Paul Binder

pbinder2Paul 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

This Is New York: Paul Binder, Founder of Big Apple Circus

From The Epoch Times — January 17, 2012

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.”


From From the Vault: Video Interviews with WGBH Pioneers

Paul Binder

Love the interviews, having worked at WGBH-TV with several of the interviewees, Bill Cosel, Chas Norton, Greg Harney, Russ Morash (maybe others) and a great group of other young people out of the basement of the Museum of Science. The pay? $55per week PLUS OVERTIME. I wrote about those days in my memoir: Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion and other uncommon tales from the founder of the Big Apple Circus. The critics loved the chapter, I loved working at GBH.

David Atwood

Just bought the book. Thanks Paul. “Pops Joins the Circus” 1985 is one of my two favorite shows in 50 years in the biz.

Bill Cosel

I remember the day Paul arrived. I was assigned Stage Manager at the Museum of Fine Arts Open House. At the loading dock were two recent Dartmouth grads reporting for work per Bob Moscone: Paul Binder and Alex Pierie, one very tall the other a short red head.

Alex stayed on, but Paul went on the road to Europe with his juggling act which was fantastic. They redid it when The Big Apple Circus played with the POPS behind WGBH in the lacrosse field by the Business School years later … with elephants grazing and pooping on those hallowed playing fields.

I digress… Between the early WGBH days and the eventual start of the Big Apple Circus, my friends (do you remember Kerstin Hudson?) rented their Tyringham house to the manager of the Big Apple Circus. I went up for a drink and met … OMG … Paul Binder was there as founder of the Big Apple Circus. We immediately remembered our meeting after all these years.

He asked us to their Pittsifield Show being staged right behind Arrowhead (Herman Melville’s house). We went and were blown away…Paul in is dapper red tails, black top hat, took the ring. The first few mins of the show would challenge any well produced TV tease, and all of us within 12 feet of the ring.

We stayed in touch. Tom Morris (then manager of the BSO) and I approached Paul about performing with the Boston Pops. First, we explored using Symphony Hall, but the trustees said “NO WAY will we have an elephant accidentally defecating at the cross aisle.”

We persevered. Negotiations commenced with Harvard and the Business School … with many arms twisted and favors called in. We found a week when the BIG TOP could set up behind the chain linked fence, back yard of WGBH. The rest is history.

By then Arthur Fielder was flagging and Harry Ellis Dickson got the nod to conduct … which was a nice twist of fate as this audience was a huge fundraiser for the children’s concerts Harry had been giving for years at Symphony Hall.

Paul and I stayed in touch…visiting back and forth.

Paul Binder

Oh Bill!

Your recall of those days is better than mine and I’m still grateful for the enormous work that you did in order to get POPS JOINS THE CIRCUS produced.


  1. Paul Binder on June 10, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Thanks. I’m thrilled to be included in the illustrious company of WGBH alumni


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.