Nick Diesslin's 15 minutes of fame is hand-tossed.
The 29-year-old Maplewood man has performed on the Minnesota State Fair grandstand. He's competed in a world championship. He's been featured on weird news websites and even appeared on "The Tonight Show." All thanks to an unusual skill.
He's really good at tossing pizza dough.
Diesslin taught himself to artistically and athletically toss and do tricks with a circle of raw dough in time with music. He calls it pizza acrobatics.
"I think everyone has a thing in their life. This is my thing," said Diesslin, who has a day job as a web developer.
His obsession with dough throwing started when he was in middle school and already interested in juggling. He saw someone on TV spinning and tossing a floppy disk of pizza dough and he was captivated. Compelled to try it himself, he first practiced with a damp dish towel and studied online videos of dough tossing. He also discovered a training tool for aspiring dough flippers.
Throw Dough is an inedible, artificial pizza dough made from a disk of soft plastic and silicone. It was invented by a guy named Steve Carb, a South Carolina restaurateur, to train pizza dough throwers without wasting a lot of food.
"We wanted something that was reusable," Carb said. "It's mostly used by performers now."
Diesslin added pizza dough throwing into a juggling routine that he would perform at school and community talent shows. Eventually, he decided to specialize on just dough throwing.
"There's a unique quality to pizza, just being a fun thing in general," Diesslin said. "I thought if there's one thing I can be good at, it's something not a lot of people do."
From juggling to freestyle
His dough-throwing journey was helped along when he got a job as a teenager making pizza, delivering pizza and sometimes entertaining customers by throwing pizza dough at Randy's Premier Pizza, a longtime pizza joint in Oakdale.
It was owner Randy Hueffmeier who introduced Diesslin to the world of pizza athletics.
These are competitions like the World Pizza Games, held annually in Las Vegas, in which international contestants vie to see who can do the fastest dough stretch, who is the fastest pizza box folder and who can stretch dough the farthest.
Hueffmeier, a former world champion pizza thrower, said he became Diesslin's mentor and coach, sort of Obi Wan to Diesslin's Luke, except with raw dough instead of light sabers.
Together they competed in the freestyle acrobatic dough tossing event at the World Pizza Games, in which competitors do a tossing routine set to music, trying to impress judges with dexterity, difficulty, synchronization and entertainment value, while avoiding score deductions for dropping the dough.
The lanky Diesslin can send a spinning disk of dough rolling over his shoulders, or flying behind his back, between his legs and up in the air. The challenge is to seamlessly combine a string of tricks where the dough never stops moving.
"The more you keep it spinning, the better it looks," Diesslin said.
Another pizza throwing pitfall that should be avoided: a hole in the dough.
"A big part of it is making sure you can make a consistently decent dough for throwing," Diesslin said.
He's had good results at the World Pizza Games. In 2012, he took second place in the first division category of pizza acrobatics, beating Italian Simone Ingrosso, but getting edged by a Japanese competitor, Kazuya Akaogi, who also won the longest spin competition. In 2017, Diesslin won third place in the first division pizza acrobatics competition.
On the Ripley's Believe It or Not website, there's a GIF of Diesslin on his back in Las Vegas, spinning a pizza between his legs while dressed in purple for a Prince-themed routine. Diesslin also tosses his dough blindfolded.
To amp up the entertainment value, other competitors have incorporated props ranging from liquor bottles to samurai swords. (For safety reasons, "you can't use fire anymore," Diesslin said.)
Hueffmeier said shoulder problems aggravated by a wheat allergy have led him to retire from pizza tossing competitions. "This is really a young man's game," he said.
But he sees potential in Diesslin.
"He's one of the top pizza throwers in the world," Hueffmeier said. "You watch how he is with the pizza dough. He was born to do it."
Already, Diesslin's skill with flying dough has translated into some showbiz success. A pizza tossing routine won him a place performing on the Minnesota State Fair grandstand in 2018 as a finalist in the fair's annual Amateur Talent Contest.
He sent that video to "The Tonight Show." Early last month, Jimmy Fallon put him on the air during a segment called "Show Me Something Good."
The program got thousands of submissions from people around the world who wanted to show off a unique talent. Fallon picked three to air on the Dec. 8 show: a magician from England who could swing glasses of milk balanced on a wooden hoop, a drummer from New Jersey who tapped out the speech rhythms of a stand-up comedian, and Diesslin's "the art of pizza acrobatics."
"That was the best thing I've ever seen," Fallon said after Diesslin performed his routine in front of a laptop camera set up in the offices of the St. Paul marketing firm where he works.
Diesslin borrowed his company's conference room for the remote taping because the ceiling is higher and the internet connection is faster than at his home.
"All of my family and friends were shocked," Diesslin said of his television appearance. "It was kind of an unusual experience."
Diesslin hopes to compete again in Las Vegas and maybe take another shot at the State Fair talent show. He wants to shoot some instructional videos for YouTube and standardize names for his tricks — like the whip, the tornado and the bicycle. And he hopes to get more people interested in the unusual activity.
"I definitely think it could be much more popular than it is. Before you've seen it, you never know it existed," Diesslin said.
He hasn't made a lot of dough throwing dough. Just a few hundred dollars in talent show prizes or appearance fees. But he isn't in it for the money.
"It makes me happy. It makes other people happy," he said.
And sometimes he can eat what he throws.
"I eat pizza a lot," Diesslin said. That includes frozen pizza, restaurant pizza and, of course, pies that he makes for himself.
"I definitely make my own dough whenever I can and make my own pizza," he said.
Richard Chin • 612-673-1775