Todd - How did
You get Started?
by Todd Robbins
I grew up in a suburban
community in southern California. It was the kind of
place that quietly and continually insisted that this
was not a way of life, but THE way of life. There was no
need to ask questions. What more could you want? It was
clean, safe, orderly and the liquor stores opened at six
There was something missing, but I didn't know what. I
felt like the orchestra conductor that stops the
rehearsal of a symphony and asks, "What's that sound I'm
not hearing?". I didn't know what was lacking until the
day, when I was about 12 years old, that I saw my first
A carnival had come to our community, and there, between
the gaffed games and rides that had been approved by
bribed safety inspectors, was a large white tent. The
outside of the tent was festooned with colorful banners
depicting unusual people doing remarkable things. On a
small platform in front was a talker doing a bally. I
bought a ticket and went inside, specifically to see the
"Master of Magic". You see, I had been bitten
by the magic bug a few years earlier. I had learned a bunch of
tricks and a bit of sleight of hand, and had a desire to
see all the magic I could. Well, the magic act was good,
but it was the rest of the show that captured my
imagination. Here were low-life carnies performing
miracles. Sword swallowing, fire eating, feats of
strength and enduring...and it was all REAL. When I got
into magic, I did so because I wanted to experience
something beyond the ordinary. What I found was little
more than deception, cool stuff I must admit, but a sham
never the less. Here in the sideshow, was the closest
thing to real magic that I had every experienced. I was
amazed and with this amazement came a desire to learn
the very skills I was witnessing.
It turned out that one of our neighbors had worked in a
ten-in-one. When I discovered this, I hounded him until
he gave in an agreed to show me what it was all about.
He said, "So you want to learn all the dangerous stuff?
I can teach you. Just don't tell your parents". And I
thought, "Sweet!". So I learned it all.
I didn't do it much when I was a kid, but about fifteen
years ago, for a TV audition, I worked up sticking my
hand into an animal trap. I then put that stunt into my
comedy magic act. I set it up by saying, "What you have
been seeing me do are tricks, but this isn't". I then
set the trap and did the stunt. What I discovered was
that audience members came up after the show and asked
if the trap was real. It hit them on a different level
than anything else in my act. I knew I was on to
something and started working all the carnival skills I
learned into the act. Before long, I was doing a full
hour of material with out a single trick. I started
doing colleges and universities (meeting Brother Harley
in the process).
One day I heard the sideshow in Coney Island was hiring.
They needed an outside talker. I call them and did an
opening on myself over the phone to Dick Zigun. He like
what he heard and invited me to come out and meet him.
On a cold early spring day, I traveled the long subway
ride to Coney Island and showed Dick what I do. After I
finished my demonstration of skills, he walked over,
shook my hand and said, "A kindred spirit". That was a
bunch of years ago, and though I don't have as much time
as to spend out there working as I'd like, I am still
very much involved with the operations of Sideshow by
The sideshow life has brought joy to my life, introduced
me to some wonderful folks, taken me across the country
and around the world, and put some money in my pocket.
Why ask questions, what more could I want.
Well, sorry it's more of a mini-series, but that's my
Published with permission of Todd
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