Jim Rose is in bed. And he’s in pain. The professional sideshow ringleader injured his neck big-time at a recent performance of his infamous Jim Rose Circus where he took one too many shots to the head with a metal chair courtesy of former WWE wrestler Kizarny (a.k.a. SiNn BoDhi—yes, it’s spelled that way). Joining the troupe was another former wrestler, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, but the tour has been cut short due to Rose’s injury. We called Rose to find out how he’s fairing, because we’re nice like that. He educated us on what happens when you eat too many light bulbs, how the circus used to advertise with ass-whoopings, and how his work is God’s work. All that, plus a clip of batshit nutty highlights from the recent tour after the jump.
Let’s not ignore the irony of the situation. You’re sidelined with a bad injury and yet you’ve made a career hammering nails up your nose and rolling around on broken glass. Life’s funny sometimes, ain’t it?
Well right now I’ve got the posture of a jumbo shrimp.
Has something like this ever happened to you in the past, where you’ve suffered on-the-job injuries that forced you to stop performing?
Oh yeah. Um, I ate too many glass light bulbs one time in London back in 1994. I ate bananas and I did some yogi exercises and the next day they say I shat a chandelier.
Wow. I don’t suppose you have worker’s compensation insurance, or do you?
Oh let’s not go there. I hate insurance questions. I can’t afford insurance. Who would insure me?
So what happened, aside from the fact that BoDhi was beating you with a metal chair? Did something actually go wrong? Like, were you being improperly beaten?
Well it went wrong in Salt Lake City at a show at Club Vegas. That’s when the neck got fragile and then I started feeling a little better and I guess I came back too soon. The type of wrestling that’s done in the Jim Rose Circus is really old-school. Wrestling started off as a fistfight out in the middle of the street and it would create a big crowd and it was broken up. It would be right in front of a circus tent, and people would call the crowd in for the circus show. That’s how they would gather a crowd—they’d have a fistfight. That’s how wrestling started. We do it more that style. Sure, there’s lots of ways to make it easier but I gotta tell ya, there are periods in the night where you’d be better off in a bar fight. It gets really rough, the style. There’s no stomping the mat and then you punch. You really do hit em. Its just you try to hit em in the forehead, and they sorta kinda know it’s coming, and you sorta kinda go with it. But when it’s happening all fast in action, you’re getting connected with [punches] legitimately five and six times a night. As to where if you weren’t doing it the way we’re doing it, you’d probably get connected with 40 times a night. If it was a real street fight, you’d get hurt, a good shot 40 times. Doing it this way, you’re only getting what you’d get in a street fight maybe 15 or 16 times. Did you understand the type of fighting I’m talking about and the type of fighting you’re seeing on the WWE?
You’re talking about no-joke stuff. You’re getting hit.
There’s things you do to soften some of the blows slightly, but again, it happens so fast and furious, you get hit with legitimate shots often.
A metal chair to the head can’t feel good.
No! No. I don’t recommend it. Although… I’m gonna go back to it. I’m not afraid. I’m going back to it. I just didn’t let it heal long enough last time, that’s all. When I’m on tour it’s a little more grueling than a professional wrestling tour. I’m doing a show tour it’s a little more grueling than a professional wrestling tour. I’m doing a show every night. And we don’t even do it in a ring—it’s done on a stage.
So you’re getting thrown around, you’re really thrown around. I’m guessing the doctors don’t want you going back to this for a couple of months.
No, no no no no no. About three weeks.
I’m doing stretching stuff and they’ve got me on a muscle-relaxing thing. That’s why I’m talking to you so softly.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts was in your most recent show. You had your choice of a bunch of retired wrestlers. What made you pick him?
I like Jake! He was always one of my favorites. And I still do. But it’s not unlikely that I’ll be touring with other professional wrestlers in the future. Jake and I had a pretty good run out there, I thought. And I’d like to do it again sometime. I also like Rick Flair. Nothing like Rick Flair in a cage match back in the 1980s. [laughs] And of course Randy “Macho Man” Savage. He’s actually gotten pretty small and grown a long white beard. No one sees him in public anymore. Rowdy Roddy Piper? Yeah!
BoDhi referred to you as “the Vince McMahon of the circus freak world.” Freaks are your people. You’re like their shepherd. I’m sure your peers see you as a leader, but how do you see yourself in that community? What role do you think you fulfill?
Oh that community, you know, I … You know I might have been the first theater show that had punk ethos. And that’s maybe what I did. At least that’s what I get credit for. At least I created a new genre to apply punk ethos, see what I’m saying? Before me, you didn’t see stuff in clubs. You didn’t really see it at all. There was about 30 years where it disappeared. I took an old genre and I repositioned it and represented it. And I gave it artistic credibility under whatever, d.i.y. punk ethos.
What your circus does and what pro-wrestling does, is essentially rooted in sort of masochistic theatrics.
Same thing. It’s all the same stuff. Freak shows started out to get people to gather so you could go into the circus. Professional fighting started as a fistfight in the street to get people to go into the circus. Gotta remember it all revolves around the circus. The circus was the number-one amusement for America for over 80 years. That was the number-one thing people did. It dwarfed vaudeville, it dwarfed concerts and singers, et cetera. The circus was what the movies are today.
Over the years you must have developed some kind of reasoning as to why both wrestling and your circus draws the mainstream audience in to see such performances. What does the Jim Rose Circus/pro-wrestling do for mainstream America?
Well, my circus in the very beginning did not draw mainstream people. It was extreme counterculture until it caught on. And then once it caught on, once we were on MTV everyday, and the “X-Files” [“Humbug” episode], and an episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer joins the Jim Rose Circus as the human cannonball, then we had my own weekly TV show on the Travel Channel [“The Jim Rose Twisted Tour”], and then EA Sports based a character on me in [snowboarding video game] SSX Tricky. You know, I had a couple of best-selling books [Freak Like Me: Real, Raw & Dangerous: Inside the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and Snake Oil: Life’s Calculations, Misdirections, and Manipulations]. You put it all together and it’s kind of… I’m still counterculture sorta, but I’ve sure done a lot of mainstream stuff. And I think doing that mainstream stuff draws mainstream people. It’s a very eclectic mix of people that come to the show. You’ll have a cowboy sitting next to a rocker sitting next to a lesbian and they’re all patting each other on the back and pointing at the stage and laughing. So, we’re doing God’s work. Heh heh. There’s still a lot of counterculture people who come to my shows because I don’t do the same show every year. I always take huge risks. And this is even more show in Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand because we’re a lot better known over there.
You’re going back on the road with Revolting Cocks in the fall. Is that tour going to be the Jake the Snake thing too or is that a totally different show?
Oh it’s gonna have wrestling and stuff. It’s gonna have street fights and a bunch of crazy circus stuff. It’s very similar. Except I’m doing 10 minutes in between bands and I’m hosting it. It’s a different presentation, sorta, but it’s gonna be a fun package.
You gonna get Al Jourgensen to shit a chandelier?
No. He did drink my bile beer* though.
*For the uninitiated, here’s a video of how Jim Rose makes bile beer. Oh, and Eddie Vedder volunteers to gulp it down. Cheers.