Review of Capt. Don Leslie Performing at the Boston Tattoo Convention 9/12/04


By Ses Carny

Well, youíve probably read my review of The Lizardmanís show at this same tattoo convention.


This review is for the one and only Capt. Don Leslie who was also performing at the Boston Tattoo Convention on 9/10/04 Ė 9/12/04. Capt. Don was a late addition to the bill and was not widely advertised as performing there. Much to my surprise and also glee, when I talked with The Lizardman on Friday the 10th he told me the Capt. was there too. I was very excited as I myself have never gotten the chance to meet Capt. Don. Iíd only ever heard about him or read about his achievements in the sideshow world. I have a couple of videos of his performances and even one of his first records. Yes, you heard me right. Capt. Don Leslie is not only a very well known sideshow performer and artist, but he is also a great musician. His first record was called ďTattoo Songs By A Tattooed Man.Ē This is a very hard to find record and I am very happy to say I have one.


When Derek Rose, Sideshow Central's webmaster and my lovely wife and I headed in to the convention on Saturday to see The Lizardman, we were also hoping to catch one of Capt. Donís shows and meet him. Unfortunately he had already performed and the Sideshow Central crew only had the chance to meet him before he headed back to his hotel.  Seeing as I still had my guest pass for the event I felt obligated to go back on Sunday to see Capt. Don perform. During my return visit I also took the opportunity to interview The Lizardman and Dr. Grift for November's Featured Interview for Sideshow Central.


Back to Capt. Don.  Not only did I get to see Capt. Donís show, but got to hang out with him for quite a while backstage before hand. I managed to interview him and then cut up some jackpots of his life on the road. Some of you may have seen his various videos, but let me tell you, I learned quite a bit more about the Capt. and his career during our time backstage.  We had a great time! He told me some of the best stories I have ever heard from life with the circus and carnivals of yesteryear.  One of the highlights was that he had brought along a personal photo album filled with pictures he had collected over the years from the road. It was a true honor to sit back and flip through it.  I was also able to meet his son and daughter and even grandson. It was a wonderful occasion I will never forget. But all good things must come to and end and our end was him having to prepare to perform. I sat there still looking through the photo album, while he suited up as we casually exchanged some fun conversation.


Before I review his show, let me tell you a little bit about Capt. Don Leslie.  For those of you who donít know who he is Capt. Don is 67 years old and has been a professional performer for 51 of those years. He is the last of the old school sideshow tattooed men. He also is an accomplished sword swallower, blockhead, pincushion, and all around jack of all trades for sideshow acts. He is mainly known for his sword swallowing, being the only sword swallower to ever swallow five swords at once, with the blades going down his throat at a 90 degree angle......the opposite way from how they should go down.


Unfortunately, due to a major accident that almost killed him, Capt. Don is no longer swallowing swords. But that does nothing to take away from his incredible performance abilities.


Capt. Don was a little behind schedule taking to the stage. So he asked me to go out and stall the crowd. I was flabbergasted. I have always looked up to Capt. Don as an idol of the sideshow industry and here I was, only having met him hours before, and he wanted me to go out and talk to the crowd and introduce him when he was ready. I jumped at the chance and managed to get the crowd a little pumped up to see him. Since he was not advertised as being there to perform, many people didnít even know there was a show about to begin. By the time I was done talking, they sure knew and the stage area was packed. I looked to my side and saw the Capt. wave to me. He was ready to come out. So I got the crowd to give him a wonderful round of applause as he took the stage and hurried off.


He spoke for a couple of minutes about his history in the sideshow and circuses. He had worked for every major carnival and circus in the country. Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Circus, and many others. Reithoffer shows, Fiesta Shows, you name it and he worked there. Capt. Don had also been in two feature Hollywood films: The Problem Child with John Ritter, and Beloved with Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. 51 years in the carnival and circus business and sad to say, not many of the tattoo convention attendees seemed impressed with his track record. I didnít care, as I was thrilled just to talk with him and see his show.  At the same time the convention attendees would all soon find out that front and center was the place to be.


Once he was done with his lecture of his credentials, he started the show. In only 15 minutes he performed The Human Pincushion, The Human Blockhead, a Wonderful Fire Eating routine, and had a cement block smashed on his chest while laying on a bed of machetes. By the time he was done and took his bow to leave the stage, the audience sure appreciated what this 67 year old man had to offer and they let him know it. A wild round of applause gave Capt. Don a perfect way to end the day.


He went back into the dressing room and I came in to help him pack up. He was done for the day and going back to his hotel room. I helped pack everything up as much as I could and get it loaded into the truck. We spent a few more minutes talking before he left and he graciously gave me some wonderful items I will cherish in my collection, such as a couple of signed pictures, he signed my guest pass, some terrific photos of him from years ago performing, a Capt. Don Leslie T-shirt, a CD, and his home video. Since he couldnít take his fire eating fuel on the plane home, I even walked out of there with that.


Capt. Don Leslie is truly one of the last great old time circus sideshow performers still around. According to him, he wonít be around too much longer, so I suggest if you ever get the chance to see him live, DO IT. Heís a walking piece of history from a very colorful industry, thatís fading away quickly.


Thank you Capt. Don for the fond memories and such a great time!


For More Information on Capt. Don Leslie, visit him online at:


Photo Courtesy Of


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