Friday, March 12, 2010
By Julia Williams
What would you do if you adore dogs, are a natural born comedian and love to clown around? If you’re like Johnny Peers, you’d train a menagerie of lovable mutts to perform a comical canine routine with you, and proceed to tickle the funny bone of animal lovers nationwide. And that’s just what Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix have done, for the last 30 years!
This clever collaboration between man and dog(s) is a delightful show. Featuring amazing canine feats, flawless comedic timing and fun choreography, Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix gets audiences howling with laughter, and begging for more. Peers performs as a Chaplin-like clown who leads his 15 four-legged sidekicks through a series of challenging tricks and amusing antics. The personable pack of mutts jump rope, climb ladders, walk the tightrope, skateboard, knock Johnny down, and walk all over him. If I could only use three words to describe this unique slapstick act, I’d choose: hilarious, frenetic and entertaining.
I chatted with Johnny recently by phone, and the one word I’d choose to describe the man behind the Muttville Comix act is: joker. He claimed he could “dance like Michael Jackson,” and when I acted impressed he said, “no, not really.” When he found out I wasn’t married and liked cats, he asked “What’s wrong with you?” So it seems that Johnny, ever the comedian even without his dogs, props and stage makeup, has not only created a successful career out of doing something he loves, but what he does best – which is make people laugh.
Johnny’s comedic training began at an early age when, after discovering Charlie Chaplin movies, he proceeded to watch them nonstop. Then again, I suppose it didn’t hurt that Johnny grew up around the circus. His dad ran a concession stand for the Ringling Circus, and when Johnny wasn’t helping out there he’d sneak away to hang out with the clowns. He learned a few tricks and later, studied at the Ringling Clown College and graduated from there in 1970.
Johnny got his first pup from a shelter in 1972. She was a sweet little Beagle mix named Freckles, and when Johnny realized that she learned tricks easily, he decided to incorporate her into his comedy routine. “At the time, I didn't know anything about training dogs, but she and I worked out a great little act,” Johnny said. In 1980, after Johnny had adopted several more dogs –and better training methods –the Muttville Comix was born.
These days, Johnny and his canine comics travel from pet expos to state fairs to school assemblies in a fully equipped motor coach. His current roster of talented dog stars includes Daphne, reportedly the world’s only skateboarding Bassett Hound; a ladder-climbing Fox Terrier named Her Royal Squeaky; Sir Winston, a riotous Pointer mix who will only answer to “Sir”; and Mr. Pepe, who responds only to commands in Spanish.
Based on experience, Peers advises people who are interested in training their own dogs to: keep it short, happy and sweet. He says that dogs are great observers, and showing them what you want them to do is the best way to train them. And don’t forget to give them lots of treats and praise.
Based on his impressive resume, it would seem that Johnny does indeed know his stuff. Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix have appeared in the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, on Primetime Live, Circus of the Stars, and David Letterman, at Disneyland, Busch Gardens and the Big Apple Circus. They won 1st place on Animal Planet's Pet Star for the 2003 season, and have even performed at the White House!
If you have a chance to see Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix in person, I highly recommend that you go. Their next big appearance is at the West Michigan Pet Expo on April 24th and 25th in Grand Rapids, MI. You can also see a photo gallery and videos of Johnny Peers and his comedic canines in action here.
Read more articles by Julia Williams