Tyler Fyre - 2/1/04

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Q.  You mentioned the Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow.  Can you tell us when and how that came about and how you met your partners Insectavora and Magic Brian?


A.  I started Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow in 1999.  It was off-season and I was broke with big dreams.  Our first show was a New Yearís gig for the millennium at the brand new big convention center for First Night in Providence, RI.  Frank Hartman and I went up to RI to headline the Sideshows of the Century exhibit.  It was an awesome experience performing to a huge convention hall of people.  Frank and I had been working together in Coney Island, so we have similar ideas about what a show should be and it was really easy and a lot of fun to work with him.


My Dad came to that show and told me afterwards how somebody a couple rows in front of him had said, ďCan you imagine being these guysí parents?Ē  He got a kick out of that.


I met Insectavora at the Tattoo convention at Roseland a couple years ago.  She was a little drunk, and very heartbroken from having just broken up with her boyfriend, and she was leaving town for Minneapolis, MN in two days.  (Sound like anybody elseís story youíve read recently?)  I knew immediately that I had to have her in the show, and thankfully, sheís still here.


Magic Brian and I met at a bar and anyone who knows either of us knows itís the most likely place for us to have met.  I stopped into Dojoís on St. Markís Place one day to see Combustible Kiva and sitting next to her was Magic Brian who was just back from a tour with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.  We hit it off right away.


Q.  What exactly is the Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow?


A.  Lucky Devil is a rock & roll ride down a slippery slope into a seductive netherworld of sex and sideshow.  We are not a gross-out shock-show.  All of us really believe in entertaining people, and while you do see full nudity in our show and itís an adults-only show, we keep the language clean and the acts short.  We just want to have fun and want the audience to have fun too.


At Lucky Devil, youíll see elements of the traditional sideshow mixed in with a fast-paced, witty patter of acts and antics.  I like to see the show as a cohesive element rather than one act following another.  We have several acts that we pair off together for and some that are all three of us, well really four Ė Magic Brian, Insectavora, Tyler Fyre, and the audience.  Weíve all taken the things we love most, sideshow, sex, & rock & roll and combined them into a living entity.  Lucky Devil is like an inside joke that the whole audience is in on.


Q.  After personally seeing the Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow I can vouch for the fact that it is a fast paced entertaining show with no down time.  How long did it take you to get the routine to that level and what hurdles have you had to overcome to get there?


A.  Lucky Devil has really come together in the last year.  Magic Brian and I have been working together in his Barrel of Monkeys shows and Insectavora and I work together in Coney Island, so working together in Lucky Devil comes really naturally to all of us.  Weíre all friends and that helps more than anything.


Weíve put together some new acts that are specifically for Lucky Devil and those are the most fun for us.  It is always difficult scheduling rehearsal time with three working entertainers, but our rehearsals are a lot of fun.  Thatís what itís all about for us, weíre not hobbyists.  We entertain people full time for a living and we do it because itís fun for us and fun for the audience.


Q.  Do you see yourself eventually trying to make the Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow your main focus or will Coney Island always be your home?


A.  Working in Coney Island has helped me as a performer more than I could have hoped for.  Performing so many shows a day and so many shows a week really allows me to tighten up new acts quickly and try them out for a wide variety of audiences.  Iím so grateful for all the help Iíve been given by other great entertainers that I met through Coney Island, and being attached to a show and a name like Coney Island has opened a lot of doors for me.  I donít see myself leaving Coney Island anytime soon, but thereís always the hope that the big call will come in from Vegas to give me the budget I need to make the show what I want it to be.


Q. You have worked with other sideshows like Ken Harckís Bros. Grimm Sideshow and the Bindlestiffs.  What is that like?


A.  Being a variety entertainer is a lot like being a gun for hire in the old west.  I take all the work I can get when itís offered to me and working with great shows like the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus and the Bros. Grim Sideshow has been an incredible experience for me.  I am always trying to bring my favorite performers with me to shows that I know weíll enjoy too.  Working with new casts and other performers is really exciting.


