What About When You’re Eighty?

What About When You’re Eighty?

“Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are cheese.”

- Billie Burke

The Lizardman Q&A columns have been a lot of fun but also a little repetitious of late. So, I have been trying to think of things and ways to make them a bit more fun and new again. Quite frankly, I was at a loss and not sure I was going to do one at all this month. Fortunately, inspiration struck in the form of a comment in one of my journal entry forums by IAM:saram.

The entry (IAM members click here to read it) had been about doing things (body modification or not) on the basis of true personal individual motivation rather than as a result of wanting to fit in or not fit in as the case may be. Sara posted to the effect that she thought these arguments were silly, as I did, and then wrote:

I find other repetitive questions to be far more interesting, like, “How will you feel about [a mod] when you’re eighty?” It’s a silly question, but at least it’s more thought-provoking.

As a result, I then and there promised an article on that very question and realized something that would, at least to me, be a fun potential series of columns. As already stated, the following will be a discussion of that often related query, “what about when you are eighty?” In future months I will be posting other repetitive questions on my IAM page and letting people vote on the next one that I should address. And for fans of the old freestyle Q&A, I am sure it will make a return sometime soon as well.

So, what about when I am, or you are, or anyone else is eighty?

Will women still swoon over an aging Lizardman in 50 years?

I do get asked this question a lot. Most often the motivating factor behind it seems to be a concern or allegation that I have not really considered the consequences and rushed into things. Of course, this is very far from the truth. I spent nearly four years developing, designing, and considering what I was getting into before ever getting tattooed. Even once I had started I broke my overall project up into sections that would allow me reasonable ‘exit points’ if I changed my mind for some unforeseen reason. This means that I spent more time considering this than some people spend together before getting married or having kids. Ask yourself seriously if you think it is more foolhardy to publicly tattoo yourself or to bring a life into the world without forethought?

Explaining all of this and adding that last bit for perspective is often more than enough to satisfy the inquisitor, but if I look at it carefully it does not really answer the question asked — it simply dissolves it by addressing the concerns that motivated the question. Philosophically, being of a Wittgensteinian bent, I love this. But, let’s try actually answering the question itself.

When I am eighty, or however old I live to be since eighty is just an arbitrary age which most people would throw out as a point of getting reflective, being potentially on the way out (which is rather pessimistic since I fully plan on living well past a century), what will it be like to have been tattooed, pierced, and otherwise altered? Obviously, there will be some physical degeneration — that is part of aging despite the best efforts of technology, medicine, and lifestyle. I actually look forward to aging, to living through the process. My modifications may have some unforeseen implications but that’s half the fun (some wrinkling could potentially make scales look that much cooler) and not a deterrent unless they are seriously debilitating. In a somewhat analogous way, I would point to people getting their ears pierced and wearing the very common French hook style jewelry — would putting up pictures of old women’s ears who have been slowly ‘cheese cut’ over decades of wearing these earrings put an end to mall piercing stands? Hardly. The doctor who split my tongue mentioned doing a brisk business of re-working the ears of people who had worn so called ‘normal’ earrings throughout their lives — a nice thing to point out since many of the inquisitors have just such piercings.

The more I think about it, I just don’t believe that people asking the question are at all concerned with a direct answer such as the above. They are more thinking about what type of life you will be leading as you age and what you will be doing to support yourself or such when you reach that ripe age. Even more so, I am all but convinced that the vast majority of people who pose this question are simply looking to play out a superiority trip and accuse people with body modifications of throwing away their lives in some way — especially when it is asked with the implication of future regret.

So what about regrets and quality of life for the modified? Well, it seems like quality of life need not be a problem at all if people would simply be polite and open minded enough to accept that a modified appearance is not necessarily an indicator of much more than personal aesthetic preference. The problem is not my modifications, but your ignorance and prejudice. Given a moment of rational clarity I would hope most people would prefer the eradication of close minded ignorance (on all subjects) to that of something as potentially positive and affirming as body modification. Most regrets will likely fall from the same tree.

Now given that I am not entirely naïve to the world, despite my best efforts to be, and I hope you aren’t either I will discuss regret a bit more pragmatically — regardless of body modification. Wondering ‘what if’ seems to be a wholly natural and likely universal activity for people and is not the same as regret. Often when wondering ‘what if’ you may imagine a scenario much grander than your current reality but this should not necessarily lead to regret. I can honestly say that I have absolutely no regrets at this point in my life because even in those situations where I can ‘what if’ myself into much nicer scenarios for myself and others I still made the best decision I could given my knowledge and options at the time. Just because I look back now at what I know to be bad decisions, I do not regret them since being the exact same situation at that same time again I would do the same thing. Hindsight is 20/20 but unless you intentionally acted in a way you knew to be wrong I do not see cause for regret.

I cannot guarantee that you or I will be happy when we are older but if we act in the best manner we have known and available to us I have very high hopes.

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEZINE.COM. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published August 26th, 2004 by BMEZINE.COM in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Lizardman Q & A: Part 7

Lizardman Q & A: Part 7

“Mercy!” cried Gandalf: “if the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my fays in answering you. What do you want to know?”

- J. R. R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

This time around with the Q & A, I tried asking for question sets instead of just random one-offs. Some people got into it, others didn’t. I wouldn’t call it a failed experiment, but there is that ever present room for improvement. Thanks to everyone who contributed questions and tune in again next month when I try again.


My set of questions will be in reference to your video game hobby.

Hobby, Obsession… Toe-may-toe, Toh-mah-toh.

Why do you stick with the PC instead of going with a console? Wouldn’t you have more time to play if you could play when you are on the road?

I prefer PC gaming over consoles for a combination of superiority and expediency. PC titles are generally far superior to console titles — especially when you look at a game that exists on both platforms side by side. Consoles simply cannot match high end PCs technically. This technical advantage allows games to be bigger and have more depth. Also, the mouse and keyboard control setup is far more versatile and well suited to the types of games I prefer. An argument might be made for game catalogs in favor of consoles but not playing on a console I rarely, if ever, miss out on a title I want.

Playing on a PC is also better for me because it means not spending money on the console. Given that I am going to have a computer for other applications, it may as well serve as many functions as possible — thus my computer is my gaming platform, stereo, and much more. This saves me the expense and space of the other electronics.

As for gaming on the road, my laptop is powerful enough to game with pretty well, and I keep my Treo 600 well stocked with amusements for the airport lines. Our last tour bus did have Playstations and we had access to Xboxes. I did play them — I can’t not game when it’s available but I was nowhere near being converted.

What is your favorite game of all time?

Arcade Donkey Kong and Pac Man are what really got me started on video games but the Mortal Kombat series would be the one I am really a sucker for to this day — particularly number two.

What game are you most looking forward to playing that isn’t released yet?

I am going to say World of Warcraft because the more I learn about it, the more I suspect it will the MMO that finally grabs and holds me for more than a month or two. Of course, I am also really looking forward to Doom 3 (especially the four person multiplayer limit — I think there is a lot more skill and challenge in smaller number deathmatches) and Half-Life 2. However, since I have a really good idea of what to expect from them and how they are going to impress me, it is World of Warcraft that has me more on the edge of my seat and dying to try it out.

Most people only get touch ups on their tattoos whenever the tattoos begin to look very faded or they have the time and resources to. Because your tattoo coverage is very extensive and is in the public eye so much, do you have a set schedule you get touched up on? Like a certain body part at this time, then another, and so on?

I haven’t really gotten to touch-ups. I am fortunate in that my work is holding up well enough that I haven’t really felt it necessary. Sure, some things could probably look a little better or we could go over scars I have acquired (such as from suspensions) but I want to finish the initial fill first — unless something gets really badly degraded.

Since I’m sure Mike Tidwell is the one doing those touchups, I have a question about him. It has taken me a very long time to find an artist I can really bond with enough to trust him with my artwork and my flesh. Especially since your work is so important to your image, your choice must have been even more difficult. What factors caused you to settle on Mike over others to be the one to tattoo The Lizardman?

In 2001 I decided to move to Austin, TX meaning that I would need a new tattoo artist (to that point I was tattooed by Mad Pup of Plattsburgh, NY) because I wouldn’t be traveling 2000+ miles for a session. My friend Allen Falkner offered the services of his shop, Obscurities, in Dallas. Mike was the artist there that stepped up to the task of doing countless hours of mind and hand numbing green fill. I knew Mike as the brother of another friend, Pat Tidwell — that along with working at Obscurities was good enough for me.

And that is basically how Mike Tidwell became my tattoo artist.

