A visit to the eccentric sideshow at Coney Island USA was a great trip. Now the show is OPEN again to the public and the performances are every Fri. through Sun. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jelly Boy the Clown backstage after his show.
Jelly Boy the Clown is currently writing his autobiography. Look out for it next year at your local bookstore.
Connecting up with friends from out of town is always fun. A week ago Geoff was in town from Austin and we met up in Prospect Park. Here is the interview I conducted with this young energetic magician/sideshow performer and internet ‘twitch’ show host.
Polish tattoo artist Joanna Świrska stipples fur and inks subtle gradients to create fanciful scenarios of backpack-wearing kangaroos, cycling cats, and whimsical masses of tangled flora and fauna. Working as Dzo Lama, Świrska is known for her delicate illustrations that mix playful elements with the style of vintage botanical renderings, particularly the bold, black fern that recurs in her tattoos. Her ink-based pieces often cover an entire thigh or upper arm with precise lines and pockets of color.
Świrska tells Colossal that while her style is largely derived from nature, she also draws on the works of Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin. “I like to combine non-obvious colors and create new combinations. I approach the form the same way. I like contrasts such as light-heavy, hard-delicate. A tattoo is an extension of our personality, and we, as humans, are multi-dimensional,” she says.
Based in Wrocław, Świrska currently runs Nasza Tattoo Shop and is working on opening another location in a mountainous enclave of Jelenia Góra. She sells prints, mugs, and stickers of her illustrations on Etsy, and you can follow her travels and information on available bookings on Instagram.
The second day of The 6th Annual Southern Sideshow Hootenanny offered workshops during the day is a varied number of topics ranging from ‘Introduction to Contortion – A Twisted World’ taught by Sam Aquatic, and another one was ‘Learn to Juggle’ taught by Thom Wall. 8 workshops in total.
The evening’s performance began with a VIP show performed by ‘Lunatic Fringe Sideshow’ duet at 8:15 pm. Then at 9 pm ‘The ALL-STAR and LIVING LEGENDS SHOW’ began. The lineup was a total of 8 acts. One so different than the next!
Lunatic Fringe Sideshow duet performing with fire.
They also performed the sideshow classic ‘blockhead’ individually.
THE ALL-STAR AND LIVING LEGENDS SHOW
The emcee for the show was a sideshow legend Reggie Bugmuncher.
Juliette Electrique performed a seductive sword-swallowing routine.
Louie Foxx followed with a wonderful bubble-blowing act
Sansa Asylum performed her singing mind-reading act.
The evening had some worthy serious moments. The Rob Houston Lifetime Achievement Award and the Kathleen Kotcher Lifetime Achievement Award were announced.
Thom Wall performed some classic skills (beautifully) from the juggling world.
Sam Aquatic performed contortion with her snake.
Reggie Bügmüncher was the emcee and also performed the classic sideshow ‘eyehooks’ act
The final act of the night was knife throwing and whip cracking Jack Dagger.
There was a wonderful comic part of the act that involved an audience member.
The Sunday evening show was “TROUPE NIGHT” and those images will be posted in a few days.
Jezzibel performs the infamous ‘blockhead’ act with an ice pick.
Jezzibel performs a ‘spark’ spectacular finale.
Lunival Lousion performs a wonderful hula-hoop act.
Betsy Propane entertains the audience with her lovely voice while escaping from her straight jacket.
Jared Janssen charmingly performed juggled with ‘live food’.
Betsy Ritz caught a tongue on her mousetrap while kneeling on the floor.
Dante fooled the audience with his charming magic act.
Salem added a touch of the bizarre with the outfit and magical offerings.
Salem combined the ‘blockhead’ act with the seductive.
Chatty the Mime performed silently combining the chair with mimetic skills.
Nathan McScary dazed the audience with his single-handed knot tying tricks.
Emma D’Lemma performed many skills including walking on bottles.
Sweet Pepper Klopek has his tongue caught in a mousetrap set off by his partner
The Monsters of Schlock finish off the evening’s festivities. Sweet Pepper prepares to slam the cinderblock with a sledgehammer on his partner’s groin. But first a gentlemanly hand butt.