Q.  Can you tell us about some of your experiences with the other shows?


A.  Last October I went down to Texas to work with the Bros. Grim Sideshow at Thrill-Vania, a haunted house amusement park.  I was talking the front of the show with The Enigma, Katzen the Tiger Lady, William Darke, and Camanda Galactica.  We were all living in a house out in the suburbs of Dallas. I woke up one morning to the buzz of Katzen tattooing two Satanists at the kitchen table.  As I made my way to the coffee pot, our neighbor knocked on the kitchen window and asked if we had a snake.  ďYes, as it happens, we do have a snake.Ē  We told him.  ďWell itís probably your snake thatís out in the yard then,Ē he said.  Sure enough, Queen Hartley, the red tailed Boa Constrictor had gotten out through the dryer vent and was climbing into the engine compartment of Camanda Galacticaís car.  Katzen and I had to pop the hood and wrestle the snake out of the engine compartment with neighbors peeking out their windows.  I can only imagine the stories that that block will be telling for the rest of their lives.


Q.  A lot of people have the idea that todayís sideshow performers live in luxury RVís and are living the high life.  Can you give us an idea of what ďthe roadĒ is really like?


A.  Life in show business never ceases to amaze me.  Recently I had planned to go to a big fetish party in Brooklyn after working for the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.  But I booked a photo shoot at 11 am the next day and I had to go home and sleep for a few hours so I could look pretty in the morning.  I always thought that working in the sideshow would let me go to more parties, rather than worrying about going home to go to bed.


Now, over the winter, I spend about five hours a day (and often a lot more) doing office work for the show.  I certainly never saw that one coming.


Life on the road is magical, waking up in a different bed in a different city every day.  But I wouldnít call it luxury.  On the Turkey Chainsaw Massacre tour this fall, there were four of us packed into an SUV with all of our clothes and costumes, and a trailer behind us filled to the gills with gear.  We would routinely drive through the night to make the jump to the next town.  And hotels?   Well, we donít get the champagne and mint on the pillow rooms just yet.  Usually, after the show, Iím working the crowd to find a sofa for us to crash on Ė when we do Ė a lot of folks expect us to be wild and crazy after the show too, and the look on their faces when we just want to take a shower and sleep for five hours can be heartbreaking.  If we do get a hotel, by the time we load out the show and get to the room, itís three or four in the morning, often later, and check out time is noon.   So itís not a lot of kicking back drinking beers and trashing the hotel room for us.


Itís all worth it-seeing the smiles on the crowds and meeting new people in new towns.  The most amazing part of traveling is experiencing the innate goodness of the human condition, experiencing the wonder in the eyes of the audience and the hospitality of strangers.


Q.  Now that we have an idea of what youíve done and where youíve been, letís talk about "The Amazing Blazing Tyler Fyre".  In your own words how would you describe Tyler Fyre?


A.  Tyler Fyre is the luckiest guy in the world; to be able to entertain people for a living is a gift I continue to be thankful for daily.  The only downside of working for myself is that my boss can be a jerk, but I forgive him.


Q.  You now reside in New York but you are originally from Georgia and also spent some time living in Rhode Island.  Do you still have ties in either place?  How do they feel about what you do?


A.  I go to Georgia and Rhode Island every year to see my friends and family.  I lived in Georgia until I was seven and Iíve still got a lot of family there including my grandparents in Athens, whom I see as often as I can.  My girlfriend Jennifer is also from Georgia, just a couple towns over from where I lived, interestingly enough since we met here in New York.  So we go and see her family too.  I love Georgia, the relaxed pace of life and the easy smiles.


I lived in Warwick, RI from fifth grade through my first year of high school, before moving to Cranston, RI where my Dad lives now.  After my first year at the sideshow in Coney Island, an unfortunate turn of events left me broke, unemployed, without a girlfriend, and homeless in New York.  So about a week after performing at Radio City Music Hall to a packed house of over 8,000 people, I found myself calling home to see if I could move back in with my Dad.  While I was there during the winter of 1998-1999, I wrote for a daily newspaper in West Warwick, The Kent County Times.  I wrote feature news articles and put together the entertainment section.