I have noticed a recent trend in the IAM community where those that are extensively modified are having more branding and scarification work done as a way of reaching toward less mainstream modes such as tattoos and piercings. I also noticed (unless I’ve missed it somewhere) that you have no branding or scarification work done. Are there any current plans for anything of this nature? If not, is it because that type of work doesn’t fit into your concept of The Lizardman?

I have experimented with cutting and branding. In 1995 I tried cutting designs into my calves but I did not scar very well. I have repeatedly branded the palm of my left hand with a small dot and purposely burned myself on various other parts of my body but with little in the way of permanent results. Ultimately, I did not find a way in which to incorporate these particular body modification techniques into my overall plans and thus I have not explored them further.

What would ten year old Erik think of the present day Erik?

I think ten year old Erik would find The Lizardman to be really interesting and probably collect all the information on him that he could. However, ten year old Erik would probably be somewhat guarded about his interest in public. Growing up, I had a tendency to be secretive about my real interests and motives.

During your transformation becoming the Lizardman have you ever gotten frustrated at points feeling as if it was taking you to long to capture the essence of the persona you have created now? If so how did you deal with it?

I have had moments where I have been struck by how much more impressive or better something might have been were I further along — my appearance on Ripley’s TV was one of these. Mainly, these are the sorts of moments that motivate me further, and rather than needing to be dealt with, they inspire me.

I know you have to love mods of all different kinds what are some modifications that you are really fascinated and interested in that you personally wouldn’t get?

There is nothing I can think of that I would absolutely say that I wouldn’t get gone. That said, I am really intrigued by trepanation but see very little likelihood that I will get it done. The same goes for hand and large limb amputation — fascinating but near nil chance that I would ever consider it for myself.

What or who has been the biggest inspiration for becoming the Lizardman?

My parents and the upbringing they gave me — by encouraging and fostering nearly complete creative freedom. But if you are looking for someone who inspired the transformation specifically (rather than the context of my upbringing that made it a viable option for me) then it would most likely be The Great Omi and the anonymous irezumi upon whom I first witnessed full body designs.

Do you think you would enjoy working in a traveling sideshow like in the old days where there were many different people involved showcasing totally different types of freaks or do you think you would prefer just doing your one man show more?

I have a good taste of both kinds of work (ensemble and solo) and I can say that I do enjoy them both. Solo work allows you far more control and freedom but also places the entire burden upon you. Group work allows you a lot more breathing room and much less pressure. Given my druthers, I would prefer to work my own show but with a cast of amazing guest performers.

Do you have a favorite style of music that you listen to before a show to get you pumped up and who’s your favorite bands currently?

Currently, I am still in big Slipknot and Chimaira phase coming off the last Jagermeister Tour with them. Before a show I don’t necessarily listen to any particular music but working a lot of rock shows means there is generally something loud and pounding helping me get pumped up beforehand. As much as that can be a help, I also sometimes like to get a quick quiet moment to pull together my mental notes as well — it just depends on the night and the show.

What has been the most rewarding thing about what you do for yourself?

Everything. Seriously.

If you had to choose any other profession besides what your doing now what would it be?

Writer — though that is a large part of what I do now, I wouldn’t mind it being more.

When you think of your future what are some goals you have yet to accomplish that you would like to see happen?

I think there is a lot more I can do in terms of the entertainment industry. I want to see myself with a regular show or role (stage or television) and continue pushing further into the mainstream — as a fixture rather than an occasional feature. I also want to finally finish and publish a number of book projects I have had cooking for some time. And I really want there to be a mass produced Lizardman action figure.

Big Lobed Freak
I know when I met you at the Jagermeister Tour I was a little curious about how to address you. Do you prefer Lizard Man or can we call you by your real name?

I don’t mind being addressed by my given name, but in public situations I often prefer Lizardman. The only time I get annoyed by use of my given name though is when it is obviously inappropriate (such as when I am trying to promote a Lizardman show) or when the person doing it does so only to try and portray themselves as a sort of insider to my life or special because they know it.

Are you more liberal or conservative?

Democrats suck, Republicans blow (or vice versa) — thank you, Lewis Black.

I don’t think either liberals or conservatives would be happy with me claiming to be in their respective camps. My views are issue dependent and there is no clear majority for either side of the fence. If you were to try and hypothesize my politics (since I don’t often come out and simply state them) this would be a good place to start reading.


Have you ever considered taking on an apprentice? MTV could make a reality TV show, called Freak Show Apprentice (or something) about people trying to become your apprentice!! Watch out Donald Trump, the Lizardman is here to kick your ass. Hmmm… I’d pay just to see that. nothing against don, it’d just be neat to see you fight.

Hmm… I think I would rather box Trump than do such a show. As an alternative, a show I would like to do is one where I travel around doing my thing and have special guests that I employ or teach to do stunts and acts as part of whatever is going that episode.

In the unlikely event that I ever come face to face with you, can we spar?

I’ll give that a conditional yes — provided that where and when we meet is appropriate.

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published August 4th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Bill O’Reilly Fears The Lizardman

Bill O’Reilly Fears The Lizardman

“The ACLU ... are the most dangerous organization in the United States of America right now. There’s by far. There’s nobody even close to that. They’re, like, second next to Al Qaeda.”

- Bill O’Reilly, FOXNews (6/2/04)

The first time I encountered Bill O’Reilly’s irrational views on body modification was some time ago when he appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly. I was flipping channels and came across the show, and having only heard a little about Bill at the time I decided to stop and get some firsthand experience of him. The thing that has stayed with me from that interview was Bill’s reaction to seeing Carson’s forearm tattoo. With no more provocation than the sight of the tattoo, O’Reilly began to voice his extreme disapproval, tinged with sorrow, over people — particularly young people like Carson — getting tattoos. I do not have a transcript but the phrase ‘hate to see young people ruining themselves’ sticks in my head. While those may not have been his exact words at that time, they are certainly in line with the position he continues to espouse today, often without any prodding.

Besides revealing his prejudice a propos of nothing, the other thing that makes this notable for me is the context. Here is a man (O’Reilly) who as the guest on the show is lamenting how someone younger than he is, with (at the time) two very strong television shows has ruined himself and his future by getting a tattoo. I really think that Bill would do better concerning himself with his own career than that of Carson who could likely rest comfortably on his laurels for the rest of his life already and shows few signs of slowing down. Also, as Carson was quick to point out, this particular tattoo is a tribute to his father. O’Reilly was hardly fazed at this, though it was enough for him to shift off from discussing Carson’s tattoo to tattoos in general and then letting the subject go for the moment. So, when faced with fact that he had ignorantly spouted off about a tattoo that by anyone’s standards would be a beautiful and solemn gesture he did not apologize or reconsider but simply went on pontificating, conveniently overlooking his misstep and the glaring exception to his argument sitting next to him.

Since this incident I have had the chance to hear O’Reilly denigrate tattoos and piercings regularly — most often in his radio broadcasts. When I am on the road I tend to search for talk radio and encounter him on the airwaves frequently. He often lumps being tattooed or pierced in with violent or antisocial behaviors, illiteracy, misogyny, and other undesirable qualities or activities. Sometimes he goes so far as to say that a visible tattoo or piercing is an indication that the wearer is a social degenerate. Frequently, he points to how people with visible tattoos or piercings will not be able to get jobs and thus make any contribution to society. Consider the following quotes:

“Already you see millions of young Americans covered with tattoos, unable to speak proper English, unwilling to read a book or a newspaper. How do you think these people are going to compete in our hypercompetitive economic marketplace? The answer is that millions of them will be unable to compete, and will be doomed to a low wage existence. IBM will not hire you if you have a tattoo on your neck.”

“Thus, we now have 10-year-old boys calling little girls ‘bitches.’ We have 13-year-olds with tattoos and body piercings. We have poor children without parental guidance selling dope and carrying guns.”

My first question to Bill would be, where has this prejudice come from? It seems a bit too overdone, even for a pundit (the job description of which could easily read ‘making gross and unjustified generalizations’), to be simply a symptom of the residual Western puritanical stigma attached to most forms of body modification. Perhaps every pierced and tattooed person that Bill has ever encountered or heard of was an ignorant, violent, leech on society with no redeemable human values. Maybe he somehow managed to overlook all of the good people who are pierced and tattooed — the policemen, firemen, doctors, scientists, and just plain good folks (including ones with neck and hand tattoos that work for IBM — I know of a few) . I won’t deny that there are some truly repugnant people in the world and I will freely admit that some of those people are pierced and tattooed but there is something very important that Bill O’Reilly seems determined not to see:

Heroes have tattoos too.

In fact, if I were to over-generalize my experience in a similar manner I would be saying similar things about people without visible tattoos or piercings. Nearly every person who has ever accosted me for money or that I have observed or experienced acting poorly in public was not notably modified. Conversely, the nicest and most successful people I know are very publicly modified.

