Sideshows and freakshows will never see the classic strongmen acts, again. Men wearing leopard skins, lifting cartoony dumbells with 500s painted on either side, would make modern audiences laugh. Plus, nobody would pay to see someone who is simply strong when we’ve all seen them on television and at our local gyms. So, I wondered what Todd Ray had in mind when he announced that the Venice Beach Freakshow would be holding a strongman competition. I was genuinely worried that boredom would ensue. I was so glad I was wrong.
We know that this episode is going to offer us something truly different when the first contestant shows up. It’s Jason Brott, the Illustrated Penguin. Brott is a heavily tattooed little person with no arms and hands growing directly from his shoulders. You might think that Brott has nothing to offer in the way of feats of strength, but he intends to lift weights with his earlobes. Andrew S. is next. He’s going to pull a car by inserting hooks in his eye sockets. The Great Nippulini will amaze by hauling around a cartful of people using only his nipples. Ow. Owie. Rounding out the competition is Billy Owen, who isn’t going to lift anything at all. Billy is a cancer survivor whose surgery left him with one side of his face hollowed out. He can stick his finger into his mouth and it comes out the gaping hole where his eye used to be. He can throw an LED light into his head and become a human jack-o’-lantern. Billy has already carried his heavy weight, and it’s a personal one.
The performers discuss how their acts help them connect with other people. Morgue has always felt like an outsider, but the Illustrated Penguin and Billy Owen are outsiders in a different way. People are going to gawk at them, or even be afraid. Billy can disguise his eye and his mouth with prognostics, but he is never going to truly look like everyone else. The Illustrated Penguin has made himself even more different than he already is with tattoos and piercings. Both men talk about the empowerment of being able to amaze people through their performances in sideshows.
The performance itself is fun to watch. It really isn’t a competition, because they are all already winners. The Illustrated Penguin yikes us out when his earlobes stretch to incredible lengths. The audience gasps, and we all get the impression that the Penguin’s earlobes are eventually going to be down to his knees, if he keeps lifting with them. Andrew S. tugs a car around with his eye sockets, and you have to wonder what on earth made him decide to ever try this in the first place (I do wish he’d told us). Nippulini…what can I say? I put my hands over my own nipples when he pulled a cart of lovely ladies using nothing but his man nips. Billy Owen makes the audience gasp when he first removes his fake eye and his extensive dentures, then he has them in tears as he explains his story and shines a light in his head that isn’t nearly as bright as the light of his life.
Excellent episode! Hats off to Todd Ray and his Venice Beach Freakshow. An episode that could have been eye-rollingly dull was eye-poppingly entertaining and touching!