Jim Rose was born and raised in Phoenix. Now he hammers nails into his nose and eats light bulbs for a living. Simple coincidence? Cause and effect? Maybe a little of both. Rose is the ringleader, the boss, the master of scarimonies of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, a group of humans who get up on stage and, well, do things to their bodies. Meet the Amazing Mr. Lifto, who dangles irons from piercings in his nipples and penis. Perhaps even harder to swallow is Matt "The Tube" Crowley's act: He sticks a seven-foot plastic pipe through his nose and into his digestive tract, and then funnels in a heady mix of beer, Pepto-Bismol and ketchup. Afterward, he serves it all back up, as it were, and offers samples to appalled audience members. Then there's a maggot-eating fellow called The Enigma, whose entire body is one big jigsaw puzzle, thanks to the magic of tattoos.
Good, clean fun.
The Sideshow wowed em at last year's Lollapalooza and has gathered a following worldwide. Even Sally Jessy Raphael and Joan Rivers have featured Jim and his cavalcade of self-abuse. Nausea-as-entertainment? What gives?
"It's the same as why you've got to look at a car wreck," Rose reasons from a motel room in Maryland. "But if you see a severed head on the side of the road, you'd never forgive yourself. I give you that car wreck without the head. That's where we draw the line--we don't bleed." Rose, who now calls Seattle home, has traveled the world learning the secrets of informed mutilation, but it all started for him right here in Phoenix.
"I used to live next to the Arizona State Fairgrounds," he says. "They used to recruit the neighborhood kids to vend soft drinks, and they'd promise us a big stuffed animal. We never got it, but we stole enough to make it worth our while. That allowed me access to the side shows."
That's side shows, folks, not freak shows. "It was the end of the era that had human marvels--which was what I liked--not the deformed whatevers that were being sold as half-man, half-bird."
When he wasn't hanging around the fairgrounds, Rose was poolside. "I had a built-in swimming pool," he says. "We used to deflate the tires on the bicycles and ride em around underwater. As a matter of fact, I'll be doing it again when I get there this year. My buddy's got a big Olympic indoor pool out there in Paradise Valley. We race em."
After doing time at Arcadia High School, Rose, 36, left town for more urban settings. "I want my skyline blighted!" he comments. Yet his time in the Valley of the Sun provided him with valuable career training. "We used to have contests to see who could stand barefoot on the street longest during the summer," waxes the marvel magnate. "You know what? Phoenix kids can do it. I guarantee you, Phoenix kids can walk on glass."
Though he can, of course, walk on glass, Rose found himself doing something slightly different during his recent taping of a Joan Rivers segment. "I lie on a bed of nails and Joan sits on me. And wiggles her thang! She wiggles on me, man. Joan was a foot away from bone. I can die now. Tell you what, Mama's going to be proud!" (In true ringmaster fashion, Rose lapses frequently into present tense, whether it fits or not. It just sounds more grand).
Show-biz pro that he is, the torture buff wasn't allowing Rivers to use him as a couch simply out of politeness. Rose was hawking the newly released Jim Rose Circus Sideshow video (on Rick Rubin's American Visuals label), 35 minutes of the hardest-to-take stuff his people can dish out.
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"It's funny cause you watch that video, or you hear about it, and you go, 'How can you like it?' But there's something about a bunch of people in a room going through it at the same time that turns it into something instinctual. No one's ever vomited, but we get falling ovations all the time."
If you've perhaps witnessed the blood-free carnage before, don't despair. Rose is no one-atrocity pony; he's got a new rack of tricks for this visit to Valley Art Theatre, which is, by the way, where he first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a kid. "We've got a Super Glue Man now," Rose boasts. "In Norway he was just in his underwear, and we superglued him to a board, his back and legs. Raised him to a ceiling and he fell off. Those commercials aren't all they're cracked up to be." Super Glue Man received the Kiss of Life from the Torture King, and is now "all recovered and ready. We'll do a lot of Super Glue stuff. It'll be fun."
Also: "The Torture King will lie on a bed of razor-sharp swords and have a concrete block placed on his chest which will be beaten with sledgehammers. He's an all-star," Rose says. "He'll get up and put a blowtorch out with his tongue. We've got an industrial grinder and a sheet of metal colliding, creating a huge shower of red-hot sparks. The Tube has to stick his face deep into the sparks, fight it like [the spray from] a fire hose, and his face cannot come out til he lights his cigarette. Oh, man, it's knocking em on their butts this year."
The almost Knievelesque urge to build a better side show forces Rose to look to the future. "This is pretty much the last year of doing this," he claims. "We're going to go into Monsters of Danger Circus, which will be like chain-saw football, basically, it'll be very dangerous daredevil stuff." And expenses won't be a concern.
"My overhead'll still be low, a couple chain saws, some lawn mowers. Buy em once, and you got em," Rose says. In case you're wondering, none of the Sideshow members has ever been seriously injured. They know what they're doing; easily influenced audience members sometimes do not. "I guarantee you," says Rose. "If you're the type of person who sets your trailer on fire after watching Beavis and Butt-head, don't come near the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.