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Todd Ray, the owner of the Venice Beach Freakshow, reveals which wonder he'd most like to add to the Freakshow and which of his performers' stunts he considers "borderline insane."
Q: When and how did your fascination with sideshows begin?
A: When I was a kid, I went to a live show that included a magician. The magician wasn't as good as I hoped, but there was this banner that said "The Human Cigarette Factory." Mr. Otis Jordan was a man who was born with ossified limbs that were curled into his body, so he couldn't use any of his arms or legs. But he could do this amazing act: he had a tin can of tobacco, a box of cigarette paper and a book of matches, and just using his shoulder, his chin, his lips and his tongue, he could roll a cigarette and light it. I went up to him after the show and said, "It was incredible what you just did Mr. Jordan. I don't think I'd ever be able to do that!" He looked at me and said "Son, if I can do what you just saw me do in my condition, a young man like you can do anything you ever dream of." As a 12-year-old, it just hit me with so much power. There was something very magical about the moment. It really taught me that whatever you dream is possible.
Q: You've been collecting wonders since you were a kid. What was your very first acquisition?
A: Some of the first stuff I ever got I actually didn't buy, it was given to me. There was an older lady I met when I was a young magician who had been a tightrope walker in the circus. I didn't really know her, but she saw my enthusiasm for performing, and after she died, she left me her circus trailer full of memorabilia from her career: Her tightrope, her husband's clown costumes from the early 1900's, all her original artwork, posters, circus flyers -- the woman's entire lifetime was in this trailer. I had always loved the circus, but this was like being inside it, inside her world. So that was the beginning of my collecting. From that point on, anytime I saw a circus show poster or banner or anything unusual I would buy it, and it hasn't stopped. I don't think it will ever stop.
Q: How do you find most of your wonders? The internet? Word of mouth? Do people come in and try and sell you things?
A: For the most part, it happens from my own searches on the internet. When it comes to animals, I reach out to farms and vets. It's really sad, because a lot of animals who are born different are put down because people think they're not supposed to be alive, so I let everyone know, "Hey, if you've got a turtle with two heads, call me, I'll buy him from you." I also look for news stories from all over the world. I've gone to Italy to get a two-headed snake. I went to Peru to get the only living three-headed animal in history -- it was a three-headed turtle, and it lived for two years. I've found that if you seek out the wonders of the universe, the doors open and they seem to be waiting on you. And if you really seek long enough, it almost seems as though they come and find you.
VIDEO: Who Is Todd Ray?
Q: What is the one item -- your Holy Grail, so to speak -- that you would most like to add to the Freakshow?
A: Well, there's something that I've put out a big offer on -- $50,000 cash or a new Range Rover, your choice -- and that's a living, two-headed pit bull. On Venice Beach, pit bulls are all over the place and I've always joked, "How amazing would it be to stand outside the Freakshow with a two-headed pit bull on a chain?" So to me, that would be kind of the ultimate two-headed animal.
Q: What is your most prized possession right now?
A: Even more than the animals and everything else, it's our whole family. Of course, the whole Freakshow family is not my possession, but it is the thing I value most.
Q: In Episode 1, you try to convince a giant and a bearded lady to join the Freakshow family. What other types of performers would you most want to add?
A: I've seen video of a man known as "Octoman." He has the body of his brother growing out of his chest, but just the arms and the legs -- he's the man with eight limbs. They all move, and it's all real. I'd also love to find a set of conjoined twins. Abby and Brittany Hensel, for example -- they are beautiful ladies and world-famous. I would love for them to join our show.
Q: Have you ever stopped a member of the Freakshow from attempting a stunt?
A: So far, no one's wanted to do a stunt where I've had to stop them. But because we're all family and because sometimes people's eyes are bigger than the actual physical possibilities, I just make sure that they're going to be safe and that they take the time to practice and figure out the safest way possible to do what they hope to do. I will say that when Morgue does his steel ball regurgitation with the sword swallow, that one really scares me, because that ball could get lodged in his throat and he could suffocate. Every time he does it, it still astounds me. That's an amazing stunt.
Q: Do you know how to do any stunts? Is there a stunt you would most like to learn?
A: You know, I'm not that interested in doing stunts. I'm still a magician. I still love to weave magic in people's minds and stir their sense of wonder. So I think my job is to reestablish wonder in the world. Instead of doing that through magic tricks, I now do it through the magic of the Freakshow.