Q. You are billed as "The Coney Island Wonder Worker" and
"The Most Amazing Man in America". What do you do that has earned
you those titles?
A. There is really no need to earn those titles. You just have to
have the guts to use them! Seriously, I am proud of my
association with Coney Island and wanted to include it in some
sort of title for myself. Magician Al Flosso was known as the
"Coney Island Fakir" (a title given to him by Milton Berle) and I
thought I would follow his lead by using the wonder worker
moniker. As for the Most Amazing title, what I do in my act is
real and goes beyond the level of amazement found in magic
tricks. There is nothing more amazing than reality.
Q. Many performers look to you for inspiration. How do you
feel about that?
A. It is flattering. I have not tried to cultivate this. I have
only tried to do what I do the best that I can. If others find
inspiration in this, then I am honored.
Q. Let's back up a moment, what got you started in show
business? Did you always want to perform sideshow stunts?
A. I got involved in magic when I was ten and saw my first sideshow
when I was about 12. I wanted to experience something
extraordinary. I never really found that in magic, since the
foundation of it is deception. The sideshow working acts, such as
sword swallowing and fire eating are real, and the very thing I
was looking for. I was fortunate to know several old performers
that had worked in sideshows for people like Vanteen and Pete
Quartz. They were the ones that started me off in the right
Q. Who were your early influences?
A. I always like performers that could take something simple and get
a lot out of it. I could mention names of magicians like Senator
Crandall and Duke Stern, but unfortunately these names don't mean
much to people today. These were guys that took a magic trick
that could be done in a minute and build a very entertaining
ten-minute routine out of it. Melvin Burkhart was another example
of this. Later on, Penn & Teller influenced me to make certain
that whatever I do onstage is about something. Always add content
to your work.
Q. Your show is the very shades of the classic carnival
sideshow, why is that?
A. This is an example of what I just stated. I have tried to put the
skills I perform into the context of the American sideshow. It is
a remarkable subculture and I try to show as much of it to the
public as I can without becoming didactic and lecturing the
audience on the subject. I like to show where the material came
from. At one time, I worked on taking the act out of this
context, but found that people are fascinated by the netherworld
of the carnival. So, if this is what the people want, then I will
give it to them.
Q. Have you ever sustained any Major accidents?
A. I've cut open my feet doing the bottle walk, scraped up
my esophagus doing sword swallowing and ruptured my saliva gland
blowing up a hot water bottle. Recently, I had a neon sword break
while down my throat, but there was no injury there. As Melvin
used to say, "It's a hard way to make an easy living".
Q. What would you say is the most dangerous act that you do
A. I have done business with Bobby Reynolds. Easily the
most perilous thing I have ever tried.
Q. Unlike some performers, you have a VERY vast knowledge
of the history to the sideshow. What was it that sparked your
interest to learn not only the skills of the performer, but the
history as well?
A. Once again, the world of the carnival sideshow is a
fascinating place. It is rich in colorful history. As soon as I
started delving into this, I found it incredibly rewarding. The
people and their stories are far more interesting than anything
Hollywood has thrown at us. I know only a small portion of what I
would like to know. I would love to just sit down with a complete
file of the Billboard magazine and soak up every page of it and
all that has gone on in the world of the outdoor amusement
business for the last one hundred years.
Q. Is there anything that you don't like to perform in your
show, but do anyway?
A. I'm not crazy about sword swallowing, but do it anyway
because the audience expects it. You call yourself a sideshow
performer, then you better swallow a damn sword. It's like being
a Dixieland band and not playing When the Saints Go Marching In.
You can do it, but it's not as satisfying for the audience. The
challenge is to do it in way that serves the need of both the
audience and the performer.
Q. How long have you been in this business?
A. Too damn long. I have been performing professionally
for over twenty years.
Q. Do you think the sideshow will ever make a comeback to
the way it used to be, and if so why?
A. Economics and Ward Hall! If people go to
and read the history there, they will get a more complete
explanation. The short answer is that carnival owners found it
more profitable to have more rides on their midways instead of
shows and Ward bought up the shows of many of the old timers, thus
consolidating many operations into one company.
Q. We understand that Melvin Burkhart was a dear friend of
yours and since his passing you have carried on his version of the
Human Blockhead routine, even wearing his old hat while doing it.
Is this in homage to Melvin?
A. It is an homage to Melvin to honor his memory, even
though I don't do his text in my show. I have done Melvin's
routine word for word as a tribute on several occasions. He was a
Q. You are also the Professor at the Coney Island Sideshow
School. How did that come about and why do you do it?
A. I wouldn't be doing what I do without the generous
instruction I received from others, so the school was created to
pass on this knowledge. Also, there is a lot of misinformation
out there in print and online, so the school was formed to teach
people the right way to do these skills.
Q. Some people feel that the sideshow skills should be only
taught to those who have earned it. What is your take on that?
A. In the good olde days, you worked a season on a sideshow
doing grunt work like taking tickets, doing load in and out and
cleaning up. Then, after you have proven yourself, if you were
lucky, someone might teach you to eat fire. Where, these days,
are you going to find a show and do that? We have set the tuition
of the school at a level that makes certain that only the serious
apply and yet is not cost prohibitive.
Q. Is there anything new in the works for your show that
you'd like to share?
A. Since the Great White/Rhode Island fire, there are more
and more venues prohibiting fire eating. Therefore, I am working
on some whip material that will take the place of the fire when I
play these venues. Also, I am putting together some old sideshow
illusions. I've stayed away from them in the past, as I wanted to
keep deception out of my act. The fact that they are very bulky
is another reason I have avoided doing them. Now, there are some
things in the works that make doing these illusions possible.
Q. Lastly, is there anything you'd like to tell our
A. Yes, if you are a performer, be distinctive. There are
far too many sideshow people that have seen the Jim Rose show and
just glom on to doing what they see there. We already have Jim
Rose, we don't need another. I'm not even sure we need Jim, but I
jest. There is nothing wrong with doing traditional material as
long you truly infuse your performance with who you are and what
you believe in. This is what makes, not just sideshow, but all
performances watchable. This is what makes it Art. Making what
you do an art form is not a bad thing.
Interview by Ses Carny
For more information on Todd
Robbins visit his site at
Each month we will try and
interview a new performer for the site. Because of the logistics
of it face to face interviews are tough to come by. A good
percentage of the interviews we will be doing will be via e-mail
or telephone. If you are interested in being interviewed for the
drop us a line.