Denver County Fair Freakshow Pavilion: "You can't call it a freakshow unless you have a freak"
Ukulele Loki knows a thing or two about what makes a freakshow a freakshow. He's been active in the circus and sideshow arts (yes, that is a thing) for years, honing his craft as a "talented talker" (or what the squares might call a barker, a term he rejects as vulgar) and delving into the history and culture of the carnival sideshow. When he was approached to curate the Freakshow Pavilion at the second annual Denver County Fair, which runs from Friday, August 10 through Sunday, August 12 at the National Western Complex, he accepted on one condition: that it be as authentic as possible.
Brinny D. Photography You want a freak? I got your freak right here.
To find out exactly what that means, and what fairgoers can expect from the Freakshow, we sat down with Loki to talk freaks, sideshow and deformed balloon animals.
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Westword: Let's start with the official name: It's the Freakshow Pavilion? And what is that?
Ukelele Loki: Yes. When they first approached me I heard that they wanted to do things very different than what they did last year. When Andrew Novick approached me, he was interested in me bringing something authentic to the Denver County Fair. Now, I have a pretty big history in sideshow and I was hesitant to even use the term freakshow, because I think they just applied that not knowing the difference between sideshow and freakshow and historically what that meant.
When I said, "Hey you got all this stuff published and printed all this stuff out and it says freakshow, but I do sideshow and you can't call it a freakshow unless you have a freak" and they said, "Oh, well nobody really cares" and I said, "Well I do, this is important. So if we're gonna do this, we need to get a freak."
What exactly is a freak, for the purposes of authenticity?
In the historic terminology, the freak was a revered act through the early part of the 1900s. The freaks were the stars of the side show; they were the main attraction. These were people that were either born freaks -- people born different than you and I -- or made freaks, people like tattooed people. Then you had your gaff freaks, or your fake freaks. The bearded lady that's really a fake bearded lady, or the half-and-half that's half-crossdresser, that kind of stuff.
So I'm thinking, if they really want to get a freak, there are only a handful of performing freaks in the world. The term came under scrutiny in the 1970s when there were lawsuits, and it started to have, right at the same time the term freak was getting a popular connotation with the hippie subculture, it became a negative to point out people who were born different, or were seen as having disabilities. They were seen as being exploited.
Now, fast forward to the 2000s when I was with my former show, the Crispy Family Carnival, we had a performer who would be considered a little person. She called herself a midget and said, "I'm freak, I want to be a sideshow performer, and people want to protect me from this field, but guess what, this is my choice and I want to do this." As a little person, if she wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor or whatever that would be fine, but she wanted to be in the circus, that would be taboo. Unfortunately, I was not able to get Miss Firefly out here, but because I performed with her, we brought up [the topic] with the Crispy Family Carnival, a lot of the politics around the use of he word freak and what is a sideshow, and what is historic, and what is authentic.
So, in the search for a freak, Dana Cain said, "Years ago I met the Enigma and I am just a huge fan. I think he's a really neat guy, do you think we could get him?" and I said I think we could. So I got in touch with him, we have some common friends, and having worked in sideshows I kind of knew how to approach him to do a Denver County Fair act. Now, I'm very pleased to announce we have confirmed the Enigma is going to be performing at our freakshow.
What kind of freak is he?
He is what we call a made freak. His form of performance art is really intense, with the modification he's done to his body. It's a permanent alteration of who he is. So he is going to be headlining. [Specifically] it's the Showdevils featuring the Enigma and Serana Rose. It's a two-person show. They'll be performing many of the classic, traditional sideshow stunts. I'm really excited to have him coming out.
Sounds like a great start. What other freaky goodness can we expect?
Wanting to add some legitimacy and authenticity to this freak show, since this is a county fair I knew we needed some artifacts, like a museum. When you'd originally go and see the PT Barnum-type show, you would have the dime museum. You'd have the two-headed baby fetus in a jar, you'd have the disturbing medical curiosities. People would say, "Is this real? Is this something that was created? Is this fake? What's the legitimacy of these?" and that was part of the fun of the carnival in those times. I'm very pleased to say that we also, in addition to having the Show Devils coming out, we are going to have five artifacts, historic artifacts, that are from the Bobby Reynolds collection.
Now, back when I was was running my own sideshow, I used to go to this event called the sideshow gathering in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania . I had the opportunity to meet Bobby Reynolds twice. He's something of a sideshow legend. He has been producing and promoting sideshow for years and he has an amazing collection of these sort of oddities. Included in our exhibit, we are going to have a chupacabra, we're going to have a fiji mermaid. I believe we have a furry piranha and two other artifacts. So there will be some surprises for people to see when they come, and see these actual historic artifacts that would have traveled in carnival and sideshow circuits. [These are] amazing and unusual sideshow artifacts from Bobby Reynolds sideshow collection that the public can wonder, gawk and marvel at. They are impressive. They are going to be spooky and curious.