Well, the big club in West Warwick, RI was called The Filling Station, a former gas station that specialized in metal bands.  After I moved back to New York, they changed the name to The Station.  While I was out in Reno last winter, I turned on the morning news to see that Staten Island was on fire and The Filling Station had burned down during a Great White show.  I called home to see if anyone I knew was there as I was a big metal-head when I lived in Rhode Island. I feel really lucky that all my friends stayed home that night, but a guy I performed with at the first ever Lucky Devil show in Providence, RI, a canoe balancer, went to the show and didnít come home.


The whole event has been devastating on everyone in the industry, and more so to anyone involved.  I know that my show is safe and I routinely alter my show or remove parts of the act that I feel are even marginally unsafe for the venue.


Everywhere I go people are happy for me that Iíve been able to live my life the way I do.  Most people are curious about it, but Iím lucky enough to have friends who just let me be Tyler Fleet and I donít have to be Tyler Fyre all the time.


Q.  You mentioned that your father is a minister.  What's it like being a sideshow performer with a minister for a father?


A. I'm willing to bet that I get asked about my Dad being a minister as much as he gets asked about his son being in the sideshow.  The fact is that both jobs carry a certain stigma attached to them and a certain reputation is expected of the bearer of these titles.  But as it is, my Dad's got a little wild and crazy in him and I've got a little straight and wholesome in me.  Growing up with him in Georgia helped get me ready for life in the sideshow.  After the show is over and you see people around town at the hardware store, you're still expected to fit the mold that people have made for you.  He showed me a lot about how to keep up the image that makes people happy and still be yourself at the same time.  In my mind the two jobs are not that different.  We're both providing escape from daily life one hour at a time and showing people a way to expect more of the human condition.  We exchange notes and ideas with each other all the time about how to reach the crowd and how to get them digging into their wallets at the right time too. 


Q.  Over the past 7 years you have devoted your entire life to sideshow.  It may be one of the simplest questions, but why?


A.  Itís certainly not an easy life, but itís the only life for me and therefore any other life would be much harder.


Q.  Do you have any time for hobbies outside of the sideshow industry?


A.  My hobbies and my free time have definitely suffered from my love of sideshow.  I love my motorcycle, but it sits under canvas outside in the snow right now needing some work that Iíve just put off again to go to Gibtown for the Showmenís Extravaganza Trade Show.  I like to build interesting furniture and remodel the apartment, and again, Iíve got a plan for kitchen cabinets that travel up and down the dumb waiter shaft in my apartment that is currently just a big hole in the kitchen.  Working from home is great for me, but it does mean that I often put my personal projects on the side to focus on the sideshow.


Q.  Having the name Tyler Fyre gives off the impression that fire manipulation is your only specialty.  What is your response to that?


A.  Fire was my first love in the sideshow and even before.  Itís an act that Iíve devoted a lot of time and energy to and feel very confident about.  However, I see myself as an entertainer not just a fire eater.  I certainly get more calls for the fire act than anything else, and I also get calls saying we would have hired you for this gig, but we couldnít have fire there so we went with someone else.  These are the ones that break my heart.  But Iím just happy to have gotten the recognition for my fire act.  That has opened a lot of doors for me.


Q.  Speaking of your name, how did you come up with it?


A.  I was working for Silver Lake Water Park in North Carolina and really just starting to put together a cohesive show.  I barely had acts or costumes.  The sign painter, who was an ex-marine, came one morning in his camouflage pick-up truck to touch up the dragons on the big waterslide and I asked if he would paint me a sign for my show.  He asked the natural question Ė what do you want it to say?  I had about five minutes to come up with an answer, so I asked the guys at work who told me Iíd have to figure this one out for myself.  Iíd always liked the name The Amazing Zing.  But I decided to keep it simple and stick with at least part of my real name after all; Tyler Fyre and Tyler Fleet are not that different as people.  I like rhymes and alliteration.  Well, I couldnít have both so I took Amazing Blazing and switched the spelling of Fire to have a ďYĒ that would match my first name Ė and there you have it Ė The Amazing Blazing Tyler Fyre.  Iíve still got that small wooden sign hanging up in my Dadís garage.


