Freaks, Human Oddities, Freak Shows and Side Shows Part III - Modern Freaks
Advances in science and medicine removed a lot of the mystery and fear that surrounded people born with defects or disabilities. The 1970s brought about political correctness, and disability rights which spelled the end of the side show or freak show.
Modern day freak shows are rare and far and few between. The most successful and longest running freak show, is Coney Island’s 10 in 1 show (Ten side show acts in one show for one admittance price).
Made Not Born
Modern day, self-proclaimed freaks are made freaks. There are people who purposely and permanently changed their appearance through piercings, tattooing, and in some cases mutilations. Others taught themselves astonishing skills like fire eating and swords swallowing. Others master the skills to become “block heads,” people who hammer nails into every orifice in their faces.
If not for her facial tattoos and piercings, Insectavora Angelica would look quite average. Insectavora is the inside talker or emcee for the Coney Island Circus side show. She considers herself a self-made freak. Half of her pretty face is covered in tribal tattoos. She has her cheeks pierced and her ears gauged. Most of her body is covered in tattoos. She has been with the side show for 10 years and has learned the performance arts of climbing a ladder made of swords, sword swallowing, and fire eating and breathing, and performing the human block head. She began her career eating bugs. Now she’s a vegan.
Insectavora already had tattoos, and was a former member of punk rock band, when she entered the side show as the pretty assistant in the "electric chair" and "blade box" routines. She yearned for a bigger role and fashioned herself as a wild woman who ate bugs. In an interview with Backstage.com she said, “I saw it as something to do on stage, and it was a way to shock the audience. People go to sideshows to see weird things, and eating bugs is weird."
Insectavora’s side show “biography” tells the tale of young orphan stranded on the island of Fiji for 10 years. (Side show personas need to come from mysterious and strange locations). She was forced to learn survival skills that toughened up her skin and her stomach which enables her to amaze and delight the audience with feats such as swallowing and regurgitating foreign objects, sword swallowing, fire twirling, and even being able to shove paintbrushes up her nose and painting.
Scott Baker the Twisted Shockmeister
As Insectavora is the inside talker, Baker is the outside talker, or barker. Baker is a trained Broadway actor with film and theater credits. Baker is a master magician, block head, ventriloquist and escape artist who just so happens to eat bugs and lit cigarettes, swallows and regurgitates razor blades
and performs levitations.
Baker’s physical appearance is quite ordinary, but be warned he is quite charming and persuasive. As part of his duties as an outside talker it is his job to get you to open your wallets and purchase tickets.
Erik “The Lizard Man” Sprague
Sprague is probably one of the best known, self-made freaks. Born in Fort Campbell, Ky in 1972, Sprague is best known for his extensive body modifications. He has sharpened teeth, full-body tattoo of green scales, a bifurcated (split) tongue, subdermal implants and green-inked lips. He holds Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Hartwick College and was a PhD candidate at the University of Albany before embarking on his unusual lifestyle choice. He performs acts such as the human blockhead, fire eating, gavage, sword swallowing, the bed of nails, the human dart board insectivore and flesh hook suspension, the act of suspending a human body from hooks that have been put through body piercings. He is also a very active spokesman in the body modification community and writes articles for the E-Zine, Body Modification.
Despite his unusual choices in physical appearance, and occupation, Sprague lives a relatively normal life in Austin, Texas with this wife, and pet ferrets.
Vampire Woman of Mexico
Cristerna, Mexico’s Vampire Woman. For many self-made freaks, the body modifications they have made, whether they are piercings or tattoos, are both self-expression and career necessities. According to some reports, Cristerna’s transformation was born out of violent crime. Reportedly, Cristerna transformed herself into a vampire, after a horrific history of violent domestic abuse.
Cristerna is a tattoo artist and she has titanium horn implants, dental fangs, tattoos and multiple piercings. Cristerna sees her horns as a sign of strength and had them implanted without anesthesia. She plans on having more added to the back or her head. She also wears contacts to alter the color and appearance of her eyes to give her more of a Vampire appearance. Cristerna is also a mother who holds a law degree from, UNIVA, a private Catholic University in Mexico and practiced law before her transformation. Recently, she was immortalized in wax for Ripley’s Believe It or Not! at their headquarters in Orlando, Florida.
Although, her transformation came from terrible circumstances, it has allowed Cristerna to travel the world and she has stated in numerous interviews that people’s reaction to her has been very positive.
Cristerna owns her own tattoo shop and is an advocate for the prevention of violence against women.
Born This Way
Although advances in medicine and the protection of the rights of those with disabilities, there are still some people who prefer the life of a side show freak and performer to some more mundane occupation.
One such performer is Coney Island’s Illustrated Penguin. According to his Coney Island Side Show biography, Penguin was dropped off at Coney Island in an ice truck from Antarctica on a rainy summer day. Penguin is a fast paced, punk rocked style performer that brings slapstick originality to traditional sideshow stunts.
Penguin’s physical appearance has been altered by head to toe tattoos that cover is 4’3” frame. His earlobes are gauged as well. His performance includes Human Blockhead, Bed of Nails, Sword Balance and Fire Breathing. Along with dwarfism, Penguin was born with hands attached to his shoulders and no arms.
- Freaks, Human Oddities, Freak Shows and Side Shows: Part I - Famous Freaks
A look at some of the famous human oddities of the Golden Age of Freak Shows; part one of a three part series examining the phenomen of exhibiting human oddities from 1830-today.
- Freaks, Human Oddities, Freak Shows and Side Shows: Part II - Freak Shows’ Dark Side
Part II of the the hub Freaks, Human Oddities, Freak Shows and Side Shows examines the darker side of freak shows.
British-Born Mat Fraser is an actor, writer and freak. Most recently he has been starring on American Horror Story Freak Show. He embraces the title freak. “It's an attempt at reclamation of the word. It becomes a positive description of a postmodern disabled performer working in the sideshow," Fraser explained in an interview with Backstage.com. Mat has three stage shows in production at the moment, and is the star of a new action feature film Unarmed But Dangerous
Fraser’s arms stop at the elbow where his thumb less hands are attached.
According to his personal website, Fraser also chairs conferences, does key note and after dinner speaking, gives lectures on his work in artistic and disability framings, and can provide performance skills workshops for disabled people. He has been a professional drummer of over 25 year’s experience, and can provide the beat for most music and art.
Fraser had spent most of his life being gawked at due to his unusual physical appearance and believes that perhaps the constant staring created a type a need in him that led him to the stage. "I had to be on the stage. It called me. But you could argue that a lifetime of being stared at causes an addiction to being stared at, and that's a valid thing worth
Tattooing, ear gauging, facial and body piercings is slowly becoming more mainstream. It is not uncommon to see “perfectly respectable citizens,” sporting multiple tattoos or a facial piercing or two. Perhaps as things become more and more acceptable side show performers will become just performers, or perhaps their performance and body modifications will have to become more extreme.