in like Charlotte. They couldn't deal with it out of this city."
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