And this is why Bill O’Reilly fears me — and probably you too. We rip the carpet out from under his proverbial feet. As much as he would love to paint us all as exceptions that prove the rule, there are just too many of us spread across too many fields and endeavors. And here is a note to Bill and anyone else who wants to tread that path: In real logic, the exception never proves the rule. Furthermore, many tattooed people are not employees because they are employers!

If there is a silver lining to the success that allows O’Reilly spew his ignorant prejudice to such a large media audience it is that it means he will almost certainly never return to his former career as an educator. Yes, as he himself is often quick to point out, O’Reilly is a former teacher. Coming from a family of teachers and having teaching experience myself (ranging from elementary to college level); I shudder to imagine Bill O’Reilly entrusted with care of developing minds. Per his prejudice against body modification and despite claiming to hold personal freedom in high regard he advocates draconian methods in response to students who he describes as disrupting classrooms through body modification and or dress. I can only hope that his replacement was more enlightened and realized that instead of removing someone from the system until they comply by force, that issues of difference, including dress and body choices should be addressed for the benefit of all in the class. On that topic I would suggest Bill (and others) make a careful read of the columns by BME’s own Shannon Larratt on the subject:

As a final note, I will mention that I was contacted to appear as a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s show over a year ago when tongue splitting legislation stories were hot and I was getting the chance to debate some of the legislators, often pointing out their complete lack of any facts on the subject. Bill and his producers seemed interested in the story because they agreed with my take on it being an issue of freedom and pointless legislation of prejudice (The [Modified] Body Politic). I also suspect that the writers of the bill’s political affiliations may have played a role. However, the appearance and story was canceled. I cannot say for sure as to why — I was told that they decided to cut it in order to give more time to another story. Here is an alternate theory: Having contacted me and done some basic research on me based on information I directed them to on my website and BME, the producers and Bill realized that I would not be attacking the tongue splitting legislation but also look to press him on his stance on body modification. Could it be that Bill O’Reilly didn’t want to have to defend himself and give airtime to an educated well prepared opponent with a tattooed face?

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published July 27th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Lizardman Q & A: Part 6

Lizardman Q & A: Part 6

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”

- Anthony Robbins

After a few months of me asking other people questions it seemed like a good idea to once again let all of you ask me some questions. As always, it was fun. I think some old ground got retread here and there — but nothing is written in stone, so it’s always good to reconsider things. And we were once again visited by a familiar spectre: Will this be the last Q & A?

Read on and find out.

sinceresoul: How long did your facial and head tattoos take, and how many sittings did you go through?

I only generally keep track of total overall hours and then only because people seem to want to know. I don’t really worry about individual portions of my body. And since different artists work at varying speeds and the design is a big factor, I don’t think time is all that great a measuring stick.

But, to try and answer your question — here are some best recollections and estimations.

My face was outlined in one sitting. That includes my neck and throat but not my scalp or ears. I believe that it took about two or three hours to do but I was there for six hours if you include getting the stencil drawn on right. The facial scales were then filled in over four (maybe five) more sessions of two or three hours a piece. My scalp was outlined and the black Mohawk stripe filled in during in one sitting of around nine hours. Since then some scales have been filled on the sides of my head and neck for about three more hours worth of time. Also, I have had one ear recently colored green and the other one is scheduled to be done the weekend before BMEfest — the first ear took just under 45 minutes.

ttowla: When you do television shows and interviews they focus on your “freak” side and your sideshow act, but do you ever want to show that you do “normal” things as well? (Like eat steak, or do your own laundry, and that you don’t consume bugs at all meals etc.)

I don’t eat steak. I hate doing laundry. If bugs were easily available I might eat them at each meal — I will snatch up random ones and eat them if the mood strikes me. My freak side pretty much is my normal side — I don’t behave all that differently offstage than I do onstage. I tend to be trying to balance something or juggle and seeing if anything at hand can be swallowed or stuffed up my nose. The real difference is whether or not I am being self-conscious about it. Onstage I have to concerned with presentation and an audience, offstage I just do it.

Do I want shows to focus in more on my “normal” activities like driving and grocery shopping? No! I want to be entertaining and interesting. I find those things boring — which is why I find freaky ways of doing things to make them more interesting to me. If I turn on the TV and see someone just grocery shopping or eating then I turn the channel. Being on TV to me is primarily a means of letting people know about my show and what I do as an artist — that is what I want put on TV.

perk900: I have a very important question? Bacon: How do you like it? Crispy, chewy, or burnt to a fucking crisp?

I don’t like bacon at all. I don’t eat meat as a matter of taste and like Samuel Jackson said (per Tarantino), “I don’t dig on swine”

Reverence: Which do you prefer, performing on the east or west coast and why? Or do you have no preference?

I just like performing — but I will describe what I see as the differences around the US.

East Coast: East coast crowds are aggressive and challenging, they won’t let you get away with anything half assed but if you do reach them they will support you and go off like nowhere else.

West Coast: West coast crowds often seem like they can’t be bothered — playing LA can be a real chore. However, you know when you get a response that you have achieved something.

Central: You didn’t mention them but the central US markets are great venues and crowds. They tend to ‘pop’ easier and just seem to be enthusiastic that you showed up. They show love and almost never give you any BS or drama.

More often than not it is the venue that makes the difference (good audiences are everywhere) and to that I would have to say that while the coasts have the more prestigious rooms the central US treats you better and gives you much less venue attitude.

Herra Kuolema: I heard you can juggle. What props do you use? Balls, clubs, rings, diabolos, devilsticks or what? And how many? Thanks for this piece of information.

I have juggled since junior high but I am still pretty mediocre. I do some very basic contact work, two piece, and three piece juggling. I also do balancing — fingertips, hands, chin, and nose. Since my skills are limited I tend to rely on unusual and/or dangerous props and setups to sell the act. I use balls, torches, knives, & plungers most often but I have used rings and clubs in the past. I haven’t used a devil stick in quite awhile but I was proficient in the basics years ago.

Also, Dube exerballs (weighted juggling balls) are part of my daily exercise routine.

Badine: It seems that you meet all different kinds of unique people on IAM. Not to mention that a lot of people (including me) admire you for your intelligence, your awesome sense of humor and your cool ass mods! What do you think of the fact that tons of people want to hang out with you and talk to you? Do you enjoy meeting and making friends with IAMers? And I bet you get flooded with IMs too! Thanks in advance for answering my question.

I think my basic reaction to people wanting to talk to me is that I am simply flattered that people care enough about what I think and do to want to talk to me about it.

I enjoy meeting and talking with people in general — and if they are interesting (as most people, especially on IAM tend to be) then all the better. I do get a little bogged down with my IMs from time to time but I don’t mind.

Sicklove: Of all the cities in the world you have been to, besides your wife, was there another reason besides love that decided your move to Texas in concrete?

I probably would have moved to Texas anyway — but to Dallas not Austin. And if not Dallas I think I would have ended up in NYC after Albany. So, yes, as I have said before I ended up in Austin, TX because it meant being with Meghan.

Mars: Assuming you could find a qualified artist, and you believed there were no safety concerns, would you get your eyes tattooed, and if you did, what would the tattoo look like (ideally)?

I’d do it in a second. My design would be simple — I would want to whites of my eyes to be filled in with a speckled green to make them more crocodilian.

matt gone: I am seamlessly tattooed between my legs, meaning it is tattooed solid everywhere. Even places that normally do not accept tattoo ink. Will you go this far even though it may be one of the most painful and difficult ordeals you will ever go through? Tattooing the genitals is one thing, behind them is quite another. You have to spend days in bed not moving like a surgical procedure and have multiple sessions. It is the worst. Will you go that far?

I don’t know if I will or not. Being that it is not only not a public area, but also an area that I myself don’t see (without a mirror and some effort) it just doesn’t occupy much thought for me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I won’t do it, but if I will remains to be seen.

big lobed freak: Do you have any plans to stretch your ears larger? If so do you have a goal in mind?

I don’t have any particular plans to stretch my ears beyond and inch — however, for quite awhile I didn’t have plans to go beyond 3/4”. Then, after some contemplation I went to an inch — in part because I was seeing jewelry and item I wanted to fit. My primary concern with my ears is maintaining their strength for lifting in my show — I currently use empty beer kegs onstage (which weigh 35lbs) and I can do a bit more than that now. I suspect I may get a bit more size just by pushing the weight limit some more and inserting larger pieces after lifts, if I have goal at all it is more weight rather than larger diameter.

schizonoid: What kind of negative reactions do you get to your mods, other than people staring, pointing and talking amongst themselves? What’s the worst reaction you’ve gotten? Have you ever felt bad after having gotten a bad reaction from a child for example? Come to think of it, I’m guessing their mothers are more prone to bad reactions than the kids themselves.

