The Freakshow
aka: Freak Show

A Sideshow Act is a special show that involves people with strange or dangerous talents, and people with odd physical deformities or features.

Some popular staples of sideshows include:

Sideshows can serve as interesting origin stories for characters. They can also be a hiding place for characters who have extraordinary powers, but were not accepted into society; after all, a traveling circus is just the place for an outcast to fit in without having to put down roots in a town.

At times, sideshow performers tend to be treated badly by the owners of the traveling circus or carnival. They often are paid little, abused, overworked, and dehumanized. They are gawked at by circus-goers, and treated as a spectacle. In real life, however, outright abusive management was much less common than in fiction - many wiser sideshow owners recognised that without their acts they had no income, and dealt with them more fairly. (A notable example of both is the real case of Joseph "The Elephant Man" Merrick: his London manager Tom Norman paid him well and treated him with respect, contrary to the Historical Villain Upgrade he gets in many dramatisations, but a subsequent manager stole his money and dumped him alone and penniless in the Netherlands.)

Compare Circus of Fear; some "sideshow freaks" are not exactly the nicest guys, and may be very dangerous. Watch your step. Not to be confused with Carnival of Killers, however, which is different.

Also compare Come to Gawk, which comes up frequently in works about Freakshows.


Examples

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     Anime And Manga  

  • Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show features a plot that revolves around a young girl who must become part of a freakshow after particularly terrible circumstances.

     Comic Books  

  • In their comic book, The Wonder Twins were adopted after their parents' death to a plague; because of their special powers, they were subsequently adopted by the owner of a Space Circus. He only wanted them as part of their freak show.
  • In Spider-Man: Noir, Norman Osborn recruited the his inner circle from the circus including Adrian Toomes also known as The Vulture who was a freak before gaining a taste for human flesh. Norman himself was also a circus freak born with a rare disease that gave him scaly skin.
  • The French comic Grimion Gant De Cuir is about a boy with a Deadly Gaze who runs off with the circus, joining the freakshow which includes a dwarf and a bearded lady. He makes friends with them, but accidentally kills the bearded lady and runs away. Years later he runs into the dwarf who's sworn revenge and has made a Deal with the Devil to do so.
  • One storyline on Tales of the Dark Knight had Two-Face trying to rally up 'freaks' to fight back at society. At the end, it turns out they were actually very reluctant to follow him, and generally get along fairly well.

     Fan Work  

  • The vocaloid fanfic Rotting Camellias features one of these in its Circus of Fear. The patrons of the circus cannot go into the freak tent, however, and must look into the peepholes along the side of the tent in order to view the freaks in their cage. This freakshow features Rin and Len as unnaturally Conjoined Twins, Kaito as a man with sharp teeth who acts more like an animal, and eventually Miku, after she is kidnapped by the circus and flowers begin to bloom all over her body.

     Films — Animated  

  • In Monster House, Constance was the fat lady locked up in a cage to be mocked until she was rescued by Mr. Nebbercracker. Even after being freed she still hated children due to her memories of constant mockery from them.

     Films — Live-Action  

  • The Elephant Man focused on John Merrick being part of a sideshow, due to the fact that parts of his body were horribly disfigured, giving him the nickname of the Elephant Man. Merrick was being exhibited in the squalid Belgian freak show. (In real life, Joseph Merrick entered these shows voluntarily for the sake of his own livelihood.)
  • The film Freaked sees the main character turned into a sideshow freak. The show he ends up in is called "Freak Land."
  • The film Freaks is about one such place. It's infamous for using real life freak show acts as actors. They try to thwart a gold-digging trapeze artist in the film.
  • In the film The Funhouse Gunther's dead infant brother is jarred and used as a freak show attraction.
  • The Mad Scientist Carl Stoner is secretly working on a serum that will transform a human being into an intelligent king cobra in the film Sssssss. His less-than-successful trials on unwitting victims resulted in humanoid serpents that were sold to a traveling circus as exhibits.
  • Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away: Several of these, sword swallower, bearded lady, tattooed (and pierced) man, are seen as Mia wanders around the old circus in the beginning before she goes to the main tent.
  • The 2001 film, Wolf Girl (aka Blood Moon) has Tara, a girl with hypertrichosis, who is exhibited at "Harley Dune's Travelling Freak Show". Several actual sideshow performers have cameos in the movie.
  • Batman Returns: This was part of the Penguin's backstory. He ran with the Red Triangle Circus as an "aquatic bird boy" in the circus's freak show. When the circus was shut down following reports of missing children, the news reports tell that "one freak show performer vanished before he could be questioned."
  • Much of the supporting cast of Big Top Pee-wee are freakshow/circus performers, including a bearded lady, a tiny woman, a dog-faced boy, and a Half-Man Half-Woman.
  • A fake one in The Show. Robin's rather low-rent circus sideshow includes women made up to resemble a mermaid, a half-woman (no legs), and a spider woman.

