Sea Lion Trainer, Circus Director
By Dominique Jando
In 1969, Roby Gasser’s parents, Conny and Gerda Gasser, whose aerial act, The Tongas, had had a brilliant international run, left the family’s Circus Royal in Switzerland to create their own traveling dolphin and sea-lion show, Conny’s Flippershow. At thirteen, Roby was in charge of the technical aspects of the show—sound and lighting.
Three years later, his parents gave him a couple of sea lions to train with some guidance from Gerda. Adolf, a male sea lion, and Taxi, a female, were eventually involved into one of the most innovative animal acts of its time, a true comedy act involving in parts of equal importance both the animals and their trainer.
Roby’s act was soon recognized as an extraordinary novelty, and he and his animal partners began to work in the most prestigious nightclubs and circuses of Europe, including the Lido of Paris, and Circus Knie in Switzerland. In 1981, Roby Gasser, Adolph, and Taxi participated in the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo, where they won the highest award bestowed to any circus artist, the Gold Clown.
In July 1982, while he was appearing at the Lido of Paris, Roby was invited to perform at Versailles before the heads of state meeting at the G7 Summit; these included U.S. President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and President François Mitterand of France.
From there, Roby went to the U.S. with the Lido revue, which was appearing at the Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Still in Las Vegas, he was subsequently featured in the Riviera Hotel’s very successful nautical revue, Splash. He was also featured in several TV shows, including The Cosby Show, with Bill Cosby, and The Tonigh Show, with Johnny Carson. After a first appearance with the Big Apple Circus in 1984-1985, he returned to Europe.
Meanwhile, Roby’s father had opened Conny-Land, a dolphin and sea-lion amusement park, in Lippersvil, Switzerland, and in 1982, he had created the very successful Circus Conelli, in association with Herbi Lips. Roby became involved in both ventures, although he continued to perform internationally with his partners, Adolph and Taxi—or new partners of the same name. His sister, Nadja, also presented a similar sea lion act.
Roby Gasser returned to the U.S. for a last appearance with the Big Apple Circus in 1988-1989—but traveling with marine mammals had by then become increasingly difficult. Roby began to concentrate ever more on his work at Conny-Land, which was expanding, and on the annual holiday productions of Circus Conelli in Zurich. After the death of his father, Conny, in December 2007, and of his mother, Gerda, a few months later, Roby took over the management of Conny-Land and the Artistic Direction of Circus Conelli.
Roby Gasser’s wife, Cindy, is a former dancer; she is the choreographer and associate director of Circus Conelli’s productions. She also helps Roby managing the family’s enterprises. Together Roby and Cindy have two sons, Tyron and Jeremy.
- Biography: The Gasser Family
- Video: Roby Gasser with Adolf and Taxi at the Big Apple Circus (1984)
- Video: Roby Gasser with Adolf and Taxi in the Big Apple Circus production of The Big Apple Circus Meets The Monkey King (1988)