I don’t think of stares as negative — I stare, I think it’s a natural reaction to something interesting. I will also talk amongst my friends but I will usually wait till a private opportunity, particularly if I think it would make someone uncomfortable.

I have scared kids from time to time but I have a lot of experience working with them so I can generally mediate the situation pretty quickly. If not, I don’t feel bad but I do try to remove myself or do whatever is necessary to let the kid calm down. Many times it is the parent who worsens the situation — and probably created it since kids learn from and mimic the reactions of their parents.

Goat: Was college worth it?

College was worth it for me. This was primarily because I had a full academic scholarship. As they say, YMMV (your mileage may vary). Graduate school is another story, for all the good experiences and people I met the financial burden it left me with is still not justified.

I know you’re into computer gaming, but what’re some other games you like to play (board, card, etc)?

I like chess and Othello (reversi). I enjoy most card games. I had a long love affair with mankala in college. I find tangrams to be helpful with thinking through problems and beating any creative blocks I might be having. Tic-tac-toe still engages me on a philosophical level. The thing is, I tend to get to play these mainly online against other people or against AI — another reason I love pc gaming, it provides opponents when you are alone.

Will this really be the last Q and A?

Yes and no. I think that, for at least some time, this will be the last Q & A in this form. However, I have idea for a similarly reader question based column that I will begin next month. Just keep an eye on my IAM page for details.

Misticals: Do you ever plan on having children? If so are you going to raise your child the cookie-cutter traditional way (or as close to possible) or your own special way?

I will not, and Meghan is with me on this, have children. Regardless though, I am not sure there really is a cookie cutter way to raise a child. It seems like by its nature it would always be a very unique experience that more one attempts to restrict the process to a model the more problematic it would end up being. Certainly there are values and principles that one might see as traditional to the process but the application must be individually tailored.

If I found myself raising a child I would, as I imagine many do (whether they wish to or not), rely upon my own upbringing as a guide. They keys being instilling a sense of self, responsibility, and providing as much opportunity as possible.

grammaton_cleric: I have always wondered how you made the decision to undergo a full body transformation and also why you picked the lizard to transform into.

The transformation itself started as a concept art idea which became a performance project which then continued to develop and absorb / integrate many of my pet ideas and loves; like sideshow. I chose a reptilian motif out of pure personal aesthetic — I just like how its looks.

LoveIsUnity: I have a question I have been wanting to ask for a while but it seems all the previous Q and A’s have slipped by me. Which philosopher has beliefs and ideas most similar to your own?

I’d love to say Heraclitus but I know that’s not true given the spiritual nature of his thought, but I dig his style.

It would really depend on the subject matter but the two well known and accepted philosophers that I would most often agree with would are Nietzsche and Wittgenstein.

Badine: Do you plan to get anything else pierced?

I have been playing with idea of lip rings for a couple years now but I have no definite plans.

glider: How do you feel about people getting tattoos of your logo or your likeness on themselves?

I see anyone getting my logo or likeness tattooed on them as incredibly flattering. If my image is that appealing to them or something I do moves them to get it done then I am really kind of awestruck. I just hope that they have seriously considered it and are doing it for their own sake OR they are doing it in a truly comic and irreverent sense with that full awareness.

In comparison to many performers/celebrities, you are very approachable and “real” to your fans, and to some extent there appears to be a blurring of the line between “friend” and “fan”. How does people perceiving you as a real or “down to earth” person affect the public freak persona that you need for the career aspect of your life?

Part of the reason I don’t think of myself as a celebrity is because I am easily approachable and honest with people. Also, I don’t like the celebrity concept as it tends to play out, where people will be interested in you just because other people are interested in you. It’s easy for me to be “real” with fans of what I do because my fans are real — I don’t tend to get the celebrity chasers who only give a damn about me because x number of other people do.

As for blurring the line between “friends” and “fans”, I am very friendly with people — and even more so when they are fans of what I do because I am really enthusiastic and in love with what I do. From time to time this does create minor issues because people will perceive themselves as being closer to me than they really are but it’s definitely more boon than bane. I actually think it helps me professionally because when people get to know me a bit, they often become invested, in a way, in what I do. I think its like what happens to me when I tour with a band or work with another performer — regardless of what I felt of their work before, if its positive I come away wanting them to succeed and being more drawn into and receptive to their future work. I think this is an extension of coming to know and like them as people. And, by seeing that I do have a “down to earth” aspect I think most people will develop a newfound respect for me.

Of course, if people were to think that the freakiness was just an act it would probably have a very negative effect — but getting to know me will simply reinforce to a person that I really am what I portray myself to be onstage — I just project it more (turn it up to 11) when I am performing.

      Erik Sprague
      The Lizardman

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published July 27th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Confronting Rudeness: How and why the modified should go on the offensive

Confronting Rudeness:

How and why the modified should go on the offensive

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength, and luxuriates in the absence of self-respect.”

- Eric Hoffler

The fight against rudeness is very serious. It is the fight for your well being and the well being of others. To be treated rudely is to be denigrated, and when done regularly it can destroy people. Being constantly put down and mistreated can have tremendous psychological effects. This is only exacerbated by having everyone else around you reinforcing the idea that you deserve the mistreatment by letting it pass as acceptable behavior. In time, the mistreated may even come to believe that they are worthless or deserving of abuse. Suicides are not the result of bolstered self-confidence and being treated with respect!

When I first thought of doing a column on rudeness, my motivation was to approach the subject from the point of view of the modified individual confronted with rude actions and reactions on the part of the individual. In the past I have attempted to address the general public on issues of how to politely approach and discuss things with those whose modifications catch their attention. But clearly, the audience I have the best chance of reaching is the modified.

I am not going to use this as a forum to list or vent about the barrage of endlessly stupid questions or unconscionable actions that society overlooks when they are perpetrated against someone with visible modifications. You can get a quick idea of the sort of actions and comments, and the venom they inspire, by looking through many of the editorial experience submissions here on BME. Rather I want to discuss how and why the modified should respond with the goal of possibly enacting some positive changes.

First, it is important to accurately identify rude behavior. Rudeness is a very subjective thing. Whether or not something is rude from the point of the individual doing it is almost entirely dependent upon context and personal sensitivity. Sure, there are pretty clear cases – such as, perhaps the most egregious, unwanted physical contact: strangers grabbing or rubbing tattooed arms and the like without asking. Even though most cases might be pretty easily identified and accepted as rude, there are more subtle and perhaps even more dangerous forms. More dangerous because the less obvious it is, the more likely it will be overlooked and allowed to continue. I think that a good ‘rule of thumb’ is that if you feel mistreated, then you should take some action. If you think you might be too “thin-skinned” you might discuss it first with others, but you should not simply accept any mistreatment.

In identifying rudeness, especially in the case of modification, it is important to try and gauge the rude person’s motivations. Sudden exclamations may not be motivated by malice or prejudice but rather the shock and amazement of seeing something incredible and probably incredibly foreign to that person. They may very well actually be excited and find what they are seeing to be positive. When in doubt, you may wish to first discern the motivations behind the words or actions through observation or conversation to determine if it was a rudely motivated gesture or simply a misunderstanding before escalating to confrontation. In all but the most serious and obvious cases it is a good idea to give the benefit of the doubt. Think of how you would react in a similar situation – if something you were unfamiliar with suddenly walked past you, might you not forget yourself for a moment and exclaim out loud? As a person with a tattooed face I know that I still stare at other tattooed faces when I see them. To me staring is the natural reaction to something interesting. It is like a compliment – an unspoken way of saying, “Wow! Look at that – it’s cool!

If you do feel someone has been rude to you then respond. But gauge your response appropriately. If you are suddenly grabbed by someone, that is assault and reacting physically or involving the authorities is perfectly reasonable. However, if a twenty year old man grabs you at a party and you punch him, the results will be far different than if an eighty year old woman grabs you in line at the grocery store and you punch her. By the letter of the law both cases should be treated the same but that is not how society works and we need to be aware of this.

Battling rudeness is, to my mind, a campaign for the hearts and minds (both of others and our own). I fully understand the feeling and motivation to make some bastard pay, but life is a lot like sports in that it’s often the second infraction that gets penalized. When you punch the jerk who grabs your arm you will probably get nailed for aggravated assault – whereas if you point out the rude behavior to the world you can shame and make an example of them. Shame is one of the best weapons we have against rudeness. People are social creatures and they tend to try really hard not to look bad in front of others. Pointing out rude behavior, especially when it happens in a public place can be very effective. Also, in terms of promoting the case of the modified it shows we don’t stand for such infractions. Shaming is also far less risky than physical action. In many situations physical action would simply be foolhardy. As important as it is to stand up for yourself, it is also important to keep yourself safe.

