Bob Cates describes himself as an introvert. But all the things that word means to most of us go out the window when he gets together with spinning plates, a unicycle and an energetic crowd.
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Bob and his wife, Jane, tour Canada and much of the world with their “Comedy In Motion” show. Whether he’s riding an eight-foothigh unicycle while juggling bowling pins, machetes or balls, or spinning more than 20 dinner plates on poles, Bob keeps his audiences laughing at the crazy situations
he puts himself in.
“For every day in the public, I need two days at home alone to recover,” said the Cambridge, Ontario, resident. He speaks in a quiet, even voice that dramatically contrasts his outgoing stage persona.
“I have a weird sense of humor and the performing side lets me express that. So combine them, and you get an introvert performing a comedy show.”
Weird sense of humor? Introverted? These aren’t problems for the Lord, who worked through unlikely people like David, an adulterer; Peter, who denied Christ three times; and Paul, who persecuted Christians before advancing His glorious, mysterious work.
The Cates’ act is suitable for Christian and secular audiences, but no matter who is watching, their show is always about honoring Jesus Christ.
“When we work for ministries, sometimes it’s just straight for fun,say for a fundraising banquet,” Bob explained. “But if it’s a church doing an outreach, we perform for an hour then share the Gospel for 20 or 30 minutes.”
Bob, 49, grew up in a Christian home and surrendered his life to Christ during his teenage years. A summer job at a Christian camp solidified his faith and he was baptized at age 18.
“I never had a huge doubting phase like some people go through,” Bob said. “I just knew we couldn’t stop sinning ourselves, so we need a Savior. That’s what I start with when I’m sharing the Gospel—that we break the law of a holy God, and Christ is the only hope for humanity.”
A year after his baptism, Bob and a high school friend saw a juggler on TV and Bob said to his friend: “Wouldn’t it be neat to learn how to juggle?” So he went home that night with three tennis balls and for a couple of hours just tried to teach himself.
Being an introvert made the process easier because “you have to spend hundreds of hours practicing alone, and most people don’t want to do that.
There’s something about juggling that when you do the most basic pattern, you have a moment where you think, I can’t believe I can do this.”
Bob was hooked on juggling after reaching that moment. He learned balancing skills and unicycling during a year of Bible college, then university, where he won a Canadian Juggling Championship competition. (He’s since won several more Canadian comedy and entertainment industry awards.)
After graduating from Hamilton’s McMaster University with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Bob served for seven months in Lithuania with the European version of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. After returning to Canada, he got a summer job juggling and pursued it part-time for several years.
“I was single and could live cheaply, so I tried to find work in different places and see what other performers were doing,” he said. Bob noticed how Christian performers were adding the Gospel into their shows and realized he, too, could use his talent to tell others about Jesus Christ and serve churches and Christian organizations.
By 2000, Bob had enough work in the Christian world to stop doing fairs and festivals. He also made connections in the cruise ship industry; he estimates that over the past 20 years he’s spent more than 250 weeks at sea.
During those years, he became aware that corporations were often looking for clean entertainment for everything from Christmas parties to conferences and fundraising events. Now, 70% of his work is in the corporate world.
At one of those ministry events in 2002, Bob met Jane. She was a ministry director at a London, Ontario, church and hired Bob for a community outreach event. More than two years later, they met again. Finally, they encountered each other on a Christian singles website and this time the connection was permanent.
Jane has worked full time with Bob since their 2007 marriage, assisting him on and on stage and overseeing the technical aspects of the show. She also home-schools their 10-year-old son, Hudson. He often travels with them and helps set up and tear down the “Comedy In Motion” set.
“It’s a great balance,” Jane says. “Perhaps an extroverted juggler might be a bit much because he might be trying to put on a show at home all the time and it can become exhausting. Bob’s a thinker and quiet, and that’s helpful for this kind of business.”
The Cates love how God presents them with ministry opportunities. Just a few months ago, they performed at a community fundraising event for a Christian camp in northern Alberta that God turned into an unexpected outreach opportunity.
“Normally at this type of event, I’d just perform and not speak, but the organizers asked me to share the Gospel,” Bob said. “I had a dozen distant family members there that I’d never met second and third cousins who came to the show.”
Bob was delighted to share the Good News of Christ with them, just as he’s shared God’s love and plan of salvation with audiences across the country.
“While Christ has blessed our hard work, the purpose of my life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” he said, reflecting on their accomplishments. “So that means a lot of my time and talent and money are focused on worshipping and serving Him.”
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