Skip Banks is looking forward to performing in Los Banos at the Merced County Spring Fair.
With more than a decade’s worth of performances at the local fair, he remains very thankful for the work.
“(Fair Manager) Ron Brandt has been good to me,” Banks said. “With all the other acts that must be calling, I know I can be replaced like that. I didn’t expect to get to year two; this might be year 12.”
Through the years, the balloon man has become a staple at the fair. Posted between food row and the entrances to the animal arenas, he performs skits mixing comedy, balloon animals, pop culture and music.
Banks said he’s performed in Los Banos so many times he’s become familiar with many of the faces in the audience.
“It almost trumps other fairs,” he said. “Sometimes you find a former 4-H kid who’s a foot taller than you who will say, ‘I saw you when I was younger.’ ”
The audience being familiar with his show is part of what motivates Banks to always give fairgoers something new.
“People will say they’ve seen the show before, but I will tell them, ‘Here’s something different.’ ”
Banks keeps up with celebrity news and current events so he can add characters to his balloon-bending show.
This year he’s planning a parody of the Geico insurance company camel commercial, as well as incorporating a skit involving Justin Bieber. His shows culminate with Banks inside a balloon.
Banks’ sense of humor came from watching the masters of comedy.
The Youngstown, Ohio, native became enamored with Red Skelton, Tim Conway and Bill Cosby.
“I’ve seen a lot of people stand behind a microphone and bomb. I like the physical comedians,” he said.
Banks, who is a former railroad worker, began his comedic career sharing the stage with a puppet. As his ventriloquist act began to stall, he asked people who were in the business what he could do that was in high demand. It was then, Banks said, that a guy gave him some good advice.
“He said, ‘In life, you create the demand,’ ” Banks recounted.
Banks found a way to do just that while standing in a checkout line.
“You know they have those toys for kids up front, I saw some Army men and I thought it would be neat to put them in a balloon,” Banks said.
He gave his career a boost by becoming the Army man in the balloon, literally.
Since 1984, Banks has told jokes while encasing his body in human-size balloons.
He started with weather balloons, but found they broke too frequently. He has since found a company that custom makes the latex material he uses in his shows.
Over the years, Banks has performed at NBA halftime shows, television morning programs and the county fair circuit.