Q.  Did you ever consider changing it as your career moved forward?


A.  I used to use all five words all the time Ė The Amazing Blazing Tyler Fyre Ė but these days I just go by Tyler Fyre.


Q.  In addition to your sideshow performances you also have a strong connection to burlesque.  How did you get into that end of the business?


A.  You could say I was destined for burlesque and you could just as easily say that I fell into that circuit.  I prefer to think that I was destined to fall into the world of burlesque.  I like the ladies.  I think every show should end with a kick line and beautiful women belong on stage for the world to see.


Coney Island USA started a burlesque series in New York way before this entire neo-burlesque scene sprung upon us.  I can remember Red Vixen burlesque starting up in Manhattan, and it was about that time, probably eight years ago that Tirzaís Wine Bath started in Coney Island.


After a couple years, I started running sound for the burlesque shows, which meant a lot of hanging out in the dressing room with half naked girls to get their music.  Yes, it was a hard job.  Every now and then when the show needed an act I would eat fire and take my shirt off.  With so many burlesque girls coming through Coney Island every week, they started calling me to eat fire in their burlesque shows in the city and I loved it.


The first show I ever MCíd was for the World Famous Pontani Sisters.  Their MC backed out on the day of the show and they called the sideshow to see if anyone could do it.  I went home (I only lived a block and a half away back then, with Frank Hartman on Stillwell Ave) got some juggling clubs and a couple of props out of the closet, walked back to the sideshow and hosted the show.  I loved it and I was hooked.


Fredini asked me if I wanted to put together my own show for the next season and I started Lucky Devilís Feast of Flesh Ė a night of evil, fetish, horror, and dark burlesque.


Q.  What connection do you see between sideshow and burlesque?


A.  Sideshow and burlesque are both entertainment for the masses.  You donít have to speak English to enjoy the show. It appeals to the most diverse group imaginable because it is entertainment by the human body for the human body.


Q.  Do you feel that your burlesque style performances take away from the validity of your sideshow performances or visa versa?


A.  I believe that burlesque and sideshow go together seamlessly and can only help each other.  However, I just got off the phone with a woman booking her kidís bar mitzvah and Iím reluctant to send her to my website where sheís going to see that I perform at the strip club.  America has this amazing belief structure that being naked is unacceptable and inappropriate, yet itís something that we all do everyday.


Q.  If you don't mind Iíd like to get your personal thoughts and input on a few things.  Itís been said that in the sideshow world, business is business and loyalty between performers is hard to come by sometimes.  Since your living it day in and day out is that how you see it?


A.  Loyalty is a human trait between individuals that is unaffected by the sideshow.  If someone treats you well and you want to maintain a connection with them you do.  If you feel that the world is providing a new path for you Ė you take it.  There certainly is a gun for hire syndrome that makes performers itchy for more money (especially with what the sideshow pays) but the most important loyalty is to yourself.  If you are doing something you believe in then you can never do wrong.


Q.  How about the acts and dialogue?  A lot is said about performers stealing other performers acts.  Whats your take on it?


A.  Act originality and material theft are perhaps the biggest points of contention in the world of variety arts.  The magical thing that makes us special is that so few people in the world can do something like swallow a sword.  The thing that makes a performer great is being able to take that skill and make it entertaining.


In the beginning, I made up my own material because I didnít know anybody elseís.  Thatís the best thing that could have happened for me.  Later, I was unknowingly taught what turned out to be other peopleís acts, and shouldnít have used them, not only because they were the hard work of another entertainer but because they werenít out of my heart or in the style of my show.


There are widely ranging theories on where the line is drawn for acceptable use of someone elseís material.  How many people use Melvin Burkhartís Blockhead routine?  How many of us use Capín Donís ďDown the hatch without a scratch?Ē  So the argument can be made that certain jokes are in the public domain and are free for anyone to use.  This may be true and if a bit works and gets them laughing, thatís wonderful.


