The Greatest Show Unearthed

"That's right, ladies and gentlemen, it's everything you've never wanted in a circus and much, much less--like a lip-smackin', finger-poppin', high-steppin', limboin', bimboin' barrel full of drunken monkeys! Fun, fun, fun, c'mon down. Hankering for a cantankerous, prankerous, panky-hankerous spank? Freaks, geeks and butt cheeks! Practiced pandemonium! Concentrated idiocy, just add beer!" The speaker of these words--indeed, the inventor of some of them--is a fellow known as Chicken John. By phone from San Francisco, he's demonstrating the "bark" for Cirkus Redickuless, the touring show of which he is the ringmaster--or, to use the title he prefers, the ringleader.

Chicken John, whose real name is the scarcely more probable John Joseph James Rinaldi (he claims he acquired the nom de cirque when "I ran from a fight when I was 12"), founded Cirkus Redickuless after turns as a truckdriver, vintage-auto mechanic and punk-rock musician with such bands as Letch Patrol and the Murder Junkies. It's an impressively checkered career for one of the Chicken's tender years--now 29, he claims (the word "claims" keeps coming to mind when reporting this guy's story) to have played his first tour when he was only 13. "I never went to no school or nothin' like that. Kind of a junkyard life."

The impetus for Cirkus Redickuless came to John when he began to notice the decline and fall of the punk scene: "They all died. Everybody died in my mid-'20s and there was nobody to play with, and then I kinda cleaned up my act." After a try at standup comedy, he assembled a sort of motley punk anti-circus powered "through various levels of obtainium." He defines this element, so mysteriously absent from the periodic table, as "that thing you want that you can't afford, so you go obtain it." The show's central attraction, the Mousetrap, is "built 99.9 percent of obtainium."

The Mousetrap is a full-scale, working version of the Milton-Bradley classic board game (the first Christmas present that I can remember driving my parents nuts over), a whimsical, Rube Goldberg-style chain-reaction contraption. Chicken John claims that his Mousetrap conforms to the game "perfectly" apart from a single variation: "Instead of a cage coming down to trap the mouse at the end, a piano falls from 22 feet. And smashes the fuck out of anything that's underneath it."

That isn't the only attraction under CR's figurative big top, however. The Fellini/David Lynch/Monty Python hybrid, which premieres at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Icehouse, includes such acts as the One-Man-Band Elvis Impersonator, the Temporarily Tattooed Man, the Sea Monkey Tamer, the Exploding Clown, Abusive Mimes, Madame Large the Medium, the Man-Eating Chicken, Flaming Vomit, Dammit the Almost Wonder Dog and, perhaps most marvelously, the "Vegan Geek." Also performing is the Danny Girl Puppet Theatre's production of Boomerang!, described by Chicken John as "an awesome puppet show, a 35-minute rock opera about a mass murderer who kills a dog, and there's a vigilante, and puppets that bleed."

"After that, we have the Hard Times Bicycle Club jousting match. These guys are from Minneapolis. The circus broke down in their town last year, and they were friendly to us and stuff. They're more Junkyard Culture people. They take bicycles and make them doubly high, and triple-wide. They have the Guinness Book [record] for the longest chopper. No motors, sir. All people-powered."

Spectators can have their own old bicycles reconfigured by the crazed artisans for a small fee. "Give 'em some beer. Some cigarettes. They can make 'em right there for you, while you wait. Then they joust. They get on the double-tall bikes and they have jousting poles, almost like Q-Tips, y'know, with padding on the end, and they defend the honor of a maiden, or argue about a beer. Every night it's a little different, but they really hit each other, and they really knock each other off the bikes and it's really high and they really get hurt and it's really stupid. It's pretty good; the audience usually chants, 'Blood, blood!'"

Still not sold? The top man at the Scrappiest Show on Earth has yet other jackdaw astonishments to tempt you, most notably the Veg O Matic--a 750-pound battering ram.

"It's four-person-pedaled--it has its own car trailer that we drag it around in. It has a battering ram with saw blades on the end. It's a huge thing, about the size of a tank, but its main function is a blender; it makes daiquiris." The Veg O Matic has another feature as well, but one which CR does not employ. "It compresses gasoline with nitrogen to shoot hundred-foot flames. Unfortunately, there's no fire allowed in my show, so you won't get to see it."

No fire in this show? How can that be? Did some harried, prematurely gray insurance agent draw the line? Not at all--it is, rather, an aesthetic choice.

"There's just no fire in my show," says Chicken John, quickly dismissing any notion of pyrotechnics. "It's dangerous, it's stupid, and it's like, all that hippie-pagan-drum-circle crap. It's not our style."

Cirkus Redickuless is scheduled to perform on Saturday, April 12, at the Icehouse, 429 West Jackson. For more details, see Calendar.

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead