By Max Sullivan
For the past five years, King Richard’s Faire in Carver, MA, has been dominated by one Frenchman, or so Jacques Ze Wippeur would have you believe.
“This is a character who, to a certain extent, believes that he is the greatest whip-cracker in the world and otherwise enjoys just having a lot of fun,” Jack Lepiarz, 24 year old Somerville resident and creator of Jacques Ze Wippeur, said of his alter ego. “He is a little pompous, a little androgynous, but overall pretty much any stereotype of the French you can think of.”
Prior to stumbling upon his act, people might not be aware of what a whipper’s showcase might be like or exactly how difficult it can be. After seeing the bombastic Jacque’s performance, cracking his whip loud and fast in every direction, slicing objects, setting it aflame, they will be convinced.
Many performers in Lepiarz’s field take more pride in their skill than their character and act, often avoiding any sense of silliness or good-natured gags. They want is to be taken seriously. Lepiarz does not feel the same way. Jacques Ze Wippeur is meant to bring laughter to audiences.
“There are some more skilled performers that get on stage, and they are more focused on showing how good they are at their skill, and they sometimes take it as an insult towards their act [when people laugh],” Lepiarz said. “I don’t look at it that way. I want the audience to come down there and have the best possible time they can.”
And they do. Not only do they watch Jacques demonstrate his whipping abilities by cracking a flaming whip above his head, they laugh as he tears into small stuffed animals, supposedly dangerous beasts according to the outrageous whipsman before them. They are even encouraged to sing as Jacques pounds out the rhythm to We Will Rock You with the crack of his whip. However, the tune goes a little different when sung in King Richard’s Faire.
“People in the back, I see you there! Come and put your butts down in my chair,” Lepiarz sings aloud. The crowd joins in: “We will, we will whip you!”
Today, Lepiarz takes his whipping gig quite seriously, making sure that his is in good enough shape every season and working hard to create the best presentation possible. It wasn’t long ago, however, that Lepiarz saw the Faire as little more than a job to earn money for college.
“When I first started this, I didn’t take it seriously at all,” Lepiarz said, who has been playing the part since his mid to late teens. “Put a couple smiles on people’s faces and make some bucks, and that will pay for my drinks for the night, or if it’s a big enough show pay the rent.”
Lepiarz was born into a family of performers. His father took part in the Big Apple Circus until he was six years old, committing solely to King Richard’s Faire. At this age, Lepiarz got his first taste of the action. After his father’s whip and knife throwing act, it was his job to run out onto the stage and pick up the props and broken material his father left on the stage.
As Lepiarz grew older, his interests began to drift away from the family business. His father worked hard as a performer in the Faire, but Lepiarz did not feel emotionally invested himself.
“When I was a kid, I wanted nothing to do with the circus,” Lepiarz said. “I did it to make some money as a kid and I wanted nothing to do with it after that.”
That sentiment continued until Lepiarz was working at an ice cream stand for minimal income. One day, his father approached him, offering him work at the Faire for $400 a weekend. Lepiarz dumped the ice cream gig and started taking the Faire more seriously.
“At the time I was making $30 a day,” said Lepiarz, “so I jumped at the opportunity. I quit my job at the ice cream store and I started learning all the tricks of the trade I could.”
That year, when he was 16, he got his first whip for Christmas from his father. “Jacques ze Wippeur” began to take form. Lepiarz began practicing for hours upon hours each day. It took him months before he could successfully crack his whip, and that was only after he had beaten and worn down his body daily.
“[I hit myself an] uncountable amount of times,” Lepiarz said. “When you are first learning, it is a fact of life, you are going to whip yourself, and you’ve got cuts and blood running up and down your arm… you look like a junkie or something.”
Jack was soon good enough to perform, and he began to craft the character Jacques Ze Wippeur with his father. Originally, the idea of making Jack “Jacques”, a Frenchmen, was a turn off to Lepiarz. The accent would be limiting, he felt. His father persisted.
“[My father] said, ‘Okay, what you need to do is you need to develop this character that comes out and says, ‘I am Jacques Ze Wippeur,’“ said Lepiarz, speaking in the bombastic French accent of Jacques. “You have this persona where you are the greatest whip cracker, and, from this persona, you can produce gags, jokes.”
The next step, according to Lepiarz, was adding the moustache. Not a real one, but a moustache drawn on with a marker. This left an even worse taste in Lepiarz’s mouth, more so than speaking in the French accent. However, once the crowds saw him perform at King Richards’ Faire, the effect was undeniable.
“The difference in the crowd’s reaction was immeasurable,” Lepiarz. “It was night and day. Crowds immediately get your character. They go, ‘Okay, this is a show where you’re going to see some skill, but it is still a comedy show because you shouldn’t feel odd about laughing.’“
Lepiarz continued with his act, as well as doing some wild west themed shows as American “Jack the Whipper” and some street shows as modern Jack, but it wasn’t until Lepiarz was moved from his small space to the main stage at King Richard’s Faire that he realized how seriously he could be taking his gig.
“It becomes a lot more important that you take what you’re doing seriously just because you have so many people looking at you, watching you,” Lepiarz said. “You are cast with entertaining that many more people.”
“If I can take for five minutes, ten minutes, hopefully all thirty minutes,” Lepiarz continued, “Try to make them enjoy themselves, make them smile, make them laugh, make them forget whatever’s going on in their life, then I feel like I’ve done a good job and at least for that moment I’ve made that person’s world a better place.”
See Jacques Ze Wippeur at King Richard’s Faire, every weekend from Labor Day to Columbus Day. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. and close at 6:00 p.m.