     Literature  

  • The Saga of Darren Shan has the Cirque du Freak that the main character travels with for some time. Subverted in that it is more of a haven for assorted supernatural beings, and the performers are not treated badly at all. And then things get nasty when a self-proclaimed "eco-warrior" doesn't believe they could have a good reason to chain up the wolfman...
  • Geek Love is a book featuring a family of freaks engineered by their carny parents and the cult that ensues.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: the Baudelaires join a freakshow in the 9th book, "The Carnivorous Carnival", which feature a hunchback, a contortionist, and an ambidextrous man.

     Live-Action TV  

  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: Harry had been kidnapped by a character played by Phil Hartman at the end of season 3. Due to Hartman's death the arc was semi-aborted; in the beginning of the following season the rest of the family find Harry working as "Hargo the Alien" in a carnival sideshow, having been sold to the sideshow owner by his kidnapper.
  • "The Message" episode of Firefly had one of these on a space station displaying an "alien life form", which Simon identifies as a mutated cow fetus.
  • Freakshow is a reality show about a house full of these performers.
  • The X-Files: The "Humbug" episode takes place in a Florida retirement community for former sideshow freaks. An undeveloped conjoined twin separates himself from his brother at night and goes on a killing spree.
  • Torchwood: The team investigates a freakshow seemingly from an old time movie reel come to life. To the team's surprise, their resident Immortal used to travel with them, presenting his ability to get better after dying as part of the act.
  • Grimm: Nick learns of a sideshow which displays Wesen as freaks. One has a gimmick of getting "loose" and the sideshow ringmaster has to "kill" him nightly.
  • In one episode of My Name Is Earl, "Sticks & Stones", Earl and Randy encounter a community of retired sideshow freaks.
  • Breakout Kings: The escapee from the "Freakshow" episode was conceived after the midget and the fat lady from a freakshow slept together on a drunken dare.
  • The Glades: The "Gibtown" episode is set in the Real Life Gibsonton, a community populated by the descendants of retired freaks.
  • Much of the action in Carnivāle revolves around the titular traveling carnival, which includes among its sideshows a bearded lady, conjoined twins, a strongman, a man with lizard scales, and (briefly) a faith healer.
  • American Horror Story: Freak Show: The fourth season of the series which follows one of the last remaining freak shows in the US and how they struggle to survive from internal conflicts within their family aswell as outside forces that threaten their safety. The freaks themselves, portrayed by both the series regulars and real life people of disability, have their own level of character depth and are quite friendly so long as you don't cross them or their fellow freaks.
  • Get Smart: In the episode "The Greatest Spy On Earth" Max goes undercover at the Farnum and Daly Circus, which is secretly a KAOS front organization. They have a strongman, a knife thrower, a little person, and a half-man/half-woman named Gertude-Gerald (or Gertie-Gerry for short).
  • Lost Girl: During her investigation in the "Something Wicked This Fae Comes" episode, Bo comes across a group of outcast Fae called the Sluagh who are cursed to wander the Earth. The Sluagh work as a travelling sideshow since several of their members are too freaky to pass as normal people.
    Bo: Fae hiding in plain sight as circus peeps. That's pretty clever.
    Zael: Well, it was the circus back in the 1800s. Then sideshow freaks, vaudevillians. Nowadays, we're more industrial performance artists. It's a great way for our kind to pass out in the open.
  • One episode of Murdoch Mysteries had a murder in a circus. The episode showed the gap between performers and freaks.
  • In Penny Dreadful, Frankenstein's Monster gets a job in a waxworks run by the Putney family, who believe he's just a deformed man. They initially treat him well, but it's finally revealed that they intend to imprison him and use him as the nucleus of a freakshow, in which they'll make him keep other captive freaks in line. This is a very bad idea on their part.

