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 A.M.

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 sideshow.

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 Seashore.

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 story.


Published with permission of Todd Robbins


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