Defying death as your job description

Have you ever been to the circus? There were three adults and four children, ages 8, 8, 5 and 3. Guess who had the most fun? ME. Maybe I’m a cheap audience (which is what I’ve always suspected) but I was in awe. I don’t think the kids get it. Kids are too young for the circus. They don’t realize how difficult these feats are and, more importantly, that the performers could die at any moment. They just assume everything will work out and it does.

The staging is a show-within-a-show. While one set of performers are in the spotlight trying not to die, a crack team of stagehands are setting up the next act where someone might die. There’s no pause in the action. It’s rapid-fire, one performance right after the other.

I felt somewhat vindicated when The New York Times ran a glowing review of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus a few days after we attended. That the circus started in the late 1800’s and is still up and running today is pretty surprising, if you think about it.

The circus doesn’t do “funny” very well—I don’t recall laughing at any of the clown’s antics—but the acts whereby performers put their lives at risk are truly amazing. I was shocked that none of the acrobats hit the ground the wrong way and split their heads open or that two trapeze artists didn’t collide in mid air and break a few limbs.

The tiger tamer didn’t have his face slashed to ribbons by an unpredictable tiger. Remember Siegfried & Roy? It happens!


Three Chinese gymnasts inside a small (small) plexiglas cube. What. The. Fuck. Just imagine the four-way possibilities.


The Bionic Brothers. Astonishing feats of strength and balance. Zero body fat.


The biggest lunatics have to be the family of motocross stunt riders. At one point, all seven ride inside a giant steel sphere, crossing each other’s path. It’s madness. How do you rehearse something like this?


A parade of elephants. Peta distributed some literature on the train pointing out that the circus is guilty of animal cruelty. Trying to spoil our fun. I’ve never seen an organization do more to alienate people from their cause than the dolts at Peta.