The (Not-So) Secret Life Of A Newsman
You may recognize the voice of Jack Lepiarz. As the midday newscaster at WBUR, he also does the news breaks during Here and Now. But each November, he leaves Boston to visit Louisiana, traveling not only cross country, but back in time.
You'll find him on one of the stages at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival in Hammond, garbed in a white shirt, blue satin pants and a red sash. A thin curling mustache penciled across his upper lip, the newsman is transformed into "Jacques Ze Whipper."
With the snapping of his whirling whips to keep rhythm, Jacques parodies a well-known song by Queen.
"We will, we will whip you — if you don’t come to the show," he sings. "Whippy-whippy show, it’s a whippy-whippy show…"
How did he get into this carnival-like business?
"I was 6-years-old and performing with my dad at King Richard’s Faire, which is up in Massachusetts," Jack explains. "When I got older, you know, mid-teens, I wanted nothing to do with the circus. And I was working at an ice cream shop. I was making, I think it was $6.25 an hour, and my dad called me and said, 'I need some help with the show. I’ll pay you $50 an hour.' And I said, 'Whoa! I’m in the wrong business.'"
He put himself through college, then, by cracking the whip and some jokes for Ren Faire audiences.
For example, he selects a male audience member, dubs him "Fifi," and hands him a squeeze-bulb horn, with instructions to honk the horn each time he hears the words "Jacques Ze Whipper." Success at this task brings applause from the crowd.
"Excellent work, Fifi. It was just that easy: you honked my horn and everyone here gave you the clap," Jacques says, eliciting appreciative laughter from the audience. "Parents, if the kids get the jokes, it’s your fault."
Like most Renaissance Faire performers, Jack includes a bit of adult humor in his show routine. But he is also very dialed in to the what kids will take away from their festival experience.
"I actually took this whole week off from work, as vacation essentially, so I’ll be down here for the school days," he says.
That’s when students take field trips to the Renaissance Festival, and learn from exhibitors about Elizabethan-era skills, such as glass-blowing, candle making, iron forging, spinning and weaving. Jack uses his whip show to teach some physics.
"Audience, a whip cracks because the very tip of the whip — that is this piece of string right here — momentarily will go faster than the speed of sound. Audience, that is 761 miles per hour. At that speed, the whip breaks the sound barrier, and it creates a small sonic boom," he says, while he illustrates with a crack of the whip.
He knows speed, as a former Guinness world record holder for most whip cracks in one minute: 278. The new record, set in September, is 283, which he will try to beat next fall. He is the Guinness record holder for most targets hit with a bullwhip in one minute: 70. And he also plays with fire.
"Here we go," he says, swinging a nine-foot flaming whip, which whooshes menacingly. "The crack! The flip! The catch! The applause!" and the audience cheers their approval.
Yet which life will he ultimately choose: the magic of time traveling and whip performances, or the muggle world of news radio with NPR?
"I love them both and in different ways, and I love that at least for now I'm able to straddle the line of having time in the real world and having time at the Renaissance Faire," he says. "Ultimately, I want to be sort of anchored in one place — you know, I want kids, I want a life, I want a house. Long term, radio is where I’m going to be."
But for this weekend and next, he’ll be at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival in Hammond, whipping audiences up to laughter and applause.