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"Insider" Circus Humor

. . . for the enjoyment of circus historians.

There are five seasons - Spring, Circus, Summer, Fall and Winter

A Live Circus Agent Let Loose in the Sanctum

"I would like to write a short notice for the Sells Brothers' Circus," said the circus agent, after introducing himself to the Poo Bah of the intellectual department of this journal continuing.

      "We exhibit May 13th and our advertisement appears in your columns."

      "What kind of a show have the Sells Brothers got?" we ventured to ask.

      "It is not a show," responded the avant courier, "but a three ply concern; and obliging original obviously observed offering overwhelming outviewing over-throwing opposition ostentatious olla podria of oriental or occidental oppulent omnium gatherum. Several singular separate solid superior surprising superlatively sensational successful stupendous shows, masterly magnificent multifarious maifold, massive marvelous might miraculous monster museums, mastadon menagerie unrivaled unapproachable, unequaled unparalled unquestionably useful - unequivocally unique union unconditionally unobjectionable unomitted unbounded combined concrete colossal cyclopean culminated carefull conceived circus concentration, cabinic, coalescence, chief concerted conglomeration competently calculated, capital captivating calisthenic classical coagmented caravan costly coveted crowning circensian, coactive climax chronicaled choicedrawn chaste catholic challenge competing composite collective colligated cohesive coefficient commanding ceremonious centralized composition," and as he -?- the dictionary he never stopped to -?- breath.

      "How long shall I make it?' inquired the wordy scribe, as he prepared to write drawing twelve pointed -?- from his pocket.

      "Well, say three columns," we modestly suggested.

From: Sumner County Standard (Wellington, KS), April 30, 1886.

The aerialist adds up his salary for the season as "net" proceeds.

Our First Circus Advertisement

From Laramie City (Wyoming) Boomerang, 1881.

      Yesterday a young man with the good clothes of a bunco-steerer and the glad effulgent look of a great man who Is comfortably full, came into The Boomerang office, and after some mental labor at the desk of the society editor, who had gone over across the street for a bologna sausage, produced the following advertisement, which he desired inserted for two weeks on the fourth page of The Boomerang:

Season of 1881

      Grand Farewell Bridal Tour of the only double-and-twisted, all-wool aggregation, the World's Congress of Wonders and torchlight procession of arenic talent, headed by a living Phalanx of gold-bespattered chariots and winged monsters of the briny deep, followed by the most jewhillikin gosh-all-hemlock exposition of Camels with Twisted Tails, wappy-jawed giraffes and speckled hyenas from Farther India, squeaking baboons with purple snoots, Early Rose dromedaries from Europe, slim-tailed birds of Paradise, and big snakes from everywhere.
      Bear in mind the day and date.
      The Royal Imported Perihelion Stunner of the known world will be in Laramie on its way to visit the crowned heads of Europe, July 4th, for one day only.
      Don't fail to see the Bearded Lady on the flying trapeze, or the Wild-eyed Lunatic from Skowhegan, Maine, in his scrumptious swoop from the top of a flour barrel to the middle of the arena.
      Voluptuous reserved seats made of two by four scantling set on edge.
      Come early and secure your seats.
      This is the only whoopemuplizajane show on earth.
      The gentlemanly agent then gave us ten bread tickets for reserved seats and went away.
      The last we saw of him, he was in a saloon, with his head shoved clear through his black hat, while his whole general appearance was that of a man who is rapidly gliding into the mysterious realm of navy blue jim-jams and peculiar assorted snakes.

Reprinted in Circus Scrap Book, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Jul), 1929, p. 52.

