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Broken glass, fire-eating, and roommate agreements: Inside the world of the world’s largest freak show

The Turf hosts a spectacle.

The Turf hosts a spectacle. Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue

A half-man, a midget escape artist, and a sword-swallower walk into a bar. This isn’t a joke; this is just what’s going to happen this Tuesday night in St. Paul.

The Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue will takeover the Turf Club this week with its ballsy, mind-bending, and potentially stomach-turning band of freaks ready to shock and amaze all for your weeknight amusement.

Led by Hellzapoppin creator and stuntman Bryce “the Govna” Graves, the group has been traveling the globe for the past decade, redefining the idea of a true freak show.

“I got my start managing rock bands,” Graves explains. “We traveled around opening for rock bands like Mudvayne and Static X, and fans totally responded to it. I loved the producing aspect, but creatively it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted a sideshow that had the same energy and intensity of the bands we traveled with on tour. So I decided to stop managing bands and start my own show.”

From there, Hellzapoppin was born. While it still carried some of the traditional aspects of the circus sideshow, Graves decided he wanted a presentation that was less stuck in the old days of carnival tunes and colorful costumes, and was a full-scale rock show-style performance.

“You’ve got to have a sword-swallower and a fire-eater in any good circus sideshow,” he says. “But a lot of the time we’ll find a performer and we need to shape them to fit our presentation. Maybe the music or costumes or jokes aren’t quite right, so we work together to make it more in-line with what we do.”

Today, Graves brings a rotating cast of characters on the road, including experts with beds of nails, knife throwers, and Short E. Dangerously, the famous half-man who walks on broken shard of glass with his hands.

In terms of how he finds his talent, Graves says that the internet and variety shows do the work for him.

“When you see someone on America’s Got Talent or The Steve Harvey Show doing these insane tricks, what do you think they do after that’s over?” he explains. “Best case, they get to come back on the show two or three times. But where do they go from there? That’s when I’m able to reach out and get them connected with our show.”

While you would think that a show filled with fire, human oddities, and the potential for death lurking around each new trick would have prepared the crew for anything, Graves says the most challenging part of his job as the producer and ringmaster is corralling the personalities involved.

“As you might guess, some of the people we deal with are really fucking weird,” he says. “We’ve had to make roommate agreements for everyone on tour, to make sure that people can live together on the road. It’s not something you think of when you start out doing this type of show, but you definitely learn that’s the hardest part of all.”

While you (hopefully) won’t have to bear witness to any arguments over who did or did not wash their dishes that morning, on Tuesday night you’ll be able to take a peek inside of the world of trailblazers, rebels, and artists who are building a global fan base one death-defying stunt at a time.

“When people come to our shows, at least half of them have no idea what they’re about to see,” Graves explains. “By the end, everyone is out of their seats and screaming their lungs out.”

IF YOU GO:

Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue
Turf Club
9:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 21
21+; $15