The Reading Roadtrip stops at the Fair

·5 min read

Aug. 6—The last time Joey Hamilton performed at the Niagara County Fair in 2014, he was doing a different show with his older brother Danny in their act Charlie and Checkers. Now he's back, and this time with his little robot friend, Snoozer.

Since they were last at the Fair, the Hamilton siblings have rebranded their live show into Checkers the Inventor, and have even expanded the act into an educational web-based TV show, called "The Reading Road Trip."

Originally hailing from Lancaster, Hamilton was already accustomed to both kids education and entertainment, as his father was an amateur magician, and his mother was a preschool teacher. He and his brother also wanted to entertain, and their dreams came to fruition when they found out about libraries wanting entertainment that can promote summer reading. Coincidentally they were trying to check out a book on how to start a business.

"We thought maybe we could start this entertainment business with the hope of maybe getting some business experience and gaining some money on the side," Hamilton said.

This was where their first act of Charlie and Checkers began in 2010.

"We started making reading-centric shows incorporating our background in entertainment," said Hamilton. "We could ride unicycles, we juggled, we could do magic, we had all that in our entertainment arsenal, but we started to put a message behind it,"

Their original act of Charlie and Checkers was a comedy and magic duo. They performed mostly at libraries, schools, fairs, and other festivals in the area. In 2014, their act took a step up, when they performed for kids at the White House for its annual Easter Egg Roll, and then got invited back in 2015, and then again in 2016. Hamilton said that they got the gig after being recommended by another children's entertainer from the DC area named Eric Knaus, known by his stage name, The Great Zucchini.

The brothers took a few years to pursue higher education, with Danny going to study medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Joey going to Canisius College to study entrepreneurship. Danny took a step back into more of an advisory and business role, while Joey became the main act. After his time in college, Joey rebooted his character of Checkers as a part of a new education focused act. The silent and clownish character of Checkers, was now the scatterbrained and energetic Checkers the Inventor.

"I started putting my own stamp on making it a unique act," Hamilton said. "I was still Checkers, but in the beginning I was a silent clown character, and then I was just Checkers as an entertainer, and then I turned myself into Checkers the Inventor,"

He's since had shows across New York State, as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even Canada.

Hamilton did add someone new to his act though, his little robot sidekick, Snoozer. Snoozer was made out of a shop-vac that Hamilton used to inflate a giant balloon at the end of his act, and then evolved into his own character that became more distinct over time, with a paint scheme, and googly eyes. Hamilton even hired an animatronics expert to give Snoozer working wheels and moving eyes that can be operated via remote control. Snoozer is also voiced by Hamilton's younger sister Amy.

In 2020, with his production company Checkers Library TV, Hamilton also started his web-based TV show, called the "Reading Road Trip." It was conceived during the height of the COVID pandemic as a show for libraries to show virtually. The show centers around Checkers and Snoozer traveling around, and learning from books about STEM subjects through a mix of live action and animated segments. Some have likened it to other educational kids shows like The Magic School Bus, and Reading Rainbow.

"It was completely different to what we did live," Hamilton said. "I had editing experience, and connections with composers and videographers, and with no prep-time we went right into making the show,"

Danny even came back after getting his degree to play the character of Dr. Dan, who has segments where he talks about health and wellness.

"He's big on pushing for healthy living and a healthy lifestyle, and we're working that into this show," Hamilton said.

They've also added other characters like the school teacher Mrs. Hamilton, and Zot the Robot.

School librarians can subscribe to their show through their website to show episodes at their libraries, and Checkers Library TV also sends them crafts, activities, and a Snoozer plushie to keep at their library. They've even had a few children's books published, Snoozer meets Dr. Dan, and Snoozer's Science Adventure. Checkers Library TV has also partnered with a new educational streaming service called Boundless, which is expected to launch next Fall.

"They're launching a one-stop-shop with thousands of e-books, e-magazines, comics, video content," said Hamilton. "and they're housing everything that Checkers Library TV have created,"

Hamilton is happy to be back performing at the Niagara County Fair, and is hoping that he might be able to get his live shows to perform across the country at some point.

"We're in a very exciting time on our end, but it's always nice to get back, even if it's just once in a while." Hamilton said.

In a brief comment as well, Snoozer the robot told the Lockport Journal that he's having a lot of fun with their adventure at the Fair, and seeing all the smiling kids who come to see their shows.

Checkers the Inventor will have several more shows at the Niagara County Fair while it's still running through Sunday.