You usually don’t hear a lot of obscenities called out from circus rings, which is odd, because most circuses are pretty obscene. I went to the Ringling Bros. Circus while I was a child, and remembered two things:
-Everyone was covered with mud
-There were crying elephants
You could ride the crying elephants, which I imagine is like getting a lap dance from a stripper whose mother has just died. Now, though I realize elephants are very emotional creatures, I could have been anthropomorphizing, and the tears I saw could just be the result of some wasting eye-sickness that would eventually blind the creatures and force circus management to feed them to the lions. Either way, it was obscene.
No animals were abused during Saturday’s Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Cabin Fever Cabaret in Hudson, NY, and the obscenity was very intentional. If you do not like the term “anal” used other than to describe the approach you take to organizing your ceramic cherub collection, this performance is not for you.
A group of my friends and I managed to reserve a table in the club portion of Helsinki Hudson for the event, so we didn’t need to stand for two hours like the poor bastards who didn’t call ahead.
As we were looking though our menus (Helsinki, as the name implies, serves southern BBQ), when a woman with blonde hair slicked aerodynamically to her cranium and wearing stilettos and a tailcoat stuck her head at us.
Stephanie Monseu, Bindlestiff’s MC, was crowd-sourcing the audience in preparation for an act.
“Can you give me a noun?” she asked us, whipping out a pad and pen.
We drew a collective blank and stared at her for a couple seconds.
“NOUN??” One of my friends (who, for the purposes of this article, we will call ‘Mungo’) was halfway in the bottle. It was St. Patty’s Day.
“Yes,” said Stephanie, sensing the need to explain. “A person, place or thing.”
We continued to stare at her like perplexed goldfish as she encouragingly placed the pen to pad.
“FIST,” Mungo finally bellowed, pulling us out of our miasma of stupidity. Stephanie scribbled it on her pad and gratefully moved to the next table.
The show started with a charming hobo clown making dick-balloons for audience members. A lot of his action was amongst the tables set at the base of the stage, which was invisible to me in my position at the back of the club, but it sounded fun.
Mungo was becoming more inebriated by the second, and was starting to get both tired and surly. If an act was not to his liking, he would let out a giant pffft, and, without opening his eyes, would judgmentally sneer in whatever direction his face was pointing. His face was often pointing at other audience members, so I had to keep shooting amicable grins around to assure people his ire wasn’t directed at them.
After introducing Sabrina Chap, the profane one-woman band for the night, Stephanie heralded The Great Dubini onto the stage.
Dubini, the show’s magician, had a delivery that reminded me Louie C.K.’s. He later reminded me of Colin Quinn, but then I just realized he had the cadence of a comedian.
He called two ‘volunteers’ onto the stage. Their names were Mike and Megan.
“Isn’t that a T.V. show?” Dubini quipped.
“Iz MIKE and MOLLY,” Mungo heckled from the depths of his stupor.
Dubini performed a series of tricks through the night, most of them involving tiny objects. As I have horrible vision, but refuse to see an optometrist, a lot of these were lost on me. One of the tricks involved Dubini swallowing and graphically regurgitating a string, but my myopia made me wonder if he was merely pretending to swallow a string and yak it up. I was assured that this was not the case when he expelled the sting with a series of 19 pins attached.
The next performer, Brian Lugo, was cloaked in black sequins, and hypnotically spun four luminous rings to a remix of an EDM song. He would be great at a rave.
No one in my party knew exactly what to expect upon buying tickets, but I had been told there would be topless performers. I assumed there would be some sort of pasties involved, this being a vaudeville act and not a peep show, but all the women kept their shirts on, and I really don’t know how my source was so misinformed.
Leonid the Magnificent, a flamingly gay Russian character, came out dressed like a flamingly gay Russian cowboy. He danced to a song that included the chorus, “save a horse, ride a cowboy,” and slowly incorporated hula hoops into his dance until he was spinning like, 50 hula hoops around his undulating body. By the end, he was stripped down to bulging briefs, and hung his cowboy hat on his johnson for the finale.
So there WAS toplessness.
Other acts included an incredibly fit acrobat duo and an absolutely filthy version of the Alphabet Song performed by Sabrina that brought down the house.
As a finale, Keith Nelson (of Unicycle Hockey with the Hell on Wheels Gang fame) walked on stage accompanied by a set of swords he announced he would swallow.
“Yeah, RIGHT,” Mungo jeered before falling back to sleep.
Nelson DID swallow the swords, the last of which was a light saber more than two feet long. And, yes, there were blowjob jokes.
It was a truly obscene evening. But in a good way.
The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus puts on a handful of shows in Hudson late each winter but performs more regularly in New York City. Their schedule can be found here.