This is the first of 3 separate shows that I documented at The Southern Sideshow Hootenanny. Check back in the next few days for photographs of the other two shows. The All-Star and Living Legends Show (Sat night) – Troupe Night(Sunday show.)
I had a great time interviewing Stephon at the Southern Sideshow Hootenanny in New Orleans. His personal demeanor was charming and very informative for the interview. His characters are funny and certainly eccentric!
Roc Roc-It makes carny gold out of everyday objects. Grinning like a roly-poly overgrown tattooed child, he ambles onstage declaring, “This is the most dangerous stunt ever!” Then he reaches into a black drawstring bag and pulls out an ordinary disposable latex glove.
Making a big hoopla over stretching the glove out, he finally manages to distend the cuff over the top half of his face. Then he proceeds to huff and puff, inflating the glove on his head until it resembles a bloated coxcomb or a balloon mohawk. The audience laughs at the ridiculous sight of a potbellied man wearing a blown up glove on his head, but as the glove gets larger and larger, the laughter turns to cringes and cries of protest. Roc-It jacks up the mounting anticipation with goofy pratfalls and sideshow banter until the glove finally bursts all over his face.
With ingeniously simple acts like these, Roc-It has earned the monicker Clown Prince of Berlin. He has indeed lived in Berlin for about ten years – in a caravan outside a squat in an industrial part of Kreuzberg – but Roc-It was actually born in a small town near the Black Forest. “I’m a country boy,” he says with a wide smile that reveals several missing teeth. After several failed apprenticeships, he finally found his calling on a trip to Barcelona. “I saw all these street performers working on the Rambla,” he recalled, “and I was like, yeah, wow, that’s what I want to do.”
Sleeping on the beach and practicing everyday, he built up skills in Diabolo and fire. He learned to hammer a nail up his nose and juggle balls. Then after five years performing throughout Europe, he found himself in New Orleans breaking up with an ex-girlfriend. “I had two weeks left on my visa,” he said, “and I thought, fuck it, I’m going to go and visit some friends in New York.”
It was on his very last day in New York that he made a fateful visit to Coney Island with no other desire than to do a final show on the beach. “I knew nothing about what a sideshow is,” he said, “My friends were jugglers, guys riding a toy unicycle, doing all this classical stuff, and my show was always a bit weirder. And I was always a bit weirder character. So for me, it was basically, like, okay, there’s the main show and I’m the sideshow.”
With that in mind, he put his kit an old green suitcase and painted the words CIRCUS SIDESHOW on it. He was carrying the suitcase when he strolled past Coney Island Circus Sideshow and caught the attention of impresario Dick Zigun, who invited him to perform. Roc-It was a hit and stayed on for the next three years. “They fired the midget,” he laughs.
“While I was in New York, I did a thousand shows a year,” he estimates, but his visa had run out and living illegally finally wore him down. “I was working so much and so intensively, I got injured quite a lot,” he remembers, “I knocked my teeth out. I broke several ribs on stage. I burned my face off. And at one point, it just got to be like, it’s too much.”
Since returning to Europe six years ago, he continues to wow crowds in burlesque shows and street festivals. Twice a year, he performs with Kabaret Kalashnikov, a variety show with an Eastern European storyline. On summer nights, you can find him in the middle of a circle of people at Alexanderplatz during Berlin Lacht Fest. He also regularly performs with the Squidling Brothers Circus Sideshow when they are in Europe.
“Dazzle them with brilliance or baffle them with bullshit,” he declares, rolling up his sleeve to display a motto tattooed on his arm, “Either it has to be really poetic or just so ridiculous, that it’s just as good.”
Annie Jones Bearded Lady Cabinet Card Photograph. York, Penn.: Pentz, ca. 1880s. 6 ½ x 4 ¼”. Mount softened and beginning to peel by layers.
Carte de Visite of a Bearded Lady. Baltimore: D.J. Wilkes, ca. 1860s. Original mount, studio imprint to verso. 4 x 2 ¾”.
