By Hollie Grace James
Despite the ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, Brad the Balloon Guy is watching his popularity soar.
For nearly 15 years, local Brad Wood has been entertaining the masses through balloon art and performances at birthday parties, corporate events, malls, daycares and summer camps. But in the spring, as the province mandated the cancellation of events, his livelihood was immediately threatened.
“It took a few weeks to figure out what the heck was going on,” Wood explained. “And since I follow science, unlike most people right now, I could sense this was going to be a bit of a long haul.”
The self-professed “pop culture and 80s cartoon guy” said that a job surrounded by balloons is simply another way to recreate the nostalgia of his childhood. Wood kicked off the new year with helium-filled renditions of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe characters, which drew some devoted online fanfare. This strengthened Wood’s resolve to attempt “bigger and crazier stuff.”
“You don’t expect to get more popular during a pandemic, but I guess people are looking for alternatives [since] you can’t do parties and you can’t have events,” he said.
That’s okay though, Wood said, because you can have life-size, helium-filled Star Wars characters.
“People are looking for fun. These are weird times, and people are dealing with it the best they can,” he said.
Previously employed by Nortel, Wood said that the cubicle life was never a long-term interest for him, especially given his creative interests. After he lucked out and discovered the very last balloon making supply kit at a magic store, he spent the next couple of months making “the worst balloons you could ever imagine.” But he persisted, driving his roommates wild in the interim, and after the Nortel bubble burst, he officially made this his newfound trade. As a current member of Orbital Talent, a local live performance agency, the 45-year-old merges his passions, performing comedy shows that incorporate balloon artistry.
In years past, Wood’s love for horror movies has inspired a consistent series of Halloween themed creations come October. With plenty of extra time and energy this year, he thought: Why not make this into a daily affair? At the beginning of October, Wood posted a photo of the Invisible Man (which was just his couch). All jokes aside, he’s been highlighting a new menacing monster each day since, from classics like Frankenstein to Freddy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. The intricate display posted on Oct. 22, inspired by Evil Dead 2, was the most time-consuming to date, taking five hours to pull together.
“I’m not your typical balloon guy,” explained Brad. “Anyone can make a dog or a butterfly or whatever. But I’m the guy who makes Ash [from Evil Dead 2] coming out of a cabin with a chainsaw and a shotgun. And it’s a lot of fun for me.”
The community seems to have found just as much joy in this unique form of entertainment — Wood has watched his social media following jump to nearly 6,000 followers since the onset of the pandemic. He credits COVID-19 as the driving force behind his artistic evolution.
“I want to push the envelope on my creativity. People can’t have parties or events but they still can do something fun,” he said. “If I can see a picture, I can probably figure it out. My favourite thing is making people smile and making people laugh. That keeps the spark going for me.”
Check out Brad the Balloon Guy’s creations on Facebook or at ottawaballoon.com.