The Circus Sideshow Comeback

Circus Weirdos Head to Prime-Time TV

By Buck Wolf

June 11, 2002 --   Step right up, step right up — the fantabulous, all-American sideshow is hotter than a fire breather's nostril after the Saturday late show.

The freaky world of human pincushions, tattooed insect eaters and sword-swallowers is making a comeback, after political correctness and economics nearly banished it from the ever-shrinking carnival circuit.

This hardly comes as a surprise when Ozzy Osbourne is America's hottest entertainer and average Joes readily eat insects for 15 minutes of fame on Fear Factor.

"The theatrics of the sideshow is really as contemporary as rock 'n' roll," says Steve Whritner, co-executive producer of The New Sideshow (Big Chief Films), premiering June 11 on The Learning Channel with encore performances June 15 and later in the month.

"You look at Ozzy's stage act or Kid Rock, when he was performing with a dwarf, or the Jim Rose Circus at Lollapalooza, and you see that carnival spirit never died. Now, in fact, it's growing."

Rubberboy’s Rosy Reality

Now, Jim Rose, the modern incarnation of P.T. Barnum, is now taking his traveling menagerie — complete with Mexican transvestite wrestlers

— into the world of reality TV. A Los Angeles production company has wired the circus bus and is following the motley crew to get behind-the-scenes stories of folks like Rubberboy (a contortionist who fits his entire body through a tennis racket) and Lifto (a Guinness-certified, unconventional weightlifter who hoists a 17-pound car battery from his nipple rings).

"Lifto is so stretched out, he makes Pamela Anderson look small," Rose says. "But he's tough. If Arnold Schwarzenegger tried Lifto's act, he'd cry like a baby."

Rose spoke to The Wolf Files as he was trailed by a reality TV camera crew. "If this makes it on the show," he says, "don't be angry."

Rose says he's living a dream, and if folks criticize him for running a freak show, he's laughing all the way to his Malibu beach house.

Having been featured on The X-Files and The Simpsons, he's carved a name for himself in America's pop culture landscape and helped paved the way for other "thrill circuses" like Carnival Diablo and Bros. Grim Sideshow — both also featured in the Learning Channel documentary.