But why Respond To Rudeness? Sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth it. Why not just let it go?

It may seem that the reason to confront someone who is rude to you is as simple as the personal affront to you, the righteous indignation that they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. And while I would agree that this is a large part of it, it goes deeper than that. Rude behavior, like all behavior, is habitual and an expression of that person’s thoughts and opinions and mediated by what they believe is appropriate or what they can get away with. And while the shock of seeing an incredible or foreign (to them) modification may distort the boundaries for them, they are not going to act horribly inconsistent with their usual behavior.

Rude people act rude because they think it is ok or that they can get away with it, and they will continue to do so until something makes them think otherwise. Every time you have the opportunity to confront rudeness you have a chance to help reform that person’s behavior. In all likelihood, it will take many confrontations to break the habit of rudeness. And, as we all are all probably familiar, it is much easier for an established habit be reinforced than broken. When you do not confront rudeness, not only do you forgo a chance at helping stop it – you actually encourage it by giving that person the positive reinforcement of getting away with it.

Fighting against rudeness is fighting for survival. We cannot live and let live. That creed only works as a two way street – if you try and live and let live with someone who wants you gone, you will be crushed. Those who try to promote such a path are often just trying to set the other side up for a cataclysmic defeat. If you bury your head in the sand, someone will come along very quickly to bury the rest of you.

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published June 23rd, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The Great Nippulini Interview – Through the Modified Looking Glass

The Great Nippulini

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

- Lena Horne

Two of the main focuses of my life and work are body modification and sideshow. I spend time every day researching online for new information, going over the books in my personal library, and generally contemplating and updating my information base on both these subjects. Thus, it surprises when I find out I have somehow missed or overlooked a major player in either of these communities. Nippulini stands out in both, but still I somehow managed to miss him for a number of years.

A little less than two years ago was the first time I ever heard of Nippulini — via online references and then his postings in an online sideshow discussion group. Since then I have gotten to meet and even share a stage with him at the 2ND annual Sideshow Gathering. He has made a serious dedication of himself to body modification and taken it to the stage with a rare passion.

Now, in his own words; The Great Nippulini!

Name, rank, and serial number — you know the drill. Give us the usual biographical data.

I am the Great Nippulini, World’s Strongest Nipples. I am Philadelphia Licensed Body Artist #8,586, and have been piercing for over twelve years — over fifteen thousand piercings in my career. I live in the Philadelphia area, own a two hundred year old historical house, am currently in the middle of a divorce, have two dogs, three cats, seven reptiles, a blue faced Amazon parrot, and a Madagascar hissing cockroach who just had about twenty or thirty babies… yay!.

Describe your body modifications.

I have fourteen piercings around my body (five in my ears, two in my nipples, a Madison, and five hafadas), a few tattoos here and there, some scarification, and nipple hair electrolysis. I used to have a frenum, but removed it a while ago. I took it out to an 8 gauge. It’s been years since I’ve had it, but I can still fit a 14 gauge through it.

What first got you started in body modification?

Actually I got started in all this through my family’s business. In 1989 they started adding body piercing to supplement their retail clothing store. At first things were new, we had to learn a lot, but we grew and became the area’s largest high volume body piercing only shop. For promotions, I would go to local tattoo shops (at the time, no tattoo shop did piercing), and I got interested in getting inked. I also have had done some self scarification with a Dremel cut-off disc with excellent results. Electrolysis, by definition, is also a body mod I’ve gone through.

When did you first decide to start working at lifting and pulling with your piercings? Why the nipples?

I first started to lift heavy stuff in the shops to freak out customers. I started off with a 7 pound towing spring, then gallon bottles of distilled water (for the autoclave) and so on. I chose the nipples as my piercings of choice for this because at the time I was at 6 gauge. This must have been around ’96-97. I was most impressed with Fakir Musafar’s nipples, and at first wanted to get them so I could put a finger through them — he was my main influence for increasing my nipple size. Now I am at 00 gauge and am quite happy.

How did you first train your nipples for weight and what regimen (if any) do you use to keep them ‘in shape’?

Like I said, I started with 6 gauge, (when lifting… I actually started at 14 gauge in 1990) and comparatively small, light weights. As my nipple size increased, I would try out slightly heavier objects. Over the years I became able to do heavier and heavier items. As far as keeping them in shape, I can only say that I keep them moisturized and am very cautious when it comes to anything going near them.

You use some interesting custom jewelry — tell us the story behind that.


I have a few different types of jewelry depending on my mood. For major shows and competition, I use 00 gauge 5/8” circular rings. They are basically circular barbells with only one bead, they lend the appearance of CBR’s. I use them because installing 00 gauge CBR’s onstage would be close to impossible.

For show and other things (heh heh) I use my custom shackles. These are pieces that I designed myself and had fabricated for me. They are comprised of 00 gauge solid bars that have 4 gauge ‘U’ shaped barbells that run through the main bar. For everyday wear, I use flat disc ended barbells or standard 00 gauge barbells. I also have custom hollow acrylic pieces I wear in case of things like surgery or when I get my occasional nipple hair electrolysis (that shit really hurts!).

When you say ‘competition’ do you mean impromptu contests with people you meet or is there an underground nipple fight club?

Heh heh, I wish! When I say ‘competition’ I mean for the hardcore weight. The shackles are nice, but when large amounts (over thirty pounds) are applied, they tend to pull from one side or the other being that the main bar is straight. For thirty pounds and up, I prefer to use the circular barbells because they are safer and hold the weight better.

You are well versed in the historical aspects of your act. Besides simply continuing the tradition, what do you see as your contribution or development to the act?


The various stunts that I do with my nipples I have seen before, and whatever I create are basically hybrid acts or just way out there type of stuff (the cup crusher, iron grinder, and so on).

I started using anvils as a tribute to Rasmus Nielsen, one of the forefathers of pierced weightlifting. I have also come up with these creative nipple acts so that maybe someday in the future will be replicated by someone when I’m not around to do this anymore.

How important is it to you that acts like yours are remembered in the future and that people continue to do them? Why?

Being remembered for strongest nipples is the most important thing for future generations to reference. It’s more important than fame or money. Everyone dies eventually — we are born dying. This in some small way is my immortality. As I have been inspired by Rasmus and the like, I would hope to do the same for someone hundreds of years from now. My current goal at the moment is to break a buck (100 pounds) in a lift. I can’t really explain why, it’s just something inside of me that I want to do.

Are your nipples your primary focus for your show or do you plan on expanding to other piercings or even other acts?


I do use my ear piercings for my “Bowling” stunt, and have played with the idea of using my hafadas in the act. I just don’t know how comfortable I’d feel displaying my genitals onstage… yet. I am waiting for my Madison (frontal neck piercing) to heal so I can have some fun with that. I got that from Rasmus too. I believe he pulled wooden carts with people or sledgehammers in them with his Madison (I’m sure they didn’t call it a Madison back in then). Other than that, I prefer to have my nipples to be the main focus of what I do. It helps me stick out in people’s minds.

I get asked a lot why I don’t perform other sideshow stunts. Mainly it’s because this is what I am best at, and if I started doing other things it would detract from the seriousness of the nipples. Plus, I am not too good at other types of stunts… I know how to do them, just not well enough for me to feel comfortable doing them onstage.

What does the word ‘freak’ mean to you?

Freak? Michael Jackson? Seriously though, in the sideshow definition of the word, it means born freaks or oddities. In modern slang, freak is used to describe someone “offbeat”, “alternative”, what have you. I believe everyone is a freak, and that freakdom is a part of human nature. Those of us who embrace this part of ourselves are the ones who have the courage to admit it. The guys in their three-piece suits and the housewives who all think they are ‘normal’ are too afraid to be in touch with that part of themselves and it’s their loss.

Shout out time — say anything you want:

Pierced weightlifting is something not to be taken for granted. I’ve seen many people toy around with it and hurt themselves. I have spent the past eight years taking myself to the point where I can lift 55 pounds, or tow 2,000 pound cars with them… this isn’t just something you can “jump into” like blockhead or bed of nails. Don’t try this — if you do you’ll see what “it’s a great stunt, but I can only do it once” means.

Be sure to check out Nippulini’s website at: http://www.greatnippulini.com/

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published April 26th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Dick Zigun Interview – Through the Modified Looking Glass

NOTE: If you’re reading this on Wednesday, March 17th, then you can
watch The Lizardman on TechTV tonight when he’s the guest on UNSCREWED!

