DONNY VOMIT and his trusty nail and hammer are staples of the Coney Island Sideshow By The Seashore, but this mustached modern vagabond has known many a stage, from west coast to east, from homegrown state fairs to burlesque affairs, this fellows' best friend is the gasp of a crowd, and his only foe is a head cold. 'Cause only the nose knows how far he can go, so settle in folks, and lets see where it takes us.
STRANGE FOR HIRE:
Emcee / Hosting
Straight jacket escape
While this had a profound effect on her faith, she also discovered she had the ability to absorb tremendous amounts of electricity, which bled off her fingertips, or even her tongue. As she struggled with her new talent, she performed dangerous electro-pyrotechnic tricks in the seedy Salt Lake City underground club scene to save enough money to enroll in Coney Island USA’s Sideshow School, the only place that could teach her to harness her talents. Graduating in good standing, Heather now performs her amazing acts on our stage.
Here is a video of Heather talking about the art of sword-swallowing!
LIL' MISS FIREFLY is both 27 years old and 27 inches tall. She’s been performing in sideshows since she was 19, specializing in fire breathing, stripping her way out of a straitjacket, and dancing and rolling on broken glass while wearing very little. She’ll be doing these things as part of thePretty Things Peepshow, at North Star Bar March 9. Before that show, The A.V. Club chatted with the tiny dancer about sideshow culture, and how the hell you start walking on broken glass.
Lil’ Miss Firefly: Well, my original stage name was Dragonfly, but a couple performers were pseudo-making fun of me for it. They came up with Firefly for something shorter… Dragonfly was a nickname that my dad gave me when I was a kid.
AVC: When did you first get into the idea of sideshow?
LMF: I found out about sideshow from my history teacher in ninth grade. She gave me this book. I was just fascinated, and I started Google searching. I found Coney Island; I found [legendary sideshow promoter] Ward Hall, but since I lived in Colorado, I couldn’t really go see them. So I looked up a local group, and got introduced to the world.
LMF: Fire breathing.
AVC: How old were you?
AVC: It seems like you could have easily gotten sideshow work just based on your height and your comfort with your sexuality, but your act involves a lot of tricks that seem really dangerous, and are certainly a lot of extra work. Why do you do them?
LMF: Well, they’re not tricks, they’re stunts—everything I do is real.
AVC: Oh, sorry—so, why stunts, then?
LMF: I’ve been performing sideshows for almost nine years now, and I knew starting out that I could just be what they call a Tiny Tina, which is where you get paid to be eye candy on the stage—you just stand there and hold the hat. I started as a hat-holder, but from a very young age I’d wanted to be a performer, so I grew and evolved; I taught myself everything I know. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy what I do.
AVC: It seems like you’d get pretty cut up teaching yourself glass walking.
LMF: If you’re playing with glass, you’re going to get cut. No matter what you do to prepare it or yourself, every time you jump and you break a piece, that’s a fresh edge. I haven’t bled on this tour yet, but it will happen. [Laughs.]
AVC: What kind of offstage physical preparation do you do for your act? Do you toughen up your feet? How do you stay limber enough to get out of a straitjacket?
LMF: Well, I stretch before every show—to be honest, the straitjacket act is the hardest one to do; it’s a lot more physical than anything else. And I don’t have calluses! You come to the show, I’ll let you feel the bottoms of my feet—they’re baby-soft!
You wrote a very strongly worded response to a woman who wrote on [popular disability forum] Disaboom about a show you were in—I’ll read a bit what she wrote here:
Sorry, folks using disability (a little person, a woman without legs doing karate chops on cement blocks among others) is not celebrating their differences, but using their differences as exploitation. It made me sick to my stomach. Years ago, freak shows were horrible examples of using people with disabilities. Yes, it was employment, but the worst kind of exploitation. …
We’re not in the 1930s. This wasn’t satire. This is 2008, and we will not stand still for these type[s] of misinformed manipulation of people with disabilities. The young lady dancer who is a little person is attractive and could probably find her way to legitimate acting jobs. … How sad, that the folks who run [the theater] felt it was okay to showcase such a demeaning, degrading form of entertainment.
LMF: Yeah, I remember that—the thing that got to me was at the very, very end. She didn’t even see the show; she didn’t talk to me or [performer, who has one leg] Jackie The Human Tripod.
She’s telling us that we should be movie stars or something, and—I’ve tried. I recently auditioned forWater For Elephants, and I didn’t get it; they cut out the sideshow part. I’ve auditioned for television and movies and haven’t gotten them, because I don’t have the right looks for the part.
Plus, the fact that the woman didn’t even talk to me to see that I wasn’t being held against my will to do this stuff—like, I’m not kept in a cage.
AVC: She didn’t seem to give you credit for much agency.
LMF: You know, back in the 1930s when sideshows were at their peak, freak performers, human oddities like myself, we were being kicked out of our parents’ houses because they were ashamed of us. I know Poobah [Pete Terhune, a.k.a. “Poobah The Fire-Eating Pygmy,” who has worked in sideshow for most of his 80-odd years] who works for World Of Wonders; he was kept in his room by his family, because they didn’t want people knowing they had a deformed child.
Ward Hall offered him a job. No one else wanted him. In those times, it was sometimes the only way people like us could make money, and not be put in a psych ward or an institution.