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Freakin' awesome
Step right up and say hello to the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow
Jason Brott, aka Penguin Boy

For the better part of the past 20 years, Tim Cridland has been driving sharp skewers into his tongue and pushing them out through his neck, chewing on shards of glass, using his body to conduct electricity and walking barefoot across a bed of razor–sharp knives.

All in a day’s work for Zamora, the Torture King.

The 46–year–old Cridland is a veteran of the contemporary American sideshow circuit. He also has a regular gig in Las Vegas, and has written a couple of books on freakeries, oddities and the darker aspects of the thrilling performance arts.

As Zamora, he’ll be a part of the Hellzapoppin Sideshow Circus, pulling into the Wormhole for a performance Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Like the traveling sideshows and freak–o–ramas of old, Hellzapoppin includes a healthy (depending on how you look at it) cross–section of people with strange ... talents.

There’s the 3–foot Penguin Boy (24–year–old Jason Brott), who was born without arms – his hands are literally growing out of his shoulders.

There’s Lady Diabla (Alexandra Kaminski). She’s a sword swallower who also bathes in the sparks from an electric grinder.

And magician and illusionist John Shaw, who can escape from virtually anything.

There are burlesque–style dancers, zany midgets and a loud soundtrack of heavy rock music.

The Torture King, however, reigns supreme in this twisted universe.

How do you do this stuff without hurting yourself?

Tim Cridland: Basically, I’ve been studying the techniques, through the years, of people in other countries, Middle Eastern countries and India. I read about this when I was very young, and I was fascinated by it. I studied everything from anatomy books to books of circus techniques to learn how to do this without harm. And also things like self–hypnosis.

So it’s actual demonstrations of mind over matter. I’m able to change the way my body responds. But I also know my anatomy very well, so I’m avoiding things like major arteries, nerve bundles, things like that.

Yeah, but I’ve seen photos of that pointed skewer coming out your neck. Doesn’t that, like, hurt a lot?

Tim Cridland: I know the places to put it where it’s going to have minimal damage. That is certainly a part of it. I started learning and researching the body, and also techniques of control.

I’ve been tested scientifically a few times at the UCLA Pain Clinic, which has been on a couple of TV shows. And my pain response is vastly different than a normal person.

In one of the tests, my blood pressure, when I did this, went down. Which is the exact opposite of how a normal person would respond. The blood pressure drop actually helps with the reduction of bleeding.

Cridland, a native of Washington State, was a founding member of Seattle’s Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, which in the early 1990s introduced the sideshow/freak show concept to a new generation of tattooed rock ‘n’ rollers, doing small–town club dates and sharing the bill with metal, punk and grunge acts.

It caught on – in a big way – when Rose and crew (including Zamora the Torture King) signed on for the early runs of the famed Lollapolooza Tour.

The ringmaster and emcee for Hellzapoppin, which bills itself as “The Greatest Show in Hell” is Bryce Graves. He’s also the show’s founder and producer; he even drives the restored prison bus in which the colorful troupe travels from town to town.

How did you get involved in this?

Bryce Graves: I started out, years ago, in artist management. I managed a bunch of rock bands and TV personalities, and I produced a lot of rock concerts, festivals and things like that. Seven years ago I signed a sideshow called Brothers Grim, and after a while I just kind of got tired of managing other people’s projects. I decided to branch off and start my own show.

Brothers Grim was an authentic, turn–of–the–century, old–style sideshow. I took it on the Ozzfest, Vans Warped and the Family Values tours, a bunch of shows like that. And it was difficult to sell to the audience – I wanted to focus on a younger demographic, and because it was an older–style show, the kids just didn’t get it. That’s one reason why I broke off. I wanted to make it more modern, something more of a rock show. Kind of like Iron Maiden meets GWAR meets Tom Waits and sideshow blended together. That’s what I’ve done with Hellzapoppin.

And it’s been great. We went to Europe with Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, then came back and toured with Mudvayne, Static–X and Black Label Society. And after this club tour we’ll hit Sweden, Finland and Norway. In October we’re going to tour around the country performing in old, historic – and hopefully haunted – graveyards.

What makes this different from the old–school freak show?

Bryce Graves: It’s very different, because we use a lot of dark comedy. John Shaw is a very modern sideshow performer, with a very rock ‘n’ roll, biker look to him. We’ll bring out Lizard Man, and yo–yo performers. Things that are newer, that the kids can understand and get. It’s not about burning the history of the sideshow; it’s more about “a show.”

We kind of look at the show as more of a dark, creepy comedy type of show. We all have fun, and we rip on each other in the show. Little Miss Firefly, she’s a tiny little midget girl, she comes and chases me around the stage with different things. It’s more comedic, where the older sideshow was the traditional sword–swallowing and fire–eating.

Tim Cridland: The entertainment value of it is always what had attracted me. When I was young, I was fascinated by accounts of the old–style entertainment, which no longer existed. Certainly it was all about the performance, which was attractive to me. It is all about being entertaining, but also about being shocking and amazing at the same time.
I‘m just looking to make them applaud, and hide their eyes at the same time. If they can do such a thing!

What does Penguin Boy do onstage?

Bryce Graves: He does several things, and an act called the blockhead act. He’ll take a screwdriver and places a condom all the way over it. Then he shoves it all the way through his nose. It goes in almost four inches, all the way into his head. He pulls the screwdriver out and leaves the condom on the inside. He then sucks the condom through his nose and out his mouth. And throws it on the audience.

He also lifts a lot of heavy objects with his ears – earlobe weightlifting. And a lot of great things with crowd participation. We have a whole bit about how penguins fly, and then we throw him into the crowd and they do a big crowdsurfing thing.

Has anybody ever dropped him?

Bryce Graves: Oh yeah. The first time he was dropped we were in Sweden. The stage was literally seven feet off the ground. You know, he tells the crowd what he’s going to do. And all these guys – like 10 guys – where he was running to jump for, they all had their hands up. And they thought it would be funny to move. And he flew off the stage and hit the ground.

We’re talking about a guy that has no knees, and he wears braces on his legs.

Instantly, I’m devastated, I ‘m thinking he’s hurt. He gets up, he gets right back up on the stage, he grabs the mic and chews those guys out, then starts it all over again.

How did he become part of your show?

Bryce Graves: Penguin had led a pretty sheltered life in Baltimore, and he had some health issues. He was on dialysis. He’d never really gone too far away from his house.

He came to see us at Ozzfest, as a spectator. I went right up to him and said Dude, you have hot to come and hang out with us.

When I first met him, he was 20, and his mother had taken care of him his whole life. He had to kind of prove to her that not only was he grown up, but he could be responsible and take his medications. He got a kidney transplant, and now he flies home every month to do blood tests, just to make sure his levels are all right. We’ve been on the road together for a couple years, and there haven’t been any problems at all.

Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow

Where: Wormhole, 2307 Bull Street

When: At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13

Tickets: $10


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