Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Boss Canvas Man.

At the beginning of this summer I headed up to New Jersey to work for one of my heroes who has been described as "King of the Sideshows", Ward Hall and his partner Chris M. Christ. When I think about Chris the only thing that comes to mind in a large lazy bear. More about them in later blogs.

I have to tell you about the Professor, the real brains behind the inner workings of The World of Wonders; his name is James Long.

Jimmy is the man I mentioned before as the "old hillbilly", truth is; Jimmy isn't a hillbilly. He is a backwards talking, Pepsi guzzling, hard working, barn burning, truck driving, cheap cigar smoking, cancer surviving carny...and he's proud of it, or so it seems.
Jimmy doesn't really like small talk, but if you get him going...lucky you, you're going to actually hear gold pouring from his soda pop encrusted mouth, the stories he has to tell are simple yet wonderfully insightful, he thinks hard about what he says; you can see it in his eyes.

Jimmy was eight years old when he burnt down his parents barn in rural Missouri.
He had caused trouble before, so his fed up mother took him to the circus, and left him.

The circus folk took him in and put him to work washing dishes, it didn't take them long before they realized that this boy was incredibly strong. He was put on the tent crew. By the age of twelve Jimmy could swing two sledge hammers (one in each hand) one after the other, this enabled him to pound a tent steak "double quick".
Jimmy didn't take direction well and figured out his own ways to get things done using his brute strength. He could do the work of three grown men.

Jimmy was very troublesome, and even though he was a hard worker, circuses bounced him back and forth for years and years, until finally Chris M. Christ and Ward Hall were given Jimmy, they were told about his reputation but Chris (being a brutish fellow) knew he could handle him. That was about thirty years ago, Jimmy is still with them.

James Long has his own language, sort of like Yoda, it's English but his syntax is very odd. Ward, who has employed the Jimmy for the last thirty some years still can't understand him.
It took me a while, but I finally got to understand most of what he would say.

He has key phrases like; "Turn er loose!", "Go wher tha werk is!", "Goddamn actors!", "Naw!", "I'll kill ya I will!".
He has a funny sense of humor also; "Ol' man Hall says I can take yer pay I can.", "Eye'm takin' the TV I am".

Once you get him talking and looking at old photos, he takes great pleasure in pointing out dead people, saying this like; "Ol' Bitch, dead", "bin dead he is", "Had a sister he did, heh heh...she dead now though".

He also revealed that dead snakes will come back to life sometimes... "sometime thay come back thay do"

All that aside, Jimmy knows how to put up and tear down a tent... his way.
After putting up and taking down the banner line of the show thousands of times, I still don't know how to do it. Jimmy showed me a million times how to tie them off, each time he showed me the knot to use, it changed. I know he did it to fuck with me. He did it to everyone. He messed everyone up on purpose. I can't blame him for doing it, if I were him, I'd do the same thing. Fucking with people is one of the only things Jimmy enjoys, that and porn and cartoons ( "Goddamn rabbit did it again he did!").

I could go on and on about Jimmy Long, but you're confused enough as it is. You're assuming that a man like that couldn't possibly exist in today's world. I'm here to tell you that Jimmy is real. As real as you or I, I couldn't make him up. I hope you get to meet him one day.

Jimmy, you have become a personal hero, you're a tough old man. Keep on truckin' even after The World of Wonders is gone.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Applause is one of the most satisfying things a performer can receive from their audience. It gives you a sense of accomplishment, because once you hear that sound, you know you've done something right. Although it can give a false sense how good you are at what you do.

In a Sideshow, applause is very rare and I feel honored to have received some in that venue. Now, when I type Sideshow, I mean a real Sideshow, in a tent on a carnival, I don't mean club shows or even the Sideshow in Coney Island. People that come to a real Sideshow are promised things that they won't get on the inside. They are misled by the artful spin of the outside talker, and hit with a "steep" admission price, around three to five dollars. Now I know that isn't a lot of money to see someone swallow swords, a contortionist prance on and off stage or a stuffed spider body with an ugly human head, but to the average fair goer, a price that large is highway robbery. They don't like shitty stolen jokes, bad performers and they don't like being taken advantage of. When they walk in and see a fake ten foot tall mummy with a snatch that could swallow you whole, they are not happy, especially since just a few seconds before they walk into the tent they expect it to be alive.
Fair goers hate the Sideshows, yet they still come in.
They are against you from the get go, and it is your job as a performer, good or bad, to win them over. More often than not the audience boos you, they call out and then walk out. They demand their money back, and the little old man in the ticket box looks at them, smiles a yellow and brown toothy smile and gleefully shouts "Naw!".

The outside talkers never get applause, not like you and I would think of. Their applause is the number of folks they convince to part with their money. Their applause come in the form of angry people demanding their money back and being yelled back at at by an angry old hillbilly, that is largely in charge of the shows well being, and the only person on the show that will drive you to the laundry mat. The outside talker is lucky, they get to see what comes into the show before the cast does, they know what will happen before the cast does, some can even tell who will want their money back. They are also almost never held responsible for what they say. The inside cast is, if the outside talker Say's "Folks, you're gonna see Spidora, a beautiful girl with the body of an ugly spider!" and then they go into the show and see a stuffed animal with a tired old head that wags it's tongue at them, it isn't the outside talker's fault that they didn't see a real spider girl, it's the tired old head's fault. Outside talkers take great joy in that.

I miss the Sideshow, the real Sideshow.