Whether walking the rope, singing a love song to a maiden in the lanes, or leading the band in to a resounding chorus, he brings a sense of wonder to everything he does. Always on the lookout for something new to learn, the jester has developed the talents necessary to sustain the renaissance traveler he is at heart. The quick-witted troubadour charms even the Queens of our Faire shires and they welcome him to their festivities and urge him to return safely from his travels. Let me introduce you to Giacomo the Jester.
Carl Asch, a native of Ramsey, New Jersey, is the youngest of three siblings and only son of a well-educated couple. He grew up with a passion for learning which has served him well. Fascinated by a street performer reciting Shakespearean sonnets at a street faire in New York, he was further intrigued when his father provided a dollar to tip the man. Carl often credits that encounter with the first nudge toward performing. It wasn’t the first indication he wanted to do something unusual, though, as Carl remembers discussions with boyhood friends about potential careers. They would say that they wanted to do one thing or another and that it would allow them to meet interesting people. He told them that instead of meeting interesting people, he wanted to be one of them.
When it came time to start college, his first day did not progress quite as anticipated. The courses he was required to take held no interest for him and the administration wouldn’t allow him to register for the courses that did. He quit that first day and approached the professors he wanted to study with, asking if he could audit their classes. Each agreed and he learned many things, but none of them for credit towards graduation. There was some tension as he explained the situation to his parents, but they understood his decision. Carl told me that his parents have always been accepting and supportive of him.
Through the years, Carl has taken classes at four universities—studying languages (German, Italian, Hebrew, and Sign), Gestalt and Eidetic therapy, and classical guitar—though he has graduated from none. He also studied mime, which led to juggling, magic, and rope walking. It was sometime in his late teens that he read Herman Hesse’s story, “Narcissus and Goldmund,” about a medieval traveler who used his skills as troubadour to travel Europe. The story had a huge impact on the young man and he left the next day, hitchhiking out to see the world, sometimes playing for his supper in vegetarian restaurants. He remembered the street performer he’d seen years before and started putting his various skills together, creating Giacomo the Jester, and performing in Central Park. As the character took life, Carl translated the show in to both German and Italian, and then traveled to Europe where he performed both on the stage and in the street at festivals.
In 1983, following his first professional appearance as Giacomo at the 1982 World’s Faire in Knoxville, Tennessee, Carl took a hiatus from performing to learn to dive. He was living aboard a salvage ship in Miami, working as a painter, when an audition notice for a renaissance festival in Key Biscayne caught his eye. He’d never heard of a renaissance faire but it sounded perfect for Giacomo with his troubadour’s costume, Italian back-story, and musical and juggling act. He tried out and got the gig. He told me that when he walked through the gates the first time, it was like coming home to family. It felt so natural that he’s been doing faire ever since.
He’s performed at Scarborough Renaissance Festival, in Waxahachie, Texas; King Richards Faire (now Bristol Renaissance Festival) in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Sterling Renaissance Festival, near Oswego, New York; New York Renaissance Faire near Tuxedo, New York; Pennsylvania Renaissance Festival, in Manheim, Pennsylvania; Bay Area Renaissance Festival, at both the Largo and Tampa, Florida, sites; and many one and two weekend faires. In addition to his solo work as Giacomo the Jester and previous performances as a member of Epcot’s Italian cast and the band Double Indemnity, Carl is lead singer with the band Empty Hats and one half of the “Oops, Comedy Knife Throwing Show” with Paul “Paolo Garbanzo” Hudert. At Tennessee Renaissance Festival, where he is appearing right now, he has six different shows every faire day as well as performing with Empty Hats at the Pub Sing.
During the time that the Bay Area Renaissance Festival was at the Largo site, there was a group of law enforcement officers that would come out, catching every Empty Hats set on the day they attended. One of the officers approached the band saying, “the thing that I’m envious about you four is that you see people at their best, I see people at their worst.” Carl says it’s true, that “most people are happy, glad to be there, the drunken ones can be a drag, but it’s a pretty positive environment.” He loves Renaissance faires and the whole mythology behind them as opposed to, for instance, the Pirate Festivals. He expressed a bit of concern as he shared his opinion on the subject, saying that in spite of understanding why Pirate Festivals are popular right now, he doesn’t care for the mythology of oppression and repression it represents. The Renaissance, on the other hand, was a time of explosive creativity, full of growth and knowledge, a veritable rebirth of science, art, and literature. He equated a Renaissance Festival to a tarot deck come to life, so many opportunities available, so many things to learn and experience.
The band—Carl, Lynda Kavy as Looney Lucy, Gary Mazzu as Demetrius, and either Vickie Scuteri as Lady Victoria or Elizabeth Cary—have the ability to get their audience to follow whatever they might come up with. Carl and Lynda have an amazing chemistry, teasing each other in a loving manner, their friendship evident. Whether Giacomo is teasing Lucy about the butterfly that stayed with her through an entire song or Lucy is taking over while Giacomo runs off to retrieve a forgotten whistle, the two keep the show going. When rain started in the middle of a set at BARF this year, the band kept right on playing as they, and the entire audience, moved under the cover of the pub next to the stage. There are new CDs in the works this year, both for Empty Hats and for Carl himself.
Always a scholar, Carl is constantly studying, both learning new things and furthering his knowledge of subjects. A number of years ago, he studied soap making, developing the craft to the point that he now makes a batch a day, supplying Marianne at the Enchanted Forest with more than 25 varieties. Two years ago, he took a month off to spend time in Florence, Italy, renting a room, studying Italian and practicing the guitar. He rode his bicycle, which he takes everywhere with him, each day. At the end of the month, he came home and recorded his second solo CD. This past year, he took a month off and went to Santa Fe, New Mexico—his self-professed favorite place in the US—to study, ride his bike, and begin writing a screenplay.
For relaxation he rides the bike, taking long rides (20 miles or more), in the locations he is performing. This coming year, he may make a trip to England but that is partially dependent on where his son, Caleb, is performing. Caleb is an Equestrian Acrobat with a Canadian Circus that is currently touring Europe. Their schedule calls for them spending six weeks in each city and, depending on where they are when Carl takes his summer break, he may join the young man for a time. The joy Caleb brings to him was evident as he told me, “I am blessed in my relationship with my son. He’s a great kid, very bright, and we talk on the phone all the time. He’s a good guy and I like him a lot.”
Though “Do what you love” felt trite to Carl as a closing message, it is a theme that has woven through his entire life. He truly is one of the interesting people, much as he predicted while growing up. When the screenplay is finished, he will have completed the final thing on his “bucket list” and he told me that it feels somewhat strange to be at the end of that list. “I really like what I do,” Carl told me, “I feel very, very blessed to do what I do. There is no one on this planet with whom I would trade my life and that’s on many levels—my relationship with my son, my job—it’s such a joyous gig.”