About Jamey Mossengren:
Jamey Mossengren quit a lucrative 9-5 job to become a professional unicycling unicorn.
Now he enjoys a life of greater fulfillment and freedom than he ever had before, and he gets to make thousands of people happy everywhere he goes.
Jamey’s tale just might make you rethink some assumptions you’ve had about your own life, and it’s yet another reminder that our entire life can change based on one, simple act of kindness.
I love stories like this that remind us that radically different options are always available to us, if we’d only take them seriously.
Full Audio Conversation:
Jamey Mossengren links
If you enjoy the show, please rate it 5 stars on Apple Podcasts, subscribe, and leave a nice review!
EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS & RESEARCH sources:
2:57 – “I tried [a 9-5] for four years at a medical company in Minnesota. And the first year or two was fun, exciting and new, and the money was decent and all was well. But after the third and fourth year, I just felt like I was in jail.”
5:02 – “[My grandma] had a unicycle, and she had bought it just for the grandkids because she lived on a farm. And whenever we went to visit her, we would always be bored and be like, ‘Oh, this sucks, there’s nothing to do’. And then one day there was a unicycle she bought at a garage sale. And so every time we visited, my brother and I would just practice and practice.”
8:37 – “The first year, I still had some other part-time jobs just to help pay the bills. I could see my my hats going up slowly, and I would get better at what I was doing and getting bigger crowds and having a better hat line.” (A “hat line” is the line performers use towards the end of the show to ask the audience for money.)
12:09 – “Growing up I would compete at competitions and I would win some gold medals and stuff. So I knew I was a good unicyclist, but not a good performer. And I learned that first year, it’s not about what you do, it’s how you do it. And you gotta keep the audience entertained.”
14:15 – “[My act is] pretty perfect for me right now. I know what I say and do works. And you know, every now and then I’ll try some new things just to see if I can add something. But pretty much my show is almost identical from day to day.”
16:47 – “Buskerfests are my favorite, because they’re set up for us—for street performers—and people go there to be entertained and they bring money and they know what’s going to happen.”
22:36 – “If you do it right, you can actually make a career out of it.”
27:34 – “I think we got a little taste of [life without street performers] the last year and a half during the pandemic, because we weren’t allowed to perform. We weren’t allowed to get crowds. And I think it was kind of a dark time because people didn’t have that live entertainment.”
30:08 – “About half my income every year is from a paid gig, a corporate gig, or state fair coming through, a festival… And then half is still the street, because I still like the street. I could probably never do street again and just do fairs and festivals, but it keeps me alive—it keeps me trying new stuff.”
32:20 – “If I send out 100 emails, I might get 10 replies back saying ‘we’re interested’. So the more I can send out, the better my odds. And then I just kind of base my year out of… where I get booked. Or I’ll focus somewhere I like. Maybe I’ll try to do Canada one summer and just really kind of focus there or Europe or Australia or wherever.”
35:44 – “Each show is about 40 minutes long by the time you start and build the crowd and finish and pack up. So I definitely work hard when when it’s good, and then during the winter, it’s not very good, so I take some time off.”
45:53 – “The hardest part about street performing is standing and putting yourself out there and having people walk away. You know, you do a 30-40 minute show and you’re standing there with your hat making tips and you see half the people just walk away and… it hurts.”
47:38 – “It almost always ends up where the crowd’s on your side and you know they’re with you. Sometimes it takes 10, 15, 20 minutes to get them on your side, but you’ve just got to stay positive. Keep smiling. …If you tell a joke and they don’t laugh as much as they should have, just keep trying harder. And, you know, eventually they will hopefully switch and be on your side.”
50:21 – “I just want to keep doing this. I love what I do. My whole goal in life is to make as many people happy as I can. And if I can get paid to do that, that’s awesome.”
53:37 – “When I quit my engineering job, it was super scary because I didn’t know what I was going to do. My parents were like, ‘Are you crazy!? You’re going to quit your good engineering job and become a street performer?’ They did not understand it. And you know, street performers… we’re looked down upon, for the most part, I think in general. We kind of get classed as a beggar. It’s weird, but my parents finally understood I did the right thing a couple years later, when they actually saw one of my shows and they saw I was making it and and happy.”
55:51 – “I’d like to thank my grandma for having that unicycle, and looking back, I would have never thought that would have changed my life. Another key moment was when the old lady came up and gave me that $20 bill after my first show. If she didn’t do that, I probably would have never tried it again. I was that devastated. And it’s amazing how one random act of kindness can change someone’s life.”
Street Performing RESEARCH NOTES:
Provides a mutually beneficial commercial environment for everyone
“Like in the Medieval times, street performers introduce visitors to local stores and restaurants. By providing a variety of quality entertainment, buskers create a mutually beneficial commercial environment for everyone, stores, restaurants and other performers, at little to no-cost to the city.”
Wide variety of talents
“From fire breathers to escape artists to violinists, there’s enormous talent to be found on the street, says David Michael, a former street musician and author of Busker: Tales of a Renegade Harpist (Purnima Press, $20). But don’t call it panhandling. ‘A lot of the most interesting acts or performers don’t go through the normal channels,’ he says. ‘Generally if a performer cannot succeed in capturing a crowd they’re not going to last very long.’”
Written by Larry Bleiberg
Buskers as a placemaking “tool”
“Buskers are the perfect placemaking “tool”. They’re inexpensive, they don’t require extra infrastructure, they have self-contained shows, they’re already nearby and they add a local flavour to the city. And they’re hugely popular with tourists.
“Buskers create crowds, they get strangers to make eye contact, they create shared cultural experiences, they create safe spaces, they hit so many of the goals on UN Habitat’s urban prosperity index.”
Written by Liliana Maz
A street performer’s motivation
According to Carl Catron, a dedicated street performer who plays the saxophone:
“Motivation for doing it, [street performance], is bringing music to people who normally wouldn’t hear it. Once people get into their thirties typically they stop going to clubs as much, especially when they have kids. Then you have homeless people who will never get to go to concerts. They can’t go in, nobody’s letting them in even if they had the money if they look homeless they’re not in.”
Written by Alex Hicks
Experience on buskers
“Busking in itself is done in the hope that people contribute money if they appreciate the performance – it certainly shouldn’t be forced upon us, followed by an unspoken expectation that we should pay for something we didn’t ask for.”
“More to the point, buskers need to consider other people. Even if we don’t have headaches, need down time, want kids to stay asleep, and so on – sometimes people can’t afford to part with their cash.
Written by Imogen Groome
Opportunity for artists
“Street performance offers a commercial performance opportunity for emerging and established artists; it can be good for business and cultural creation in the role it serves as a testing ground for the arts industry. A clear example of this is the internationally renowned circus production company of Cirque du Soliel that emerged from the street performers in Quebec.”
Authors: Meg Elkins and Tim R. L. Fry
Busking vs begging
“One important distinction lies in the artistic nature of street performance. While beggars typically offer nothing to the donor as an exchange for the donation being received, buskers consciously provide the donor with the service of performance and entertainment (and they do so before the donor donates). Moreover, buskers’ performance and entertainment have the potential to enhance the sociality and conviviality of public space . In a nutshell, busking and begging may be alike for that they both solicit donations in public space, but at the same time busking should be distinguishable from begging in that it additionally provides performance and entertainment which have the potential to make public space more favorable.”
Authors: Authors: Robbie Ho and Wing Tung Au
Cold Sundays were the most lucrative days for buskers
Sundays were found to be the most lucrative days for buskers to perform, particularly when it’s cold, with an average income of €35 an hour. This was probably due to the ‘Sunday effect’ as the day of rest has religious implications and is likely to increase feelings such as sympathy and compassion for the busker, particularly when it’s cold, leading to more donations.
Written by Sharon Kelly
“Freedom of expression is an inalienable right; permission should always be granted and permits should never be mandatory. Instead, if restrictions on busking exist through a licensing system, it must offer significant benefits in return. It must be desirable.
“The license should be seen as a reward for buskers who are trying to make the city a better place to live or visit. As such, the punishment for breaking the rules is having the license revoked. Threatening fines, confiscation of equipment or arrests will not foster a sense of inclusion.”
Authors: Vivian Doumpa & Nick Broad
“Broad, Jackson, Ling, and Mo Javi all emphasize that street performers are often more motivated by craft than money…
“The disengagement from financial arrangements might also be related to the exceptional uncertainty in how much a busker might make. Mo Javi cites $40 to $100 per hour as a best-case scenario during the holidays and other peak times. In 2014, an L station guitarist nicknamed Machete Mike was profiled in The Chicago Reader’s “People Issue,” where he described a best-ever one-day draw of $300 during the city’s Lollapalooza festival — a reflection of the same local enthusiasm that landed him in the newspaper.”
Written by M. Sophia Newman