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‘Freak Show’ TV series comes to Gibsonton

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"Everyone loves a freak," said one Riverview native.

By Kevin Brady
Curious and committed, hundreds stood shoulder to shoulder under spitting gray skies for a chance to go back in time.

More than 300 people turned out Nov. 2 for a taping of the AMC series Venice Beach Freak Show at the Museum of the American Carnival, 6992 Riverview Drive, Gibsonton. The show paid homage to the famous sideshow town, a winter home to thousands of carnival families.

“I am looking forward to seeing the people I see on the show in real life,” said Tiffany Alloway, who was among the first in line for the free tickets. “I am a waitress and I love to see how different people approach life.”

The unscripted AMC drama centers on former music producer Todd Ray as he pursues his dream to own and operate his own Freakshow on the Venice Beach boardwalk in California.

“Some of the people on the show do have abnormalities but for others it’s something they do on the weekends,” said Alloway, a Miami native. “They live an ordinary day-to-day life but then on the weekends they are stabbing things through themselves. It’s a secret life for them.”

The Riverview taping included 12 acts from the show, including fire eaters, sword swallowers as well as “The Indestructable Woman.” The Riverview taping will eventually be broadcast on AMC.

The show is not just a voyeuristic freak fest, Alloway said. “They feature the tallest man in America (George Bell at 7 feet, 8 inches), but it’s about the issues he faces in his life on a daily basis and how he overcomes them.”

Mattisen Thompson, an acrobat with Orlando’s Cirque Adventure circus troupe, drove more than an hour with some friends for the taping.

“I really enjoy the circus and then I saw the show (Venice Beach Freak Show) and I really got sucked into it,” said Thompson, who follows several of the show’s performers via social media.

The teenager, who “cleaned up my mom’s entire house so she would drive me here,” said the show is about more than looking at unusual people. “I think the appeal of the show is that they teach you not to be afraid of who you are, just be yourself.”

Miguel Gonzalez of Tampa didn’t mind the rain as he waited with some friends for a chance to see the show. A California native, Gonzalez watched the show live in California.

“It’s very shocking and different with lots of things you have never seen before and it just kind of makes you think differently about life,” Gonzalez said.

Watching ‘the Human Jack-O-Lantern, the man with no face’ place a candle in his eye socket gives Gonzalez pause when it comes to his own problems. “That blew me away. It totally changes my outlook. Nothing is really that bad in my life.”

A former carnival games kiosk owner, Toni Keffer waited patiently under her umbrella for tickets.

She recalled her children taking food and drink to fair “freaks” in the 1960s when the bearded lady and strong man were staples of every traveling fair.

“If we brought them food, they didn’t have to go out in public where people would see them. All the fairs had ‘freaks’ in those days.”

Curiosity drove Brandon’s Kelly Pepin to line up for almost an hour with her son.

She had never watched the show on TV but going to the taping is “a chance to see something you really don’t see anymore. I used to see them at carnivals when I was a child but not nowadays. I think it’s a loss.”

Several performers from the show strolled Ybor City the night before the taping, informing curious bystanders about the Riverview taping. That’s where they hooked Kim Tice.

“Lobster Boy was there with the man who puts a meat hook through his face. It was very eye-catching,” Tice said.

Performers on the show want to see more carnivals bring back “freak shows,” something Tice believes would have a mass appeal.

“Everyone loves a freak,” said the Riverview native.

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