Dick Zigun

“Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Work at it, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.”

- P.T. Barnum

Dick Zigun is the man. No, not that man, not the one that’s been holding you down all these years. He’s the good kind. Dick is the driving, some might say whip-cracking, force that helps keeps sideshow alive at Coney Island. He is an ever present icon at Sideshows by the Seashore overseeing daily operations and even taking part in the cast when needed as a talker. If you’ve caught any of the many sideshow documentaries and programs that have often graced basic cable networks such as Discovery and TLC in the last half dozen years then you have likely seen Dick acting as spokesman for Coney Island — and he is eminently qualified to do so.

I first met Dick Zigun when I did a guest appearance at Coney Island in 2002. And, at the risk of tarnishing his otherwise gruff reputation, I have to say that what impressed me most was how incredibly welcome he made me feel. Talking with Dick and working with his cast, I had never before felt so good and reassured about myself and the path I had chosen.

But, I don’t want to risk ruining his reputation any further, so let’s meet Dick Zigun!

Beginning with the usual interview formalities…

I am founder and Artistic Director of Coney Island, USA, a non-profit arts organization dating from 1980 whose purpose “is to defend the honor of American popular culture through innovative performances and exhibitions.”

I was born May 11, 1953 in Bridgeport, CT. PT Barnum was mayor, developer, and patron saint of Bridgeport. He built his houses there and had the winter headquarters of the circus there. He bought up the shorefront (which was the front yard of his second house) and left that property and others to the city for parks. There is a big beach with a statue of Barnum. To grow up in Bridgeport is to think that elephants and midgets are patriotic and all-American.

During the big Barnum Festival each summer (month long, largest 4th of July parade in USA during the 1950’s, car show, air show, 5th graders impersonating midgets, etc.) the local paper is full of biographical info on Barnum and Tom Thumb, who was born and lived a few doors from my grammar school. I was a Barnum scholar before I was a teenager.

You have an impressive pedigree academically and professionally (Bennington, Yale) and many notable connections in the art world — so why sideshow?


I was a scholarship student for a BA at Bennington College (when it was the most expensive college in the world in the early 70’s) and again a scholarship student for the 3 year MFA program at Yale School of Drama. Back then there were no books and no classes on sideshows or vaudeville or burlesque… not at my schools and not at any schools.

As a Bridgeport guy out to defend American theatrical traditions I was an oddball, a rebel, and a pioneer. I was writing plays about ventriloquists wanting to kill Thomas Edison — things like that. Right out of Yale School of Drama I was produced in the regional theater movement I had been trained for but not happy typecast as an edgy experimental playwright doomed forever to producing new plays in regional theater second spaces for the hoity-toity blue haired ladies.

In 1979 I was having a play produced at the Mark Taper Forum in LA… grooving on the beach and thinking that LA was the capital of America… but set on living in New York City which is the capital of the world and the only place someone serious about theater can earn a living. Another play being produced at the same time in LA was KID TWIST by Len Jenkin about the Murder Inc. stool pigeon thrown out the hotel window in Coney Island. I went back again and again to see the play and Coney Island intellectually struck me as a way to live the beach lifestyle in NYC.

Then I was visiting the Santa Monica pier and epiphany struck when I saw an arcade building for rent. I vowed to go back to Coney Island and check out loft space. One thing lead to another and by 1985 I opened a theater/arts center on the Boardwalk called Sideshows by the Seashore. Sideshows are the most indigenous theatrical tradition in my chosen neighborhood so it was only natural to create a program where we would be the only place left in America to keep alive the ten-in-one.

You are noticeably tattooed (your sleeves) with work by notable artists – tell us about your tattoo work and the artists responsible.

Running an arts center has given me the opportunity to bring a lot of American underground culture into the mainstream by virtue of being a known arts center in NYC that sends out press releases, puts on public advertised shows, and organizes artists to present things. We not only pioneered the new sideshow movement but also helped to create the new burlesque movement, and within NYC (which tattooing was illegal in and no one was producing an annual tattoo show) helped to bring tattoos out of the underground.

Our first tattoo/motorcycle show was in 1986. I was producing a tattoo show, hanging out with tattooed people, making money off of tattooed people, and was good friends with Michael Wilson… I thought long and hard for ten years about myself and whether I would spend my life employing freaky people but remaining a standoffish academic type. So in 1996, after ten years of over-intellectualizing, I came up with this: four limbs equals: earth, water, fire, air.

I got my first tattoo, on stage, in the street, in front of the police captain when tattooing was still illegal in NYC and everyone could hear me scream. Spider Webb tattooed my right arm which is “water”. Camille Cline, spider’s protégé, did my left arm which is air. Dragonfly, another spider protégé, is working on my right leg which is fire. That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

At what point did you begin getting tattooed in relation to your association with sideshow?

Michael Wilson, with his debut in Modern Primitives, had a lot to do with introducing post-modern tattoos and piercings to America. When Michael first worked here no one since Jack Dracula had publicly exhibited a tattoo face… some 20-25 years. It was a big deal and since pierced tongues were also unusual in the 1980’s it was a big deal when Michael would hammer a nail thru his tongue. Now every suburban teenage girl in American has a pierced tongue.

When I first came to Coney Island I was an outsider artist type and my education and non-Brooklyn accent enamored me to the locals as a spokesman for Coney. It would have been difficult back then if I was heavily tattooed but now I’ve become some kind of Coney Island institution and as long as I stay alive and articulate it doesn’t matter much what I do… well, maybe it would matter if I tattooed my face.

You have known and worked with a number of people who were heavily tattooed (including probably more facially tattooed modern performers than anyone else). Has this changed your perception of tattooing, or facial tattooing? Ever considered going that route yourself?

Knowing and loving and respecting so many heavily tattooed people helped me accept the idea of inking myself. I can see myself with a total bodysuit but not facial or hand tattoos. I am an old-style kind of guy. My job is to be the producer and director and spokesman. I am not one of the performers. Since I am always hanging around the place my tattooed sleeves help in that I am another freaky looking staff person. But as a spokesman it is best that the audience more or less identify with me as one of them and not one of the extreme freaks.

Do you think that sideshow has helped or hindered the popular view of heavily modified people (such as those with facial tattooing)?

Without question the sideshow movement has helped the popular view of heavily modified people. A few decades ago a Michael Wilson or Lizardman or Enigma would have been stoned walking down the average small town American street… now you all are famous TV celebrities.

What societal role do you see sideshow playing in the future? What does it provide?

Sideshows have reintegrated themselves into American culture. You see sideshow influence in rock videos, in advertising, in fashion. I am proud to have a role in moving sideshow culture from the margins back into the mainstream, where it belongs. America used to have an inferiority complex about its own culture: sideshows, burlesque, vaudeville.

We used to be embarrassed not proud of our populist culture. Everything used to be Eurocentric and that was boring and elitist. Artists especially are now free to use American culture as history and influence without freaking out their professors or getting kicked out of school, galleries, and museums. Nevertheless, not I nor Jim Rose nor the Bindlestiffs have made big money out of producing sideshows. It only goes so far.

I’d like to see it go farther and I’d like to see sideshows make more money — especially since we need to institutionalize the arts center in Coney Island, now that Coney Island is developing fast and taking off. We are renters and not owners and our lease in up in two years. We need to fund this place and the history that has taken place here since the 1980’s or else we will lose it.

Coney Island now offers a sideshow school — tell us about that.

Of course there is a lot of interest in sideshow acts by a new generation of circus idiots for the 21st century… and there is a lot of bad info out there in books and on websites about how to learn and master the sideshow arts which are dangerous!!! So since we are a non-profit educational institution we decided we would be the very first school which taught the arts the right way.

It helps us earn money for our programs and it helps eager sideshow amateurs learn how to stay out of the hospital.

With over two decades experience you have been working the sideshow longer than many of its current fans and hopeful future stars have been alive. What would you suggest they consider or do before taking their first steps or preparatory measures before beginning training at the school or elsewhere?

I am amazed how casually some people tattoo their faces or do extreme body modification these days. Used to be that someone would get a tattooed bodysuit first and then consider the face but these days some kids start with the face.

Frankly, although a lot of brilliant committed people get facial tattoos, a lot of others are “no future” crusty heroin junky types who just don’t care about next year or even what tomorrow brings. Fine if that’s your chosen lifestyle, fine but sad… but if you’re gonna be a professional in a sideshow then you need to show up for work on time every day and act sober — junkies don’t get jobs on payroll at Sideshows by the Seashore.

Given your experiences would you recommend others attempt a similar path?

