I had the pleasure of meeting Florian “Venom” Kohler yesterday, in Osseo, WI, of all places. He was booked for shows this Saturday and Sunday (the 25th and 26th of April) at Exit 88. Unfortunately, I got there embarrassingly late, but I caught the tail end of the show and it was awesome.
Fortunately for me—not so much for Florian—it was a very small audience, so I got the chance to sit down and talk with him afterwards. I asked what he was doing in Osseo, which had a population of 1,701 as of the last census, and he said he goes pretty much wherever people want him. From a crowd 10,000 strong in China, to a crowd of five in rural Wisconsin, “it really doesn’t matter, they book me wherever they want me to perform, so I go wherever I have to.”
As his fame grows, performances in small towns are getting rarer and rarer. If he had a choice, Florian would choose a large crowd over a small one for the same amount of money any day. The big crowds are just more fun; “When it’s a small crowd it’s actually the hardest show you will ever find.” You wouldn’t know it from watching him though.
Florian started learning trick shots eight or nine years ago, when he got a small pool-table for his birthday. He didn’t know how to play the game, so he looked up trick shot videos online. “And I thought I was going to learn the real game like that—but I did not, obviously. So I instead just learned trick shots, and after a year, two years, I just knew all the trick shots they were doing.” He then started inventing his own shots, people liked it and wanted more, so he gave them more. He’s two DVDs in now, and looking for sponsors to start a third.
I asked him if he planned on ever doing an instructional DVD, and he said he’d thought about it but doesn’t think it would work out. “It really is hard to teach something that is instinct.” A double masse shot, for example, just can’t be explained. You can probably teach how to do a masse, but to know exactly when and where to hit the ball after it’s moving, that’s a different matter.
And Florian obviously has “the instinct.” He did a few shots that he says he doesn’t normally do at exhibitions because “they’re too hard—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.” My particular favorite was one in which he shot the cue ball into the back rail, which launched it into the air and back towards him, and he then hit it out of the air and knocked the one-ball into the far corner pocket. It sounds a little unprofessional to say, but it was super cool!
“All the old shots, the shots that are famous, I know all of them. … I mean, some of them I’ll need to work on, but I know how to shoot them all. … The new shots, pretty much the ones I invent, it’s different. … So if I can’t do a shot that I invent, it’s pretty much impossible.”
Florian showed me his “brainstorming” notebook, where he diagrams ideas and things he’s trying out.
Florian got the nickname Venom, because he’s “poison to the table, pretty much.” The shots he does are extreme, they’re a lot harder on the felt, and if someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing attempts them “it’s just going to be really bad.”
Despite his skill-level, Florian mostly stays out of competitions. He says there’s really just not enough money in most of them to make it worth his time. If you factor in air travel, hotel stays, etc… oftentimes, the prize money will barely cover that. So, he sticks to the big televised competitions, and his shows.
“To be honest, my goal is to promote pool more than anything else, so doing a little competition doesn’t really help. It’s good, but the shows will bring more attention to the game, I think.”
I asked Florian to imagine a world in which he didn’t have this amazing career as a trick shot artist. As it turns out, he has a degree in optometry—so if he stopped doing trick shots for some reason, he would have to work in “the glasses industry, pretty much.”
He never planned on having a career in pool; he was getting into it at the same time he was studying for his degree back in France, and at the time he was doing more competitions. He then started travelling more, doing exhibitions, and he found that it just did not work for him to have a regular job.
“And then I took a gamble and moved to the US. It was very slow the first year, but I made it work somehow and now it’s a lot busier so it’s a lot easier, and now it’s really a full time job.”
Not exactly important to this article, but I wanted to show off my signed cue ball!
Photos: provided by author
Editor: Hannah Blue