A New Departure
Showing How Modesty Triumphs in Circus Advertising

     An advertising agent for one of the great circus combinations has been in Detroit for a week past, and yesterday he sat down long enough to answer a few questions. The interview started off as follows:
      "How many diamond pins will you wear this summer, and what will be their value?"      "I shall not wear any. Our show has made a new departure in that matter, and nobody except the man in the ticket wagon will be allowed to wear diamonds. I am just going up to the express office to send my seven pins, four rings and sleeve buttons home to my brother."
     "How many consolidated shows do you advertise?"
     "Only thirteen, but we have exactly sixteen. We do not intend to do any blowing this summer, but will practice the modesty dodge. We have twelve clowns, but advertise only ten. We have ten elephants, but advertise only eight, and so on right through."
     "Have you the only man in the world who can turn a double somersault over sixteen horses?"
     "No; there is a man who can do it, and although he is in state prison we didn't want to say we had the only one. We shall practice no deception and carry no humbugs."
     "Have you the only baby elephant?"
     "Yes, sir, but we don't advertise it. We don't want to be mean towards other combinations."
     "Have you twice as much capital invested as any other traveling show?"
     "Yes, sir, but we don't say so on the bills. The public don't care about the capital, but want to see the animals."
     "Will your street parade be a mile long?"
     "Two of them, sir, but we don't advertise that fact. We let people come and be agreeably surprised."
     "Have you got an elephant which has killed seven men?"
     "Seven! Why, he's laid out eight this very winter? I think the list foots up thirty two, but we don't advertise it. An elephant is an elephant, and what's the use of blowing about it?"
     "You have two or three man-eating tigers, of course?"
     "Of course - seven or eight of them, and we also have a list of the names of people who have been eaten by them, but we make no blow about it."
     "Have you a boa constrictor forty-eight feet long?"
     "We have one sixty-two feet long. He's the longest and largest snake ever imported, but we give him only one line on the bills."
     "Have you the sacred ox of India?"
     "Yes sir, and the sacred ox of Japan, and a sacred calf and a sacred pig, but we don't blow over 'em. We let the public come in and separate the sacred from the unsacred themselves."
     "Will you have two circus rings?"
     "We shall have four, but we don't put it on the bills. As I told you at the start we are making a new departure. We shall not exaggerated. We shall not even tell the plain truth. No diamonds - no trumpets - no snide challenges - no humbug offers - no field of the cloth of gold. We are going to sail along in a gentle, modest way, and give the people five times the worth of their money. That's all - children hald-price, and no lemonade sold inside the tent." -- Detroit Free Press

      From Evening Register (New Haven, CT), March 18, 1881.

You can make your tents waterproof by pitching them.

Answers for Country Route Drivers, Yankee Robinson

    We never see the show.
    We don't eat on the car.
    We have no tickets.
    Paste is made from flour and will not hurt you.
    We have forty elephants.
    The manager has the money.
    Drivers buy their own dinner.
    We get $40 a week.
    We sleep on the car.
    The posters are hard to put up in the wind.
    This show is five times larger than any other.
    We have all the acts listed on the bills.
    We don't know any of the girls on the show.
    There are no girls on the car.
    We travel 70,000 every year.
    We sleep in the winter time.

    From White Tops, March-April, 1945, p. 22. From an actual card.

Circus performers are serious-minded because they are so in-tents.

The Showman's Primer, Lesson I. - 1883

Question: Who is that man?
Answer: That is a showman.
Question: Why is he dressed so fashionably?
Answer: Because he makes money so fast, and is wealthy.
Question: Are all showmen rich and happy?
Answer: Yes; for they are entirely free from care. They have only to announce performances to the people, when lo! the money flows in, and the multitude testify their approbation by throwing real estate, country produce and poultry on the half-shell at the performers.
Question: Are the performers also rich?
Answer: No; only the managers become rich.
Question: How do showmen invest their money?
Answer: Occasionally in real estate, sometimes in diamonds and raiment [sic], but almost always in beer.
Question: How long does it take a showman to acquire a fortune?
Answer: About six weeks.
Question: How does he do it?
Answer: Starting from Union square, he lays out a route through an unknown section of country, with small towns few and far between; carries a large company, besides several tons of printing with him; plays a week in each place, traveling meanwhile in a Pullman car, and scattering coin out of the car windows along the route in order to advertise the show. Thus he loads himself with shekels and dresses like a dude.
Question: Does the manager pay salaries promptly?
Answer: He does - when his attention is called to so trifling a matter.
Question: Does he pay his hotel bills?
Answer: When his mind is not occupied with weightier matters, such as testing the relative strength of bed-sheets and rope in lowering a trunk from a sixth story window, he frequently and cheerfully liquidates.
Question: Can you name some millionaire managers of the present day?
Answer: It would take too long; their name is legion.
Question: Who is the manager's best friend?
Answer: The guiless billposter.
Question: Who is his worst enemy?
Answer: The town clerk with a license.
Teacher: That will do; go to the head of the class
By S. A. Tire, New York Clipper, November 24, 1883.

The reason aerialists seem so smart is because they always get the hang of things.

Blonde Jokes Are Not New!

On the Tight Rope
His special line of business is to sit in a chair placed upon the rope at an altitude of anywhere from fifty to a hundred feet. In that position he crosses his legs and looks down upon the multitude as composedly as though waiting for his dinner. As will be perceived, he is a blonde, a dizzy blonde, and the superior of Blondin. New York Clipper, February 23, 1878.

It is the circus acrobat who is able to make both ends meet.

New York Clipper 'Card' - 1874

  • A Hon-est Doorkeeper (Shade of Dingeses, hunt your tub.)

  • With Four Paws (A fellow can't knock down enough with two.)

  • A "Warner" Eye - Long Range (Oh Joel, Joel, Joel, I Haight that; that joke's A. Stunner.)

  • Capacious Pockets (Sunk deep by ball of Brooklyn. As Sam Sharpley says: "There is nothing like a deep pocket, for while you are hunting a stamp 'tother fellow pays for the drinks.)

