Former WBUR news anchor Jack Lepiarz is running away to join the circus. After 13 years at the station, he is returning to his roots and devoting himself full-time to his career as a professional whip-cracker.
Lepiarz spent the first six years of his life living in a trailer on circus lots, moving every couple of weeks. His dad is a circus performer who goes by the name Mr. Fish and specializes in tricks involving whips and knives.
“I learned how to crack a whip when I was seven,” Lepiarz said. “It was just something that kind of clicked for me.”
When Lepiarz arrived in Boston to study broadcast journalism in 2006, he almost immediately began performing in Harvard Square under the name “Jack the Whipper.” He started booking renaissance fairs when he was still in college and kept the side gig when he joined WBUR in 2010. Over the next decade he built a name for himself as a performer and even snagged four Guinness World Records in whip-cracking.
But for the last 15 months, Lepiarz said it’s felt like he’s had three jobs. That’s because in September 2021 he “hit the viral lottery” when a longtime fan shared a video of him performing on TikTok that garnered 300,000 views.
“My wife sent it to me. She’s like, ‘My friend just sent me this, asking if this is you,’” he said. “Then another fan showed up, posted another video of me, and that got like 2 million views.”
Lepiarz learned that with numbers like those, there was money to be made on TikTok, and he decided to seize the moment. Within three months he had a million followers, he said, and had to create new content regularly to keep them engaged. He worked at WBUR during the day, then came home and worked on his social media presence.
TikTok fame led to an appearance on the television show America’s Got Talent and provided a nice additional income stream.
“TikTok money by itself would not be quitting-my-job money,” he said. “The big question for me over the last year was, would this translate into people actually coming to see my show? Because, at the end of the day … I’m a live performer.”
He got the answer to that question at the end of last summer, when he performed at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
“I had never performed there before, so I didn’t have a set fan base there, people who’ve seen me for a decade,” he said. “Every show was standing room only 20 minutes before I went on stage, and every show at the end was like 35, 40 minutes of photos. … I was just absolutely floored.”
Once it became clear to Lepiarz that he could make a decent living as a full-time circus performer, he knew he had to make the leap.
“It was not a difficult decision,” he said. “I’ve been at WBUR for 13 years. I was ready for something different.”
Lepiarz said he has never fully been comfortable in the “real world,” a product of spending his most formative years immersed in the jubilant and spectacular world of the circus. At age 34, he’s leaning hard into the joy of performance. “Applause is a wonderful drug,” he said.
He’s not the most advanced whip-cracker in the business, he said. Dressed in bright colors with a painted-on mustache, he’s a showman who aims to entertain and delight audiences.
“The way I build a routine is, okay, what can I do with the whip that is impressive?” Lepiarz said. “Whether it’s cutting a target, whether making a beat to then sing songs around, and then how do I build the comedy around it?”
He now does most of his shows as his character Jacques ze Whipper, which he said has been a source of creativity. With his pencil-thin mustache, Jacques is wilder and zanier than Jack. Lepiarz said the character puts comedy front and center in the show.
“When I’m doing Jack the Whipper, I think it still is more like it’s Jack Lepiarz doing a show,” he said. “I think I do a better show as Jacques ze Whipper … and that character lends itself to a lot of comedy that you don’t even need to write. It’s just, you know, you can kind of raise a little eyebrow, it’s that silly.”
Lepiarz and his father recently did their first performances together as a duo, a meaningful experience for both of them. Jacques ze Whipper has appearances booked through August at renaissance fairs in Florida, New Jersey, Colorado, Washington and Massachusetts. Lepiarz is working with an agency for social media sponsorships, looking into voice acting and considering writing a book. Some of his friends have even suggested he start a podcast, but that’s a no-go.
“Adobe Audition is not getting opened for a long time in this household,” he said.