NEW YORK (AP) — Asked to describe the length of his hair, Bello Nock whips out a rubber foot, holds it next to the red mane rising from his scalp like a skyscraper and says, "About a foot tall."
The joke is old, but all the material is new in the 42-year-old comic daredevil's first independent production, "Bello Mania," currently playing at The New Victory Theater in New York.
Nock, who headlined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus for eight years, is never offstage during the 90-minute performance, which combines slapstick clowning with death-defying aerial stunts.
"Studies have shown that people's greatest fears are performing in front of an audience, of being laughed at, and of heights — and my life is all three," Nock said in his dressing room at the New Victory. "It's a dream come true, and I'm loving every minute of it."
Nock's wife of 25 years, Jenny, wrote and directs "Bello Mania," while daughter Amariah, 19, is stage manager, daughter Annalise, 18, and son Zebulon Freicke, 22, join him on the high wire. Son Alexander, 23, opted out to pursue a psychology degree at the University of Wisconsin, but father Bello quips that "he's the real star of this show, because it's putting him through college."
Nock is a seventh-generation circus performer. "Bello Mania" includes a slideshow paying tribute to his mother and father, an Italian acrobat and Swiss tightrope artist who met while touring with Ringling Bros. during the 1950s.
The couple married and produced four sons, of whom Demetrius Alessandro Claudio Amadeus Bello is the youngest. Like his parents, Nock began circus training at 3 and performing at 11, a tradition he continued with his own children.
"People ask me if I missed having a normal childhood, but I got to explore the world," said Annalise. "While they were studying ancient Roman history, I was performing in Rome and visiting the Coliseum. It was cool!"
Bello Nock has also put this own slant on New York City tourism. On prior visits, he's has hung by his toes from a helicopter flying over the Statue of Liberty, walked a high wire over Lincoln Center and rappelled off Madison Square Garden.
This time, he says he'll stick to performing through March 31 at the New Victory before moving on to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and a 10-week stint at the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Miss.