Hard to Swallow
Believe it or not, the '70s killed the sideshow. At the same time disco kids were gallivanting around in platforms that housed live goldfish, people began thinking that displaying humans as "curiosities" for profit should be made illegal; it wasn't long before the freaks were rounded up and taken off the road. The demise of the authentic circus sideshow paved the way for Jim Rose and the like, but the oohing and aahing of hipsters aside, it's plain that some of the heart involved in a good old-fashioned mud show is lacking. At 59, Capt. Don Leslie, who joined the circus in 1953, is the real article. "Rose and all those guys are really nice people," says Leslie with a touch of bitterness, "but they aren't my people. They didn't pay their dues. They didn't get up at 3 o'clock in the morning and load trucks. They're nightclub entertainers doing sideshow acts. I'm the only sideshow act doing nightclubs." As a one-man sideshow, Leslie performs acts like the "Human Pincushion" and the "Electric Chair," but sword swallowing -- up to eight at a time -- was his passion until an accident (several swords scissored inside his body) restricted his intake in '89. "I still swallow, but I don't do multiples," Leslie says. "Some of the other acts are a dime a dozen, but there aren't any good sword swallowers anymore. And to be clear, a sword swallower is not just someone who can swallow a sword. Multiples make you a sword swallower. Being able to do a sword-swallowing act for 12 minutes without ever repeating a trick -- that's a sword swallower." But when all you know is show, show is what you do. Don may even sing a song off of his album, Tattoo Songs by a Tattooed Man, when he performs Friday, March 8, at the Trocadero; call 995-4600.
By Sia Michel, Silke Tudor