I find that anything I write myself is better suited to my show and goes over better with the audience.  First because they have never seen anyone else do it, and second, because it comes out of me so itís the most natural thing I can do.


Q.  There is also a lot of talk about how sideshow is making a comeback.  Do you feel the same way or do you feel that it was never really gone to begin with?


A.  I do feel that sideshow is closer to becoming a household word again.  I think that the desire to be amazed by the abilities of the human body and to be entertained by a live person on stage will never fade.  Like all things, it may change form, but the heart of what makes sideshow great will live on forever.


Q.  What are your thoughts on the ďup and comersĒ and do you have any advice for them?


A.  Sideshow is a wonderful part of American folk art and it is also how many people make a living.  I have seen many of the new kids in the business that are missing what I believe is the most important part of a show.  Commitment.  I started off in the business as new as anyone else but at that moment I was committed to spending as much time as it took to become great and Iím still working on that goal.  I was a lifer from the beginning.  Itís okay if youíre just starting out and your shows is not that good yet, but if youíre going to do anything go for it.  Take the time, commit to it.   And if youíre going to do sideshow, you better be really good.


In my mind, performing in the sideshow is like being a tattooist.  It is not a hobby.  Tattoo artists apprentice for years.  They study and they watch before they ever attempt their first tattoo because they are giving someone a piece of artwork that they will carry with them for the rest of their life.   Performing a sideshow is the same way.  If youíre going to promise to entertain and amuse people with sideshow you are going to give them an experience that they will remember for the rest of their life.  I am never bitter about another entertainer who is better than me taking a gig that I wanted for myself.  But when someone who doesnít know what theyíre doing performs a show thatís not together for 100 people.  Those 100 people may never see a sideshow again, the venue may never book a sideshow again, and everyone loses.


Iím excited for anyone who wants to take up sideshow.  Itís an amazing world to spend your life in.  I am grateful that Iíve been able to do it this long and I hope to continue for a long time to come.  I know the excitement that comes with eating fire for your first time and the overwhelming force that the applause hits you with.  Itís the best feeling in the world.  Take that rush of energy and channel it into becoming the best entertainer you can.


Keith Nelson of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus says that youíre not really an entertainer until youíve spent ten full years on stage.  Well, Iím not there yet, but Iím working my ass off to improve each and every show.  And when you see someone on stage like Bobby Reynolds doing magic or Avner Eisenberg juggling baseball bats with an ease that has nothing to do with the skill in their hands, they present an ease and confidence that fills you up inside before they pick up a single prop or speak a word.  Bobby Reynolds gave me the most valuable piece of advice Iíve ever been given.  Back in the beginning he said to me, ďBe a showman.  Then learn some tricks.Ē


Q.  To wrap things up, is there anyone you would like to thank?


A.  Iíd like to thank the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesÖwell someday I hope to be thanking them.


I want to thank my parents for supporting me in all my decisions and finding new ways to explain to their friends what their son does for a living.  My dad is a minister so if I need help reaching the audience I call him.  My mom is a nurse so when I hurt myself in a show, I call her.  


I want to thank Hovey Burgess, my first circus teacher. Todd Robbins for continuing help and inspiration to work at it one more day. John, who hired me to entertain the masses at his water park when few others would have hired me to wash dishes. Dick Zigun for hiring me in much the same circumstances. The DMV for getting me to Coney Island. Frank Hartman for keeping me from killing myself while I shoved things down my throat and threw up in our kitchen sink. Bobby Reynolds for showing me how itís supposed to be done. Eak for working in Coney Island for the past 11 years. Angelica and Magic Brian for believing in my Lucky Devil dream. Keith Nelson and Stephanie Monseu for bringing me back to my love of the circus, even if they spell it differently.


Iíd also like to thank every performer Iíve ever had the honor of sharing a stage with and everyone who stuck around to shake my hand after a show. Oh, and Iíd like to thank everyone who put me up on the sofa, and certainly everyone whoís ever bought me a beer.


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Interview by Derek Rose


For more information on Tyler Fyre visit: www.tylerfyre.com

To Contact Tyler you can email him at: tyler@tylerfyre.com



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