If it is a “labor of love” and you just gotta do it, then sure, I’ll not only recommend it but be your mentor and give you advice (up to a point; don’t need more competitors). Ain’t no one gonna get rich doing sideshows and the trials and tribulations will mess with your family life and love life and make your life hard but very, very interesting.

What does the word ‘freak’ mean to you?

Freak used to be a pejorative, a bad word. Now it’s a badge of honor. People wanna be a freak. Freaks have freedom; freaks are not like everyone else. Freaks are cool.

Is there any act that you have always wanted for the show but never got?

Siamese Twins. A perfectly proportioned 3 foot high midget. A 9 foot tall giant. The real missing link. Hell, even a sideshow celeb like the Lizardman working for me at minimum wage for an entire summer. I better keep dreaming…

Say whatever you want.


Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published March 17th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Tattooed People Onstage: From Exhibitions to Entertainers. Part I

Tattooed People Onstage:
From Exhibitions to Entertainers.

“The love of beauty in its multiple forms is the noblest gift of the human cerebrum.”

- Alexis Carrel

The modern Western perception of tattooing has been indelibly marked by its cultural association with the sideshow and its historical predecessor the traveling exhibit. Tattooing as an art form cut its teeth and developed in the West in great part due to the desire for and profit to be had by exhibiting tattooed people. At many circuses and carnivals one could not only see a tattooed marvel but also receive a permanent souvenir from the traveling tattoo artist on the lot. For years, tattoo artists commonly spent most of their time on the road with such shows, possibly also serving as its banner painter, and then wintering at a street shop location. A great example of such an artist, and an inspirational tale in its own right, is Stoney St. Clair whose life and work was documented in what is often considered a seminal work in the history of tattooing: Stoney Knows How (BOOK, VHS).

In this column (and part II) I am going to attempt to cover centuries of tattooed exhibits and performers. Chronicling how we have come from natives brought back from expeditions to their native land to our current age where performers such as myself, ThEnigma and Katzen, Lucky Rich, and many more have chosen to tattoo their bodies and exhibit them as part live shows.

In AD 325 Constantine, whose name would later be used by a tattooed attraction in a sort of poetic justice, banned tattooing in the Roman Empire. In AD 787 Pope Hadrian I issued a papal edict against tattooing. Of course, this did not stop the crusaders sent by later popes to wage war for the holy land from getting tattooed while there. However, for the most part these and other similar laws issued forth reflected a general Western prejudice that had developed in the culture against tattooing. Many alleged “experts” considered tattooing to be a sure sign of people being uncivilized and particularly savage. And it was with just such “savage” peoples that exhibitions of tattooing began to gain prominence.

In 1691, Giolo (or Prince Giolo) was taken by William Dampier in settlement of a debt. Dampier fixed upon the idea of exhibiting the tattooed Prince. The marketing for Giolo created a sensation in England, but the exhibition was ultimately doomed as Giolo came down with small pox and died shortly after arriving from the Philippines. Despite the exhibition not meeting expectations, the successful marketing drew attention and many people realized the potential profit in exhibiting native peoples and particularly those with tattoos.

In 1774 a South Seas islander from Tahiti named Omai returned to London aboard a ship from one of Captain Cook’s expeditions. Omai had only minor tattooing, mainly on his hands, but the fact that he was tattooed was a major part of his marketing and often exaggerated. Playing the role of the ‘noble savage’ Omai was incredibly well received and successfully toured most of England, including a royal audience. In 1776 he returned home.

With the success of these exhibits it was only a matter of time before Westerners themselves would hit upon becoming the attractions. Many sailors made efforts to exhibit their ‘souvenir’ tattoos but the standard for non-native exhibits would be set by a man named Jean Baptiste Cabri.

Cabri was discovered in 1804 living among the natives in the Marquesan Islands by George Langsdorff. Cabri, a French deserter, had ‘gone native’ and been extensively tattooed while living on the islands. Returning to Russia with Langsdorff, Cabri not only exhibited his tattooing but also told exaggerated tales of his life among the natives, effectively moving into performance and creating the archetype that would be followed by tattooed people for centuries to come. With good initial success he was able to successfully tour Russia and much of Europe. However, by 1818 his notoriety had declined and he had died in his native France.

After Cabri came Rutherford in 1828. John Rutherford, the first extensively tattooed English exhibit, returned to Bristol after having left for New Zealand in 1816. Rutherford was heavily covered in Maori tattoos and spun fanciful tales of shipwreck, abduction, and living with the natives. Rutherford was able to better capture the imaginations of his audiences than Cabri and further developed the basic elements and progression of the tales that would be mimicked by other tattooed people for more than a hundred years.

L-R: Giolo, Omai, Cabri, and Rutherford.

As it was in Europe, so it went in the U.S. The first tattooed person believed to have been exhibited in the states is generally held to have been James F. O’Connel. O’connel appeared at Barnum’s American Museum in 1842 telling tales similar to those of Cabri and Rutherford. He published and sold copies of his adventures under the title ‘The Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connel, the Tattooed Man, During a Residence of Eleven Years in New Holland and Caroline Islands’ (1846). While many attribute his appearance at Barnum’s Museum to mean that Barnum was the first to have a tattooed exhibit, there is evidence to suggest that he was already in residence before Barnum took over the museum and several exhibits from Dan Rice.

In 1873, O’Connel was succeeded by Prince Constantine (like the pope) in Barnum’s show. Constantine was a Greek man also known as Alexandrinos Constentenus aka Djordgi Konstantinus aka George Constantine and Captain Constentenus. He was very likely the most successful exhibit to date and for some time, commanded a salary of $1000 a week while also making good sales on his own book of adventures. This success was most likely due not only to his talent for spinning yarns but even more so for the quality and extensive nature of his tattooing. Constantine was covered with finely detailed Burmese style tattoo work. He is also notable for probably being the first person to completely tattoo their body with the specific goal of becoming an exhibition in mind. In the years to come many would follow his model. And, future exhibits were not the only ones he would inspire – it is said that the legendary tattoo artist Charlie Wagner was so struck upon seeing Constantine that he set out to learn to tattoo. This resulted in his finding an apprenticeship with James O’Reilly, who patented the first electric tattoo machine.

With Constantine we enter into what might be called the golden age of the tattooed exhibits. A time when hundreds of people got tattooed and made their living as part of traveling shows and museums. Also, the time in which we see the tattooed women come to the stage and even eclipse the men. This era, the decline of the traveling shows, and the return of the tattooed exhibit as performer in the modern sideshow renaissance will form the second installment of this two part column.

Selected Sources and Suggested reading:
Stoney Knows How; Leonard L., St. Clair
The Art of the Tattoo; Ferguson & Procter
Freaks, Geeks, & Strange Girls; Johnson, Secreto, Varndell
Freak Show; Bogdan
Modern Primitives; Vale & Juno

Much of the original research and work for this column was also used for the BME Encyclopedia which contains a number of entries related to and expanding upon the information presented here.

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published March 9th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The Great Fredini Interview – Through the Modified Looking Glass

The Great Fredini

“If Homer Simpson wants his son to work in a Burlesque house, then Homer Simpson is gonna let his son work in a Burlesque house! Oh! Hi... Marge, now you’re gonna hear a lot of talk about Bart working in a Burlesque House...”

- Homer Simpson

The Great Fredini is a man of many hats — and I understand the rest of his wardrobe is pretty nice too. Onstage he is an MC, a talker, magician (the world’s worst, by his own description), a blockhead, a ventriloquist, and a sword swallower. Fredini also does the Coney Island website design (coneyisland.com) and works with Funny Garbage (funnygarbage.com). And while he no longer regularly performs as part of the Coney Island Sideshow cast, he hasn’t left the stage behind as he now hosts This or That (thisorthat.tv), the resident burlesque show.

Meet Fredini!

Let’s start out with the basics.

My name is Fred Kahl, The Great Fredini. I’m 38 years old and live in New York City. I’m a sword swallower and currently work as a creative director at a New York Design and Production company named Funny Garbage.

How did you first get involved with sideshow and Coney Island?

I was an art student interested in illusion. I spent a lot of time up at Flosso’s Magic Shop perusing old magic books. At the time I was doing sculptures based on illusion principles — a lot of stuff inspired by Duchamp. I got into performing magic on the street, and through the Flosso connection became enamored with Coney’s history. This was in the early 80’s, at the same time that Dick Zigun’s Coney Island USA was just being established, and the Coney Island Hysterical Society was running the funhouse in Coney.

There was a lot of great underground art going on out there and it seemed like the perfect place for me. A few years later John Bradshaw hired me to be in the sideshow and I went for it. I only worked about a month for him because I had an artist-in-residency somewhere that summer, but that was it — I had the bug. The following season, Dick set up his own show and signed me on for the season.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

I have one small jailhouse style tattoo on my foot — it’s of a key, and it’s about an inch long. I’m the straight man in the show.

