Q&A with Reggie Bügmüncher of Olde City Sideshow
This full Q&A with Reggie Bügmüncher first appeared in issue #5 of Gnarly Magazine.
GNARLY: Can you tell us a little bit about Olde City Sideshow?
REGGIE: The Olde City Sideshow is Philadelphia's premiere sideshow variety act. A brother and sister duo that has been performing for over a decade. They travel the world, entertaining the masses.
How did you both come to start up and perform in a sideshow act? As brother and sister, did you grow up doing crazy shit together?
Danny had gone to Coney Island Sideshow School and started up Olde City Sideshow with a friend of his who has since left. I joined immediately after their first show and now we are the only members of the show left. We have had several emcees and members (including a brilliant musical member who scored our show!) over the years. We both had very alternative interests growing up but this was our first venture together.
What were your careers before becoming professional sideshow performers?
I don't want to speak for Danny, he has had a bunch of brilliant jobs before but I don't want to give away his secret pre-show life :) I was everything from a tour guide of Philadelphia to an art school model, and before that, an EMT, and an auction clerk at an auction house.
Is there a “Vaudeville” anymore? What is the Mecca venue/event for sideshow performers right now?
There definitely a vaudeville circuit although it looks a lot different than it used to in some ways. We share the same circuit with burlesquers and other variety acts all across the country, pretty much in the same cities, although I think the West Coast has expanded more to us.
Hmmm... The 'Mecca' for a sideshow performer, I mean that answer is so different depending on what you are looking for... Money? A job? To meet famous people, or work a real Midway and pound stakes? To perform on a famous or big stage? To be on tv? Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be successful in Sideshow.
I suppose being successful in Sideshow to me means longevity and health. It means not dying at 40, swallowing a sword and it means not suffering great bodily injuries and still being able to perform at 50. I know we aren't athletes but we use our bodyfor a job. A lot of jobs that require you to use your body wholeheartedly don't have a lot of longevity – something like stripping or construction work – it's very rare you find people able to do that for 20-30 years. Not to mention being in entertainment and having to be somewhat aesthetically pleasing to keep working.
What is the Midway?
The Midway is the traditional place that you would see a sideshow. Something like World of Wonders that still tours is in Midway Act. They put the tents up and put the stakes in the ground; they build a show every time they hit a new city or different fairground. In some ways, they're the real traditional route, the real quote-unquote authentic sideshow. There's often a divide between performers that do Midway or Carnival Sideshow and Nightclub Acts. People working nightclubs often don't experience the true grit of Sideshow. There's a little animosity between the subsets of variety performers.
I’m sure there’s confusion over the terms "Sideshow" and "Freakshow.” Can you give our readers an insight into how the two are different?
A freakshow has actual freaks. At least that's what it used to mean. To many freaks –natural born and self-made– it still should be, but it has been commercialized. With the resurgence of Sideshow in the 90s, it meant to just be some kind of slag – meaning outcasts or weirdos. We aren't natural-born (freaks) or weirdos, we're pretty normal people with extraordinary jobs. We are working acts in a sideshow.
Do you practice your act like, say a band, to stay tight, or do you two have your act down pat for upcoming live performances?
Sword swallowing requires some practicing but otherwise, we pretty much have the skill set down. It doesn't go away, but we constantly try to improve. Working with our bodies is a challenge; every show is different. The stage, the venue, the audience... even the weather. Things like flying, living in the desert or living in hotels with dry circulated air, all affect our membranes and how we blockhead. No amount of practice can prepare you for living it.
Do you invent your own stunts or is there a tried and true set of stunts that you stick to?
Anyone alive that is telling you they have invented a stunt is a liar. They have pretty much invented their own presentation (which is no small feat considering there are about 15/20 sideshow acts and thousands of sideshow performers) of a stunt. The person who 'invented' sword swallowing died hundreds of years ago. The person I credit with pole work while sword swallowing would be Aerial Manx. I hope that clears that up. Melvin Burkhart is known for creating the Blockhead act. He didn't invent sticking nails in his nose. We do have unique presentations of acts and personalized equipment.
Are you self-taught or is there an apprenticeship for learning these stunts?
Danny attended Coney Islands Sideshow School and we both studied with Harley Newman. We both continue to learn every chance we get
from experts in their fields, i.e. Chris McDaniel has taught both of us some western arts skills, etc.
What's the Coney Island Sideshow School?
Coney Island Sideshow School is an intense sideshow school at the famous Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore. I am not sure who teaches or who is in charge of it these days but the talent working there currently is amazing.
Have either of you been badly injured? Tell us about it?
We're both still alive. Injuries are not a matter of if, just when, and how bad.
So... Eating maggots. How was THAT the first time?
Mealworms. And they are like goo filled popcorn kernels.
Do you get a better reaction from the crowd with the "gross-out" stuff or with the physically dangerous stuff?
Honestly, it really depends on the crowd, although I find that disproportionately men are put over the edge or go faint with the eyehooks act. Vegetarians and women were disproportionately worked up when I used to do the insectivore act or eat live fish. I performed for a bunch of Medical students last year and they were such a fun audience. They understood exactly how everything was done (as students of medicine they understand the human body) and I didn't have to go through the tedious conversation of how it's not a 'trick' and how it's real. It was GLORIOUS. To be performing for people that weren't jaded and understood how it was done and were still impressed by showmanship and ability was great. Honestly, imagine being a musician and having people come up to you after every show and claim your guitar was fake or you were lipsyncing. Not only is it insulting, but the musicians aren't risking their health or lives. And no, no one wants to teach you, and yes, it's cool your cousin can do a cool thing with their (insert flexible body part of boring cousin Betty).
What is your showstopper stunt?
Pushing merch seems to halt everything, full stop.
I notice you guys play a lot of tattoo conventions. Where else do you perform when not at tattoo conventions?
Honestly, Old City Sideshow does everything from kids parties and weddings to fetish shows and Tattoo Conventions. We're everywhere.
Is there a sideshow act store where you buy things such as the bed of nails and sword steps? Or do you build them yourselves?
There are definitely people that create props and equipment within the community, but for the most part, we make all of our own equipment. Tyler Fyre of Lucky Daredevil Thrillshow makes our fire torches and just recently refitted our sword ladder to fit my fat feet. :) El Lurchio in the UK has made us both nails and Danny a sword or two!
Who are some of your favorite performers today and who do you consider Sideshow legends?
Oh wow. I mean me personally? Legends, man... Enigma, Zamora the Torture King, Harley Newman, Todd Robbins, Ward Hall, Jim Z, PT Barnum. Favorite performers today I suppose are the fearless performers really pushing the limits, Aerial Manx, Space Cowboy, Capt & Maybelle, The Sentimentalists, Heather Holiday to name a few.
Where can our readers go to watch you perform, either online or in person?
I perform in nightclubs all over the world, with Danny at Tattoo Conventions and with Circus Una at motorcycle rallies all over the US. My dates are (for the most part) up to date on my website and Facebook.
What advice can you give to someone who wants to be a sideshow performer?
Find a great teacher and stay connected to other performers and especially old heads in the business, not only to keep traditions alive but to save yourself time from making mistakes you can be warned about.
FIND REGGIE ONLINE: