Paul Binder is the Founder and Founding Artistic Director of the Big Apple Circus.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, he graduated from Dartmouth College. In Boston immediately after college, he was Floor Manager for Julia Child’s The French Chef before returning to New York to earn an MBA at Columbia Business School.
He continued working in entertainment at Merv Griffin Productions, including several years as Associate Producer of Jeopardy and later as a Talent Coordinator for the Merv Griffin Show.
Paul joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe as a comedy actor and trained in circus arts, becoming an expert juggler. Paul and his colleague, Michael Christensen, left the Mime Troupe to earn a living as street jugglers in Europe — and they did — traveling from London all the way to Istanbul. Soon they were performing their comedy-juggling act at Paris’s legendary Music Hall, Casino de Paris, and on a popular French television series.
An invitation from the legendary Annie Fratellini to tour with the renowned Nouveau Cirque de Paris was irresistible and inspirational. After the tour, Paul returned to New York with a dream, to create an American circus with the same dedication to theatrical excellence and artistic intimacy that he had experienced in Europe.
Combining its mission with programs to directly serve the community, he found the people who would share his dream and implement his vision. In 1977 the Big Apple Circus was born as a not for profit theatrical organization.
In addition to founding the Big Apple Circus, for nine years Paul had a recurring role on Sesame Street as “Paul the Juggler.”
Paul has received Honorary Doctorate Degrees in Fine Arts from his alma mater, Dartmouth, Pratt Institute, and Rhode Island College, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Long Island University.
In July of 2009, Paul stepped out of the ring, but he continues to work with the Big Apple Circus as a senior advisor. He is currently in demand as a guest speaker, having spoken and led seminars at Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Virginia, and Barnard College. The New York Landmarks Conservancy has designated him a “Living Landmark,” and he has been honored by ABC World News as “Person of the Week.” He has also been inducted into the Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, IN, and the Circus Ring of Fame in Sarasota, FL.
In April of 2013, Paul published his memoir Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion and Other Uncommon Tales from the Founder of the Big Apple Circus. It has a foreword by Glenn Close.
For more information, visit PaulBinderCircus.com.
This Is New York: Paul Binder, Founder of Big Apple Circus
Paul Binder co-founded the Big Apple Circus, a nonprofit, which has been thrilling audiences in New York City since 1977. Binder didn’t fall in love with circuses until later in life.
“I was never really impressed. Seemed strange and odd to me as a child,” Binder said.
He received a master’s of business administration from Columbia University and worked as a talent booker in Manhattan, but didn’t find the work fulfilling.
“It was an incredible time in the late ’60s and early ’70s. There were a lot of social changes going on,” Binder said. “I felt I really wanted to be part of the scene, to explore myself and to explore what was going on culturally.”
Binder joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe. There, he learned to juggle and met Michael Christensen, co-founder of the Big Apple Circus. Later, the two traveled through Europe with a juggling act.
“We were basically living hand to mouth, staying in small hotels and youth hostels, and occasionally in a tent.” Binder said. “Wherever we were, we found a way to do a juggling act and make some money.”
But Turkey was as far as Binder would go.
“When we got to Istanbul, we were looking at the ferries that were going across the Bosporus into Asia. I stood there, and I looked at Michael and started crying, and I said, ‘We’re not coming across that water, because on the other side of that water lies madness,’” Binder said. “And I wasn’t talking about Asia. I felt that I would be completely unstuck if we continued to travel at that point.”
During his travels through Europe, Binder found the intimacy of a one-ring circus superior to large three-ring acts and decided to bring the show to New York City.
“I had enormous passion for the circus and for New York City. Born and raised here, always loved New York. It’s a special place. Between those two things, those two passions, for me it was inevitable,” said Binder.
Big Apple Circus started as a 1,000-seat tent in what is now Battery Park City. It has since moved to Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center.
“I think that circus serves a great cultural purpose. Circus is a means of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Binder said. “It brings to light peoples’ aspirations. The audiences all dream of the ability to fly. They really identify. They’re not distant superheroes in the intimate circus. You can tell they’re people like you and I doing amazing things. And the message is: we are amazing as human beings. We can achieve what we set out to achieve.”