Ever the journalist, Jack Lepiarz ‘10 broke the news about his own career change. He was quitting his job as a radio anchor on WBUR, Boston’s National Public Radio station, to join the circus.
“I grew up in the circus. I’m a circus kid,” said Lepiarz. “I’ve been doing this since I was at Emerson.”
Lepiarz will now perform as a professional whipper under his pseudonym Jacques Ze Whipper. He and his father, a longtime circus performer himself, came up with his character’s French name because circus performers often use different accents, but it’s rare to see a French character.
“It allows me to be different, especially when you draw on the stupid mustache. It makes the show non-threatening,” said Lepiarz. “I want people to know when they show up that this is dumb and we’re going to have a good time.”
One of the first questions people want to ask is whether it’s a sound financial decision to leave a coveted on-radio position to headline renaissance festivals across the country.
“It’s gotten to the point now in the last six months that I’m making [enough money],” said Lepiarz. “[A]nd to do something I love – it was a pretty easy decision once the financials were there.”
Lepiarz has been cracking whips since he was a young boy. And he’s good. Really, really good. He is a four-time Guinness World Record holder. And check out what he did with legendary talent show judge Simon Cowell on America’s Got Talent (AGT):
While AGT gave him exposure, it was a long-time fan’s TikTok of a clip of Lepiarz that led to a popularity boost. People started contacting him to perform, and while that was great, he wasn’t sure if TikTok and Instagram fame would translate to people coming to his show.
“The response was ridiculous in a good way. I performed at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, which was standing room only 20 minutes before I went on stage – and for 20 to 45 minutes after the show I was taking pictures with fans,” said Lepiarz.
Circuses Run in His Family
His father was a clown for the world-famous Big Apple Circus. His mother has a PhD in anthropology, and is a college professor. They both supported his divergent career paths.
Lepiarz worked at WBUR in Boston for 12 years, the last seven as a midday host, but before that, as an Emerson student, Lepiarz performed his whipping show.
But why whips? There are plenty of circus performance mainstays: contortionists, knife throwers, aerialists, etc.
Thanks to his father’s circus routines, Lepiarz learned how to crack a whip at 6 years old. Combine that with his childhood media consumption of Indiana Jones, Zorro, and Catwoman in Batman Returns, he fell in love with cracking whips.
“Whip cracking is not a super common skill in the circus. A lot of people can crack a whip, but can’t do a lot of tricks with it,” said Lepiarz. “There are plenty of people who can juggle or spin plates. [My father and I thought] this was a skill where you can set yourself apart, and be a more unique act.”
Whip It! Whip It Good!
Lepiarz estimates he owns around three dozen whips. He cycles whips through shows, as he uses certain ones for specific tricks, and also because they degrade over time. When performing, he makes sure he has a main whip and a backup whip for each trick.
“If I’m trying to get a big loud crack, I’ll use a 12-foot long bullwhip. For my musical tricks I’ve got hybrid whips. They’re lighter, and a hybrid between a bull and stock whip. They’re made from nylon instead of leather,” said Lepiarz.
Lepiarz gets whips from different makers. Sometimes whip makers reach out, wanting to make a whip for him. He’s in discussions with a Hungarian whip maker who approached him recently.
For his AGT performance – in which he cracked within a foot of Simon Cowell’s … private area – he used a 4-foot-long Trinity Whip, because it’s his most accurate. Before joining Lepiarz on the stage, Cowell had given Lepiarz an X (buzzed him off the stage), but fellow judges Heidi Klum and Sophia Vergara, encouraged Cowell to take it back. He did, and Lepiarz moved on to the next round. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, he could not perform.
Practicing at the Crack of Dawn?
“If I’m on the road, I use the stage I’m on during the off days,” said Lepiarz. “I have a backyard at home, but there’s an issue with my backyard because whipping is loud, so I try not to be too loud to disturb my neighbors. I’ve modified some whips, but you’re still cracking whips.”
Lepiarz starting perfecting his show while at Emerson, where he met a fellow alum who was a juggler. They started doing street performances together including honing his craft in Harvard Square shows.
“Emerson was a place where suddenly I wasn’t the weird kid in the room,” said Lepiarz. “It was awesome. I enjoyed it for that reason. Fun fact: Emerson was the only school I applied to. I did early action.”
“The Boston Common was a good place to perform until the police said, ‘Uh-uh. Stop it.’,” said Lepiarz, who worked at WERS all four years.
“I went to WERS my first morning and said, ‘Hey, I want to work with you’,” said Lepiarz. “Junior and senior year I was the news director.”
His radio skills led to working at WBUR, and his whipping skills led him to set the Guinness World Record for most targets hit with a bullwhip in one minute (he doesn’t have that record anymore). The other three records were for most bullwhip cracks in a minute. He broke his own record twice.
Lepiarz feels confident in his decision to change careers, but he will miss aspects of his former job.
“I still very much believe in the quality of work at WBUR and public radio. I took a lot of pride in being part of it,” said Lepiarz.
While Lepiarz is making a living from performing as Jacques ze Whipper, he doesn’t plan on entering any international whip competitions. He said there are Australian teenagers who are light years ahead of him, technically speaking.
“What allows me to be successful is building comedy around the tricks,” said Lepiarz.