  • And older than most of 'em, Who having served three seasons with America's Greatest Showman, Old John Robinson, is at liberty for the season of 1873-4.

1st Five feet four.
2nd Asthmatical.
3d Slow.
4th Scarcely ever on time.
5th Quarrelsome (Little fellows always have more cheek than brains).
6th Can knock down to an allspice (Twenty-five years a Wizard).
7th Never indulge in profanity (having been schooled by "Uncle John").
8th Can budge with the next one (Whisky is good for Asthma).
9th Never traveled with "Dan Rice."
10th Have been out all night with one "Day" (Thirteen fairy-tails [sic] thrown in, Charles).
11th Keep a gin-mill (Did expect the gin-mill to keep me).
12th Not much given to "Sells" and always have an eye on De Haven of rest.
13th Notwithstanding the multitudes that always attend Old John Robinson's exhibitions - never had but one assistant - and he wore crutches.
Communications (any number of them) can be addresses to Mazzoni's, 274 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, Where the finest of Liquors and Cigars can always be found and members of the professions will always be welcomed by their humble servant. - W. Mazzoni.

From New York Clipper, January 31, 1874, p. 847.

Is it proper to refer to the Ossified Man in the Side Show as a boney fide freak?

Curiosities, Noah's

Curiosities From Noah's Aquatic Menagerie

The Original Show of the World, and How it was Run

It is an established fact that the first menagerie was owned and run by Noah. Others have claimed the distinction, but Noah alone is entitled to the credit which rightfully attaches to the originator of such a glorious enterprise. Prior to Noah's time amusements were comparatively unknown. In putting his show on the road, our friend met with many serious drawbacks. In the first place, there was no road, literally, upon which he could travel. It was all water. In the next place, the facilities for advertising were so meagre that he could not post a town in advance, nor work up the newspapers -- a most important feature. He could not even employ an agent, although he did once send a dove out to discover whether there was a fair opening for the show. In the face of these and many other discouraging circumstances, Noah's Aquatic Menagerie completed a very successful season of forty days. Thousands would have been glad to attend the performances could they have gained admission, but it was by no means an easy thing to get into the Hippodrome -- that is, the Ark. Noah was a man of dry humor, and he rather objected to the rabble. It should be said that htere was no sideshow connected with the Aquatic Menagerie, neither did the candy-butcher then make melody in the land. As for the quality of the exhibition furnished, a fair ideas may be obtained from the curiosities presented above. There are the identical specimens of their kinds which Noah formerly owned. The are the only specimens, it may be added, which ever existed. The bird to the left is a cross between an ostrich and an umbrella. The centre figure presents the head of an owl with the body of a Cincinnati lion -- e.e., hog. The third quadruped bears some trifling resemblence to a kangaroo -- but he is of an antediluvian breed, and cannot be duplicated. The lobster-like reptile is equally wonderful and jimjamish, and altogether these relics of the original Noah's Aquatic Menagerie ought to excite both amazement and awe. - "Clipper Varieties," New York Clipper, April 13, 1878.

The Ratings

Circus Owner

    Leaps tall buildings in a single bound.

    Is more powerful than a locomotive.

    Is faster than a speeding bullet.

    Walks on water.

    Dictates policy to God.

Circus Manager

    Leaps short buildings in a single bound.

    Is more powerful than a switch engine.

    Is just as fast as a speeding bullet.

    Talks with God.

Circus Performers

    Leaps short buildings with a running start.

    Is almost as powerful as a switch engine.

    Is faster than a speeding BB.

    Walks on water in an indoor swimming pool.

    Talks to God if special request is approved.

Circus Musicians

    Barely clears a Quonset hut.

    Loses tug of war with a hand car.

    Can fire a speeding bullet.

    Swims well.

    Is occasionally addressed by God.

Circus Prop Boss

    Makes high marks on wall when trying to leap buildings.

    Is run over by locomotives.

    Can sometimes handle gun without inflicting self-injury.

    Dog paddles.

    Talks to animals.

Circus Concessionaires

    Runs into buildings.

    Recognizes locomotives two out of three times.

    Is not issued ammunition.

    Can stay afloat with a life jacket.

    Talks to walls.

Circus Phonemen

    Falls over doorsteps when trying to enter buildings.

    Never rode a train.

    Wets himself with a water gun.

    Plays in mud puddles.

    Mumbles to himself.

Circus Promoter

    Lifts buildings and walks under them.

    Kicks locomotives off the track.

    Catches bullets in his teeth and eats them.

    Freezes water with a single glance.

    Is God . . .

Submitted by Jan Bickmore to Circus Report, November 5, 1973, p. 7.


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J. Griffin, last modified September 2010.

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