Credit: Courtesy Greg Popovich

While always a home run with kids, animals that dress up and act like humans tend to put wide smiles on the faces of all ages. 

No wonder Greg Popovich is enjoying two decades of sustained success on the stages of Las Vegas with his Comedy Pet Theater, in which the Ukrainian-born circus veteran employs dogs, cats, birds, and other mostly small animals saved from shelters to star in typical human scenarios, from the classroom to the railroad car.   

He brings that show to Santa Barbara’s Marjorie Luke Theater on Saturday, presenting his trained pets as well as Vegas-style variety acts and European-style comedy. And after the show, Popovich is happy to answer questions about people’s pets and, most importantly, give some advice for those seeking to adopt an animal. 

“It will be a memorable day for all families,” said Popovich, who answered a few of my questions about the show below. 

How in the world does one become a renowned circus performer who works with pets?

Credit: Courtesy Greg Popovich

I think the main reason for my success is that I found a new way to present pets in showbiz. Instead of pushing my pets to do some kind of tricks, I created sketches and small stories around situations and their talents. The main acts in my show are where my pets take featured roles as the main actors. They are the stars and main actors, and this is why I named my show “Pet Theater.” 

We’ve actually called an act “The Dog Classroom,” where dogs are acting as students. And we have an act named “Animal Railroad”: my pets aboard the train and act as passengers aboard a train.

It seems that my audience likes this style. Perhaps my pets are the reason why we have successfully played out our show for a second decade in Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino.

Have smaller animals always been part of the circus culture? Or are they new, compared to the larger elephants and lions that we tend to think of?

Smaller pets like dogs and cats have always been a part of the circus culture, but they were never, surprisingly, the main attraction. Before, there were always lions, tigers, and elephants. I was the first person in the United States who brought house cats to the stage — not tiger “cats” but small cats! it was incredible to show them off on many of the Tonight Show stages and on Penn & Teller. 

Where do you find your animals?

 Most of my pets we adopted from animal shelters. The main slogan of our show is “Animals are people too.” I try to share this message in my show, showing the audience that, “Look, ordinary pets can be very talented.”

Are they difficult to train? Which species is easiest, or hardest? How important is it to know them each as individuals?

Credit: Courtesy Greg Popovich

My pets need a lot of patience. The main idea is to have fun and bring adventure out of each pet’s natural habits, to find what they like to do and what they will participate in. And then I try to open up their personalities. 

There are no particular breeds or types which are more talented. It all depends on each individual pet. For example, I have a goose named Boris and he seems smarter than even some dogs. So we put a spotlight on him!

How many animals are in a typical show, and what kinds?

We have 12 cats, 14 dogs, a parrot, geese, doves, a mini horse named Mr. Diamond, and the new star of our show, a mini pig named Luci. 

How do you make sure that the animals are cared for?

I have five professional, educated caretakers who help me to take care of them. Each pet has a personal veterinarian who visits us every week. It is a 24/7 job. 

What do you hope is that the audience takes away from your show, beyond the entertainment?  

Respect pets! If after my show, someone from the audience visits an animal shelter and adopts a pet, I feel my message has reached its target.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is painting Russia in a very dark light for most of the West right now. Do you see your fun and funny show as somehow recuperating that image?

For me as a Ukrainian, it is a big drama and, of course, there is no room to make any fun about it. We try to send a positive message to audiences and maybe they can forget about the outside world problems for 90 minutes. I was born in Kyiv and want my pets and I to shine a light on the families who can be together today. So many are torn apart! Let’s make our kids happy, as much as we can!


Greg Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theater comes to the Marjorie Luke Theater on Saturday, February 25, 4-6 p.m. Buy tickets here. You can also buy tickets at the door.

Credit: Courtesy Greg Popovich


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