Novelty acts such as Senor Wences, Topo Gigio and Brenn’s plate spinning performances were what made The Ed Sullivan Show a real variety show. Comedian Phyllis Diller attributed these acts to Sullivan’s booking agents. “[Sullivan] had people who booked European acts,” she said, “the most classic European acts, which of course, could play to people who didn’t speak English in our country, who could play to children.”
Brenn was a master at the art of plate spinning, a classic circus act that relies on the gyroscopic effect. Brenn’s routine consisted of spinning five glass bowls on four foot-long sticks all the while spinning eight plates on the tables holding the spinning glass bowls. Seem like too much? Intermittently, he also managed to balance a tray carrying glasses and eggs and in one swoop would remove one of the trays causing an egg to fall into each glass.
Aiming to keep the audience at the edge of their seats, he would also carry a separate tray lined with glasses and spoons in front of them. With a simple flip, every spoon would magically fall into a glass. All of this, of course, was done while keeping those glass bowls spinning atop their sticks. As some sticks began to slow down, it would cause the glass bowls to wobble uncontrollably– often getting a rise out of audiences thinking the bowl would soon smash to a million pieces. Just in the nick of time, Brenn would run in and save the day, eliciting a sigh of relief from the audience.
Brenn was so entertaining, he performed on The Ed Sullivan Show eight times. On the show’s trip to Moscow to celebrate their Peabody award, international audiences witnessed the magic firsthand. After a performance on February 16th 1969, Sullivan shook Brenn’s hand and kept him on stage to chat. Ed reminded audiences that Erich had been brought along to the Moscow show nine years prior, and that he was all people kept talking about. “He was the sensation of the tour in Moscow,” Ed announced, “We must go back there sometime.” His act was almost always performed to Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” a piece of music that is now identified by many people with the skill of multi-tasking. And who is the king of multi-tasking?