NEW ORLEANS —New Orleanians will know him best at the “Silver Man” or “The Frisco Popper.” He’s Harry Berry — the man who is dressed head to toe in silver to amuse the crowds, dance and even shock unsuspecting visitors.
You’ll find him in the French Quarter near Jackson Square as one of the incredibly still street performers, also known as mimes. Many locals jokingly call him a “working stiff.”
What is this job like? Who is the man under the costume? How do people respond to him and does he ever get tired of performing? After one of his eye-catching performances, he revealed the interesting parts of his job and he satisfied my curiosity.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Berry said.
It all started when Berry was 11. Since 1977, Berry has been on the streets, entertaining all over the country, popping, and performing as a mime from New Orleans, San Francisco, New York, and Boston.
At 49, Berry still jumps back and forth to different cities. He’s been a constant fixture in New Orleans since 2010.
Unlike you and me, he goes to work with his body fully painted and dressed in silver. To my surprise, he said it only takes about 15 minutes to get fully dressed.
How does he do it? It’s not as easy as it looks.
He said he wears water-based makeup that is carefully spread onto his skin. As for his outfit, it has dried glue on it and is spray-painted silver. About three times a week he refreshes his outfit with spray paint when he gets to the Quarter, and has to wait an hour or two before starting his performance. He also spray-paints his shoes every single day.
Street performing is how Berry makes his living and feeds his family.
He said his favorite part is seeing how people react to him. In his many years, he’s heard it all. People say things from “Is he real? I thought he was a statue,” to silly questions like “Hey, do you know your skin is silver?”
As for crazy interactions, there’s no shortage of them. He said he once witnessed a woman trying to use the bathroom in his money bucket and said people often try to touch him — sometimes inappropriately.
“While people have fun with me, I also have fun with them,” he said.
“Sometimes I scare people, and even chase people,” he said.
With all the craziness most people might say it’s an odd job, but Berry said, “I’ve been doing it so long it’s all I really know.”
I have to admit, I was trying hard to concentrate on Berry. I was trying to see through the makeup and focus on his big brown eyes. People stare at him constantly. Naturally, they want to take pictures with him.
The hardworking man said behind the makeup and fun, he is an everyday family man. He takes off the spray-painted clothes and washes off the paint. It’s a process that takes about 25 minutes but doesn’t make too much of mess.
“It comes off fast! Don’t get it twisted,” he said laughing out loud.
Berry lives a normal life outside all the paint and photos. And by normal, he said, “I come out here to perform. I go home. I cook. I clean. I wash dishes. I’m not any different than anybody else. I do chores too, take care of my family.”
Berry said he also likes to work on cars, and fish.
“I was raised fishing, my dad owned boats when growing up” said Berry. He also likes to hang out with his grandson.
Berry is married with two biological sons, four step sons, three step daughters, and one grandchild — one who often performs with him.
Since the age of 2, his son Josiah Berry has been performing with his Berry and still does.
Every afternoon Berry leaves the Quarter to get his son from school to come back and perform with his son.
In every aspect of his life he says he’s grateful.
“But the first thing I do is give the glory to God, before anything else,” he said.
As for the future, Berry said he wants to explore other areas in the country. So far he is thinking of Las Vegas and Los Angeles — places where he can legally perform 24 hours a day and make more money.
He said there are some tight restrictions and rules in New Orleans and at times it makes it hard to work as much as he would like to.
This “working stiff” is a fixture in the Crescent City, someone who makes us laugh, stop in our tracks to watch and gives visitors a glimpse of the type of creative people who make New Orleans who she is on a daily basis.
Read more on WDSU’s website.