     Music  

  • Tom Waits: In "Lucky Day Overture" from The Black Rider Tom plays a circus promoter promising "human oddities" such as a three headed baby, Hitler's brain, the human pincushion, a seal boy with flippers for arms, the man born without a body, and more!
  • Orbital's "I Wish I Had Duck Feet" samples a carny's advertisement for the freak show and sets it to music.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • One Garfield comic had Garfield and Jon go to the circus. Jon started talking about the freakshow he was looking forward to. Garfield gestured to the assorted weirdos also waiting in line at the ticket booth and told Jon to save his money.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Curse of the Chthonians, adventure "Dark Carnival". A number of the Cthulhu Mythos cultists are freaks, including the Strong Man, an India Rubber Man (contortionist), a Fat Lady and Co-Co the Dog-Boy.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Ravenloft supplement Carnival. The Carnival is a traveling freak show that acts as a refuge for people who need a haven from danger. After being with the Carnival for a while a character will undergo "The Twisting", which will turn them into a freak as well.
    • CM4 Earthshaker. Milos Formiesias' Traveling Exhibition of Wonders has a Cursed Seer (all of his predictions are dead wrong), a live medusa (viewed through an arrangement of mirrors) and Morphiras the Immortal Woman (actually a fake).
  • The GURPS Villains supplement includes a psychic vampire who runs a freak show, along with his cannibalistic were-jaguar sister.
  • Vampire: The Requiem: "Bloodlines: The Legendary" gives us a vampiric bloodline called the Carnival that was founded by Anulka, the Bohemian Mermaid, a sideshow freak who toured Europe with a small circus during the 18th century. The bodies of those embraced into the bloodline become twisted with circus-freak deformities that make them outcasts even amongst other vampires. The bloodline's Discipline, called The Show, allows them to become even more bizarre, putting on a performance which both captivates and revolts the audience.
  • The Old World of Darkness crossover game Midnight Circus has a freakshow of its very own in the form of a pressboard building known only as Freak City. The freaks on display are a rather varied bunch, including victims of birth defects, magical creatures, and even full-blown fomori. Dog-faced detectives, hermaphrodites, midget families, animated scarecrows and two-headed monsters are just some of the creatures that can be encountered here, the undisputed master of the place being a nine-foot-tall blob of foul-smelling blubber known only as the Cone of Flesh. Of course, given the overall malevolence of the Midnight Circus, visitors to Freak City run the risk of suffering cumulative deformities for every minute they stay there; lingering long enough will result in your character being transformed into one of the freaks and joining the show.
    • There's technically two of these in the Midnight Circus; the second of them is Dr Owl's Museum of Oddities, which is really just a glorified prison for the many supernatural beings that the Circus has captured. With most of them crippled and depowered by Owl's corrosive banality, they're downtrodden enough to be exhibited as harmless freaks to paying customers.

     Theatre  

  • In Lady in the Dark, the third Dream Sequence has Liza Elliott as the feature attraction of the Greatest Show on Earth: "The Woman Who Cannot Make up Her Mind!"
  • In Love Never Dies The Australian production, there is a freakshow called Phantasma during "The Beauty Underneath." Some of the freaks featured include pinheads, a cyclops, a winged fairy, a mermaid, a man with never-cut fingernails, etc., most of them housed in mirrored obelisks. The setup is rather glamorous, especially when one recalls that the Phantom, who grew up in a freak show, was imprisoned in a cage and, in the movie version abused.
  • The Phantom of the Opera: This is where Madame Giry first saw the man who would become the Phantom, a deformed man in a cage.

     Video Games  

  • In Bully one can visit a freakshow. There showcased are several different kinds of odd people, including a pair of Siamese twins and a mermaid lady.
  • "The Freak Show" is a particular level in the game CarnEvil. It features a bevy of strange monsters, and plenty of posters alluding to particular freaks at the show.
  • In the game Medievil 2 there is a freakshow level, complete with plenty of corpulent bearded lady nooks.
  • The plot of Sam & Max Hit the Road is kicked off by the Cushman Brothers Carnival calling in the Freelance Police to find their missing Bigfoot and Giraffe-Necked Girl. The Cushman Brothers themselves are Siamese Twins, and other acts at the carnival include the faucet-headed "Human Enigma" and a fire-eater.
  • Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has two mentions of freak shows.
    • Two posters for a freakshow in the carnival level features a fat man that bears a striking resemblance to X-Men villain Blob, especially fitting since his origin was him as a sideshow freak, and another advertises a Fantastic Rubber Man.
    • The reason that Goblin, Vulture and Hammerhead are villains was because they were all in a freak show; this may explain away some of their less that savory behavior.

     Web Comic  

     Web Original  

     Western Animation  

  • The cartoon Freak Show is all about a group of heroes called the "Freak Squad."
  • In the Teen Titans episode, "How Long is Forever?", it is shown that this what became of Beast Boy, being called a One Man Zoo.
  • The Simpsons: Homer joins the travelling Freak Show associated with (the Simpsons universe equivalent of) Lollapalooza, as a man who catches a cannonball with his own stomach.
  • Ben 10 has a group of minor recurring villains called the Circus Freak Trio. The members include: Acid Breath, a zombie-looking man who can breathe acid; Thumbskull, a Dumb Muscle strong man with a toe nail on his head; and Frightwig, a Dark Action Girl with Prehensile Hair.
  • Beavis And Butthead went to a freakshow where they flirted inappropriately with the contortionist and were forced to join as Siamese twins.
  • One episode of South Park had 'freaks' protesting the ban on 'freak shows' that they depend on for their livelihood, pointing out that they're necessary for 'non-freaks' to feel better about themselves. They also protest the rise of trashy tabloid talk shows showcasing out-of-control teenagers for stealing their business.


Alternative Title(s): Freak Show

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheFreakshow?from=Main.FreakShow