You worked closely and were good friends with the late Michael Wilson (who many readers will probably know from his interview in Modern Primitives). He is probably one of the better known and respected tattooed men of the modern sideshow revival. Can you give us a favorite story or moment?


Michael was really an amazing artist — himself being his most famous work, but he was quite an accomplished painter as well. We had a lot of good times together. One of my favorite ways he dealt with hecklers was when they shouted out “take your pants off” or “what’s on your butt?”, to which he’d reply “There’s a rose on my ass, wanna smell it?

Believe it or not he was actually very modest about revealing the tattoos he had down there. He was once on the Robin Byrd Show (an adult cable access show in NYC) and Robin tried to get him to strip down but he refused.

Michael was also the first person I knew with a tongue piercing. Back when he first started hammering a nail through his tongue, we literally had people practically fainting or walking out of the show. Later in his career, piercing got more prevalent and it lost its shock effect.

What was your perception of heavy tattooing and piercing before you got into sideshow — has it changed much now that you have worked with and known so many heavily modified people?

I remember seeing Captain Don perform at the modern primitives show in Seattle, and seeing Jonathan Shaw at the first tattoo show in Coney and remember being impressed by their tats — specifically the fullness of their coverage. I guess over time I’ve really grown to have an appreciation for the artform and have refined my tastes of what I like best.

I really like the old school American sailor flash myself, as well as artists who do contemporary stuff in that style. I keep thinking I’ll get some when I turn 40… But the only way I’d go for it would be to get a big area — a full back piece or sleeves — none of this piecemeal stuff.

As a sword swallower, you engage in a very serious form of body control and manipulation, if not modification. Tell us a bit about that.

When I fist worked the sideshow, I just did blockhead and magic, as well as lots of ballying. Michael Wilson and I had a competition as to who would swallow swords first. I always wanted him to do it so he could swallow neon. I wanted to call him the human lampshade because of the way the light would go through the tattoos on his neck.

At the time no one in the show was swallowing swords, but Michael would say it’s all yoga. During the off season, I started studying yoga, and got really into it. I tried to swallow a coat hanger periodically, but had no success. When the season started, I brought my coat hanger out to Coney. I figured I’d learn backstage between sets. My first attempt in Coney Island worked — and boy was I surprised. That afternoon I began performing it on stage, and by the following week I had a sword.

You have children, which in my experience, is a little bit rare for sideshow performers. Did you consider how the sideshow environment might impact raising them?

I just do what I do, and they take it at face value. They’ll probably grow up to be bankers in a backlash against it!

Would you encourage others to learn acts and join the sideshow? Is it a career path you would like to see your children carry on?

Like Melvin Burkhardt used to say, “It’s a hard way to make an easy living.”

What does the word “freak” mean to you?

Ugh, I don’t know. People who are mentally and emotionally malformed? Not most people in the sideshow. Michael Jackson is a real freak — both psychologically, and in the self-made freak kind of way.

You are a guest lecturer at the Coney Island Sideshow School. Tell us a bit about your experience with that.

Todd Robbins is the real master of Sideshow School. I just do a little sword swallowing tutorial. We do some breathing and relaxation exercises and try swallowing coat hangers. The old law was that a sword swallower would only ever teach one other person — just to pass the act on, but I guess I’m doing the opposite… teaching more sword swallowers than anyone else! But really, Todd Robbins deserves all the props for Sideshow School.

Tell me about the Coney Island Burlesque show.

For the last seven years, I’ve run the Coney Island Burlesque at the Beach series, which gave birth to my latest project — “America’s favorite Burlesque Game show – This or That!”. This is the TV show I want to see when I turn on the TV! We’re about to start pitching it around at networks. I’m not sure if anyone will touch it, but we’ll see.

The idea is that it is a sexy game show — part Gong Show, part Let’s Make a Deal, but hotter. We make the contestants reveal their inner exhibitionistic selves. It’s really just good clean fun (with some skin showing). Along the way there’s some wild variety acts in the show, but it’s really about making the contestants — these “normal” people come out of their shells, and believe me they do! You can’t believe the things people will do to win a vibrator (see what I mean at thisorthat.tv).

What was the impetus to do a burlesque show? Was it the historical connection or simply a matter of saying “Hey, you know what people like? Stripping!

Burlesque is an old American artform like the sideshow, so the historical connection was a draw, but face it — sexy girls are a lot more exciting than looking at Eak! (Unless you’re into that!).

At Coney Island USA, we had always done an annual Go Go Rama night, and Dick Zigun had written about Minsky’s in the 70’s, so it was something that was in the air out there. The charter of CIUSA is to uphold American popular artforms like the sideshow and tattooing, so burlesque was a natural extension. Plus, it made good money, so in the age of struggling non-profits, it made good sense. When I left the sideshow I
knew I wanted to stay involved out there and Burlesque at the Beach and Tirza’s Wine Baths was born out of it!

Is it different doing acts like the blockhead and sword swallowing for a burlesque crowd?

Not really — the crowd at the burlesque shows is usually all revved up, so in that sense it’s good. At a sideshow you get audiences that span anywhere from super revved up to dead as a doornail, but really, my blockhead and swords routine is pretty much never fail… so there you have it!

Be sure to visit Fredini online at Coney Island and at This or That.

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published February 10th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.

To Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake: Thank You! – Through the Modified Looking Glass

To Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake:

Thank You!

“We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinion, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins.”

- George Bernard Shaw

It is the probably the most popular topic of conversation post-Super Bowl. Not the game, not even the ads, but rather; the nipple. And, since that nipple was not only pierced but even further adorned with a stylized nipple shield, then what better place to discuss it than here on BME?


Want to learn more about Janet Jackson and her body piercings? Click the picture above to visit her BME Encyclopedia entry.

For those of you who, like me, have little to no interest in football (I watch the halftime shows and channel flip to see the ads) or are smart enough to simply leave your TVs turned off; here’s what happened. At the finale of the halftime show performance by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, Justin tore off part of Janet’s costume, completely exposing her right breast and pierced nipple with a starburst shield.

Did she plan it? Did they plan it? Did anyone else know it was going to happen? Do exposed nipples, or more so pierced ones, represent a danger? Does it even matter?

Whether it was planned or not, who knew beforehand, and if breasts are more or less offensive than the ongoing war coverage is completely irrelevant to my thoughts on the matter. I simply want to thank Janet and Justin for what may have been an unwitting boon to piercing and many people in general. That brief live flash of a pierced nipple, which is now forever recorded, enlarged, and enhanced all over the web and on TiVo units across the world was very likely the first or at least a significant episode for many of the younger viewers in the audience. It also occurred in an obviously sexual context via the choreography and song lyrics. Given all this, it is not unlikely that a great many people have been given a positive erotic association with pierced nipples and nipple shields. If there is one thing we have found from studies of our collective psyches over the years it is that it takes very little prodding at the right moments of development to create deep fetishes and influence personal preferences. Something that is conspicuously absent in most discussions of the “incident” is how the breast and nipple have become eroticized in our culture by being restricted from view, whereas in other parts of the world a topless woman is not noteworthy in the least for the sheer fact that her nipples are visible.

I’d even like to think that Janet and Justin realized the potential implications of showing her pierced nipple. The action of reaching over and grabbing the costume almost had to be entirely planned and intentional. Janet knew when she went out to perform that there was nothing under that piece of the costume that would tear away. Most people, in my experience of pierced nipples, do not wear shields all the time or even casually but rather only with some intent. But then again, who is to say she didn’t have something intimate planned for after the show? I would like to think that Janet, with Justin as a willing participant, decided the time was right for the American viewing public to see what their counterparts around the world had been enjoying for years now on TV — nipples. I’d even like to think that she thought of the younger developing viewers and that they should learn to celebrate the nipple rather than shun it. That she could show them how she had celebrated her own nipples with piercing and jewelry and convey to them some of the joy of that intimacy by proudly displaying it. But that’s all just needless pontificating on my part. What matters is that the nipple came out in all its pierced glory and millions beheld it.

Even if it doesn’t create legions of people who salivate, or otherwise produce moisture at the thought of nipple shields, it certainly has brought piercing into the spotlight once again. Janet, despite her family’s problems and predilections, is a beautiful, intelligent, and talented woman — you could do a lot worse for an example of who gets their nipples pierced.

It remains to be seen if people start rushing in to get their nipples pierced as a result of Janet’s exposure, but I am very pleased that one of the first live US prime time nipples to be aired on network TV was pierced. And so, I proudly say:
    Thank You Janet and Justin.

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published February 3rd, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada.