Who Needs Freak Shows?

Tia the naked fire eater.
It is interesting to note that there is a sub sult of humans who are not only fire eaters, they are nude fire eaters (no, not safe for work or church, etc.). I guess there’s so much more chance of big fun for the whole family if you can actually scorch your privates in public. Not my cup of tea, admittedly, but I’d buy a ticket. Then again, I have a lot of body hair, things could go drastically wrong in a heartbeat. But fire eaters and their ilk almost pale in comparison to people like Gary Olsen who rides a sperm-cycle to work. Actually, he rides it at work too since his job is to deliver human sperm to ….. people who buy human sperm I guess. I really didn’t know that sperm banks delivered and I know I don’t want to know how that works.

“Hi Ms. Smith, I’ve got a nice warm turkey baster and a fresh batch of blond genius sperm, so let’s get cracking!”

Of course, we live in a world populated by people who would be better off getting out of the gene pool. Folks like Kevin Gaylor who tried to pick up a chick online and was forced to report her as a burglar when his girlfriend came home early. Seriously Kevin, just get a nudie magazine and a jar of lube. The human race will thank you.

And don’t donate. Whatever you do, no matter how cute that bike looks, resist the temptation.

Of course, Indiana (the new Florida) has a different kind of problem. It seems a nice young man, wearing a perfectly matched pink bra and panty set, tried to rob the Kidscape Learning Center. Police know this because the camera placed directly below the sign that says “Under Video Surveillance” captured the whole thing.

Yeah, dude, get out of the pool.

Of course not all freaks are human. Police in Florida, of course, were forced to shoot a 16 foot python that had just eaten a full grown deer. It seems that mutant pythons, which are scouring the wild and getting nearer and nearer to humans, have become quite the problem down there.

Well of course they have. We’re talking about the fun loving state that is being overrun by mutant cockroaches that are threatening the entire eco system. Why wouldn’t they have horror movie quality reptiles to go along with them?

But, if you do want a freak show, of the traditional variety, there’s still room for you in the pool. James Taylor, the author not the singer, reports that, even though the creator died, the Legendary Freak Show in Pennsylvania will go on.

Legacy isn’t the first word that comes to most folks’ minds when they think of swordswallowers, fire breathers and people who eat broken glass. It came to mind for tattoo entrepreneur Franco Kossa, though, when he created the Sideshow Gathering 10 years ago as an off-shoot of his already-successful Inkin’ the Valley Tattoo Convention, both running simultaneously at the Woodlands Inn & Resort in Wilkes-Barre, PA. And at this year’s 10th anniversary festivities — with all the aforesaid swordswallowers, fire breathers and people who eat broken glass — Kossa won’t be alive to see it.

Tragically, Franco Kossa passed away in the spring of this year, just 45, but well over a decade ago, he had an idea to create for sideshow talent a convention they could call their own. On the verge of making his final decision — deep in the push & pull of what such an event would cost, how to spread the word, whether he should honor some old timer in the business — he called me, that is, the “me” who publishes James Taylor’s Shocked and Amazed! — On & Off the Midway, the only journal devoted to “weirdness as entertainment.” And Franco had called to ask a simple question: Should he? I told him the truth: You’re nuts; don’t do it. And true to the showman’s blood that was already pumping in Franco’s veins, he saw right through my father’s advice to what I’d really told him: Sure, go ahead, tilt at a windmill; tilted at a few hundred in my time, and it don’t get fun till they tilt back.

For the next decade, Kossa did just that, and made a stunning success of it, garnering international attention for the event from day one. Now, with his passing, a huge portion of the Gathering’s survival to its 10th anniversary is the work of Franco’s widow, Kim (who continues in Franco’s role as event chair), sideshow duo the Lucky Daredevil Thrillshow — Tyler Fyre and wife Thrill Kill Jill (who continue in their roles as stage managers and bookers for the event), and all the talent who volunteer their performance time. Kim’s history with Franco preceded the creation of the Gathering. As she put it, she may be continuing the Gathering “in his honor,” but, “In my mind,” she said, “I’m doing next year already.” Kim Kossa, of course, understands Franco’s creation as well as anyone: legacy, his own as well as that of the sideshow business. No lesser a showman than Buffalo Bill Cody invented showmen’s clubs over a century ago to give show folk a reason to gather and network (though the term was unknown in its modern sense so long ago), and though the business’ legacy might not have been uppermost in his mind, Cody’s creation laid the path for just that. Franco’s savvy, as showman Tyler Fyre put it, was to create “the showmen’s club for the modern generation of sideshow performers.” And for that, all the talent affected by it are in Franco’s debt, directly and indirectly.

The audience for the Sideshow Gathering is in his debt as well: They’ll pay a stunningly cheap $15 per person to see over 2 dozen acts over the course of the Nov. 4 – 6 weekend. As someone else put it to me, that low-down 3 day pass works out to $5 a day for hours & hours of live entertainment; as I’d put it, that’s around 60 cents a show, and at that price, it’s probably cheaper than television. And at the Gathering, you can hang out with the stars after the show. All of that’s a pretty sweet deal for so huge a hunk of sideshow, novelty and variety entertainment legacy. After all, as the old sideshow pitchmen would’ve put it to the crowds so long ago, it’s the show all your neighbors will be talking about, the show you’ll be telling your grandkids about, the show you’ll remember as long as you live.

I’ve been to two of these shows and have written about them a few times. They are the best bang for your buck on the planet and they are seriously good fun. From blockheads to sword swallowers they have them all. None are nude but don’t let that deter you. This may be the most fun you can have with clothed people.

If you can’t make it to Wilkes-Baare, you can still have some fun here in town by checking out Cirque de la Femme. They use power saws on steel bikini bottoms to help light your way.

Big fun. Seriously big fun!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irWbXeYQGwk&w=480&h=360]

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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