Betty Broadbent Youngest Tattooed Lady Photo. Boston: H. Golden, ca. 1928. 8 x 10” sepia tone photograph of Broadbent, also known as the “tattoo’d lady.” Crease at top and border damage at corners, not affecting image. In 1927 Betty Broadbent met tattoo artist Charlie Wagner, who alongside several other tattoo artists, including, Tony Rhineagear, Joe Van Hart, and Red Gibbons, would tattoo a bodysuit on her consisting of over 565 images.
Four Sideshow Attraction Cabinet Cards. American, nineteenth century. Including Lewando Baldwin, “Armless Wonder,” (Boston: J. Katz, 1880s); together with Mrs. May L. Baldwin, and photos of unidentified “Skeleton Man,” by Wendt, NJ; Bob McKay, sideshow “Fat Man”; and a “Fat Lady” by Eisenmann of New York. Evidence of wear, biographical information penciled in on verso to some.
Wild Men of Borneo Cabinet Card. New York: Wendt, ca. 1880. Cabinet card depicts sideshow “Wild Men of Borneo.” Identifying back stamp. Very good.
Carlton and Smaun Sing Hpoo Photograph. Bath, England: W. G. Lewis Studio, ca. 1880s. Sepia tone photo depicts “Carlton and Smaun Sing Hpoo, The Tallest and Shortest Artistes in the Variety Profession.” 8 x 10”. Clipped corners of card.
Charles B. Tripp “Armless Wonder” Cabinet Photograph. York, Pa.: Pentz Studio, 1887. Cabinet card of Tripp with samples of his calligraphy, and other work accomplished through the use of his feet. Signed and dated on verso “Charles B. Tripp. Woodstock Ontario. Age 32 ys”. With an endorsement, also in Tripp’s foot reading “William Kennedy, July 30 ‘87.” Very good.
John Robinson Circus. Group of Photos and Ephemera. Including a female cast photograph on cabinet mount (4 ¾ x 6 ½”); The Bartlett Sisters cabinet photo (6 ½ x 4 ¼”); Millie Irwin Iron Jaw Act halftone card; a cabinet photo of a horse-drawn wagon outside a large tent; a 1906 route card and booklet; and a 1927 program.
Siamese Twins Postcards. Four images, including a RPPC of Siamese twins Mary and Margaret Gibb, as well as Rosa and Josefa, The Hilton Twins, and unidentified RPPC of girl twins.
Siamese Twins Daisy and Violet Hilton Signed Photograph. Studio portrait of the twins posing with a dog, inscribed to the recipient “with love and best luck/always your pals/Daisy + Violet Hilton/Jun-9 1929”. Ornately carved antique wooden frame, overall 14 x 12”.
Skull and Human Bones Chapel Photo. Italy, ca. 1890s. Sepia tone photograph of Roman chapel decorated with skulls and bones, and with skeletons dressed in Capuchin robes. Framed to an overall size of 9 ½ x 12”. Not examined out of frame.
Fox, Johnny. Group of X-Rays Showing Johnny Fox Swallowing a Sword. Five original X-rays depicting the sword thrust down Fox’s throat as seen from various angles. 17 x 14”. Original Johns Hopkins Department of Radiology envelope.
Portfolio of Large Format Modern Sideshow Photos. New York: Val Duarte, 2004. Group of ten original full color photographs (14 x 11”) titled “Very Special People.” Submitted by Val Duarte, a photography student of Amy Arbus, for entry in an exhibition at the Gallery of the School of the International Center of Photography, NY. These include photos of sword swallower Johnny Fox, clown dwarf, dwarf fire eater, tattooed sword swallower, tattooed transgender woman, front and rear pictures of whole body tattooed man, and others. Together with a quantity of over fifty similar size photographs of various sideshow performers, including several of the octogenarian human blockhead, strip tease show, and others. Very good.
Chloe Somers Wall is an outstanding example of the ‘nouveau vaudeville’ that seems to be all around us. I saw her perform at The Cutting Room in NYC (Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Cabaret) where she walked on the tops of about 12 bottles. She then performed on a trapeze and stunned the audience with her poise and skill. Then performed a ‘hula-hoop’ act. She is feisty, comedic and delightful.