Busker HoF 73 – The Checkerboard Guy Interview


Episode Notes:

Interview by: Magic Brian and Glenn Singer

Comments: Known to many in the Busking World as the King of Marketing, David Aiken, aka “The Checkerboard Guy” has been a big fan, player and promoter of street performing ever since he got his start back in 1981 when he taught himself how to juggle. It take more than a three ball cascade to make it as a performer though and you can’t really make a career out a fondness for black and white checks but the drive and determination to do hundreds of shows in Ottawa where he got his start were the very organic roots for a career that’s spanned over three and a half decades.

Beyond just performing, The Checkerboard Guy has made an effort to share his knowledge and love of the art form with others. In the early days of the internet he established a data base for performers, festivals and prop suppliers. The Superstar Performer Cards that he’s designed annually since 1999 are another example of this and of course co-founding of the Busker Hall of Fame with street legend Robert Nelson, The Butterfly Man demonstrate his desire to give back to the community that’s given so much to him.

Magic Brian and Glenn Singer sat down with Dave on his Birthday to ask a few questions and dig a bit into his checkered past and find out a little bit more about what makes this guy tick and why, even after so many years, The Checkerboard Guy is still excited about the shows he does, the shows he see and the never ending opportunity to learn. 

Visit The Checkerboard Guy on Facebook!

Find out more about Sponsoring this Podcast by emailing cbg@BuskerHallofFame.com

Bonus Images and commentary provided by The Checkerboard Guy: 

So this was what I wore back in the Spring of 1983 when I was performing as a court jester for the Society of Creative Anachronism. Spring in Ottawa in 1983 apparently meant a lot of snow on the ground…Brrrrrrr…


Fall 1985 – one of The Checkerboard Guy’s first promo shots – taken on location in Ottawa in front of the Chateau Laurier. The checkerboard juggling clubs didn’t last long, but the checkerboard costume sure did!


Shot in a condemned building during the 1989 Winnipeg International Street Performers Festival – this is a very contemplative CBG. No red performing glasses in this shot though 1989 is when I started wearing them.


Spring 1990 – my first trip to Japan. I performed at the Hana Haku Flower Expo for eight weeks in April and May. My shows took place in the “Magical Cross” zone of the Expo and had a big pink and white flowery float that I performed in front of. This shot actually made it into the Newspaper in Osaka. 


Even though they spelled my name wrong in the Edmonton Examiner in this August 21, 1991 caption shot, I’ve always liked this picture. Three torches on a slack rope…a classic for sure and not a finale I get to perform very much any more.


November 23, 1994 – After developing ‘The Flaming Leap of Death’ finale where I jump over a guy with a tiny motor scooter I decided to go with an oldy-timey aviator look. My wife, Emiko met me when I had this moustache and she still said yes when I asked her to marry me. Lucky Me!


November 10, 1996 – Emiko Yoshikawa and I got married at a little shinto shrine a hop, skip and a jump away from the house that Emiko grew up in. Marrying this girl was the best decision of my life by far!


July 3, 2002 – “The Executives” (Iori Mikumo, John Ullyatt and David Aiken) pose for a shot at the Press Launch for the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival. I had a blast working with these two guys and created a cool promo video for the project, but we only ever ended up doing it this one time. One of many of the collaborations I’ve been involved with over the years.


This shot came from a studio shoot I did in May of 2006… I actually had to do the shoot twice because I somehow forgot to wear my black bow tie during the first shoot and had to go back and re-shoot the session with the tie on… This is the picture that Glenn refers to with the caption – GOOD CLEAN FUNNY. Thanks to my friend David Duchemin for coming up with catch line to describe my show.


January 18, 2007 – My friend Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies gets me to come on stage during the “Ships and Dip” Fan cruise to perform a “Juggling Solo” during “If I had a $1,000,000 – their encore. Super Fun! Photo Credit: David Berman


May 10, 2009, my son Owen asked me to take a photo with my crazy car for a school project he was doing. I’ve had a number of crazy vehicles over the years this is the latest a 1989 Nissan S-Cargo.


August 8, 2008 – I gave up my checkers for stripes for “The Hot Dog Show” in which Willie the Wiener, a six inch tall hot dog shaped squeaky-toy became the daredevil to perform three super stunts – holding back lift-off of a rocket with his teeth, the High Dive of Death and Cannon of Courage. Big silly fun and a show that contained no juggling.


April 28, 2013 – Back playing in Japan, this time at the “Little World” theme park outside of Nagoya. The Six-Foot Unicycle of Death has served me well for over thirty years! I’m so grateful that the gigs keep on coming!


February 8, 2015 – Performing aboard cruise ships has been a great adventure that started back in 2000 with my first contract aboard the M.S. ASUKA. These days a lot of my income comes from cruise ship work for Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Celebrity. Here I am jumping over the Celebrity Eclipse!


August 1, 2016 – Wrap party for the 2016 Ottawa International Buskerfest! So much fun getting to play, work and hang with such an amazingly talented group of performers! I feel so incredibly lucky to have been associated with the street theatre community for so many years!

This entry was posted in Bio-Episode, David Aiken, Glenn Singer, Interview, Magic Brian, Street Performing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Busker HoF 73 – The Checkerboard Guy Interview

  1. David,
    Always good to have a round up of your annual activities and share in the fun for a few moments. Every year, I’m impressed that you’re still out there,, still wreaking laughable havoc on the world. Keep on keeping on…

  2. Ben Decker says:

    Great interview. And, I have to disagree with the thinking that you ramble on for too long. Nothing close to that in this interview and I really enjoyed all the stories of how you got into the business, moved up in the business, created your persona and branding, etc. There are times when the interviews feel like being the third person at a dinner table where the other two people know each other really well and are swapping inside jokes. Not so here. Interviews that discuss the person’s journey in busking are by far my favorites. And analysis of where busking was years ago and where it is now. Great stuff.

    • David Aiken says:

      Thanks Ben! Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the feedback! It sometimes feels like working in a bit of a vacuum putting the interviews out because you spend a week or so with these voices in your ears as you work on the edit then you put them out into the world not really knowing who’s listening… Feedback is sporadic at best, but it’s good to know the efforts are appreciated!

  3. Sharon Gardner says:

    Hello ~ Hello ~

    I really, really enjoyed this interview with David Aiken (The Checkerboard Guy). I was fortunate to enjoy seeing The Checkerboard Guy at the 2018 PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) in Vancouver, BC. So, so great! Thank you; I enjoyed the performance immensely, and again, thank you for your interview; I enjoyed this too!
    Cheerio……..Sharon Gardner

    • David Aiken says:

      Sharon – Glad you enjoyed the interview… This project is a passion project, so it’s good to know people are downloading and listening to the stuff that’s being put out.

  4. Greg Seymour says:

    Long weekend Aug.2022 my wife and i went to the sparks street mall and I was sitting just near your equipment my wife and I and you were so easy to talk to David just have to say keep up the great things you do and how so gifted you are and you are a god send. You are what the world needs , your love caring and giving of yourself. Come back again I will make it a point to say hi . Yours sincerely Greg Joanne

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