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The Strongman

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It was the 19th century. Muscle-queens didn't exist yet.

"Now our next performance, oh he's sharp as a tack, strong as an ox and a big hit not just with the ladies in our audience I hear, huh? So, putting the scandal in Scandinavia, since time in-memorial, let's give a big hand for my boy: Donar the Great!"
Al Grimnir/Mr. Wednesday, American Gods (2017), "Donar the Great"

The Strongman (alternatively known as the muscleman carnie) is a term used to describe people who would perform feats of impressive strength and skill to entertain the less impressive masses, performing bent presses (since bench presses did not exist when the concept became a thing), they would support a large amount of weight held overhead, they would break chains, bend steel and a host of other fantastic examples of Super-Strength.

In the late 20th century, the title of "strongmen" became associated with the sport of weight lifting, displaying raw strength through the lifting and pushing of heavy objects like rocks, refrigerators, even trains and massive vehicles, all in competition with other strongmen.

There is no set uniform for the Strongman, but the most common image people attribute to him is a handlebar mustache and Pelts of the Barbarian made from the hide of a jungle cat, implying that they are wild, self-sufficient men who had hunted and skinned that dangerous animal themselves.

Not to be confused with The Big Guy, who is the strongman of their Five-Man Band or similar team (even though they can overlap), and World's Strongest Man, who Strongmen are often advertised as. For the political definition of strongman, see The Generalissimo.

See also Leotard of Power, for which strongmen are the Trope Maker.


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    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe: The Circus of Crime has Bruto the Strongman, a strongman from Sweden who is exceptionally strong for a human, but who is no match for most superheroes.
  • Ghorgor Bey in Black Moon Chronicles was part of a traveling circus in his youth, which included a strongman who used his dumbbells as weapons. Ghorgor ended up being used as a prizefighter rather than another strongman, and even replaced the lead actress in a Romeo And Juliet-like play.
  • In Tintin in America, Tintin is kidnapped by a gang of criminals and thrown into Lake Michigan chained to a barbell... which floats. Cut to a strongman trying and failing to lift his barbell and figuring out someone stole his wooden ones.
  • In Watchmen, it's speculated that the costumed hero Hooded Justice (one of the earliest, strongest, and most brutal of the costumed heroes) was in fact a circus strongman named Rolf Muller, who mysteriously disappeared right around the time that Hooded Justice abruptly "retired" and vanished from public life.
  • Mendoza The Great featured a character named Beau Brummy, a wrestler who can twist a fire poker into a lopp with his bare hands. He became the opponent of famed boxer Daniel Mendoza. He was written as a foil to Mendoza who used his speed, agility and wit against Brummy's size and strength, to show that cunning was superior to brute strength.
  • The 5'1 Golden Age Atom, Al Pratt, was patterned after real-life 5'4 Jewish Strongman Joe Greenstein. Wearing an outfit based on circus strongmen, The Atom routinely defeated scores of enemies single-handedly, punched men clear across a room, bent steel bars, etc. And that was before he acquired superhuman strength and an Atomic Punch.
  • The Beano's earliest Breakout Character was Pansy Potter, the Strongman's Daughter, who inherited her father's abilities, and got into Does Not Know Her Own Strength scrapes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dumbo (the live-action remake) has its resident circus strongman, named Rongo, whose strength comes in handy in the climax when he does his part to help the other circus performers save Mrs. Jumbo.
  • Hercules from Freaks is the strongman of the circus in which the film takes place. With the film's themes involving a divide between the freakshow and the rest of the circus, Hercules is Cleopatra's lover, conspiring with her in a plan where she marries Hans (a dwarf in the freakshow), kills him and the two run away with his inherited fortune.
  • Zampano (Anthony Quinn) in Federico Fellini's La Strada. He makes his living entertaining crowds by breaking an iron chain bound tightly across his chest, then passing the hat for tips.
  • In The Unknown, Alonzo's Lovely Assistant Nanon falls in love with the circus' handsome strongman Malabar, which sends Alonzo into a Villainous Breakdown.

  • Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest: The last known case of female minotaurism was Gladys Hoffman, AKA Minotaur Minnie, who served as a strongwoman for P.T. Barnum's Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome. Considering it was the late 1800's, it was the best situation a woman in her situation could hope for.
  • Sherlock Holmes: In "The Veiled Lodger", the wife of a traveling circus had an affair with the circus strongman and conspired with him to murder her abusive husband. He made a club that left wounds similar to a lion's paw, the plan being to crush his skull and blame the lion but it all went wrong, the husband was killed and the lion blamed, but the wife ended up horribly disfigured.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the American Gods (2017) episode "Donar the Great", it is revealed that Mr. Wednesdaynote  and Mr. Nancynote  had led a popular Burlesque troupe in the 1930s. Donar (the American incarnation of Thor) worked as their most popular act as their professional strongman "Donar the Great". He would eventually be found by the Friends of New Germany and hired as their own competitive strongman.
  • Worzel Gummidge has an episode where Aunt Sally gets a crush on a strongman called the Great Orlando.
  • Get Smart. In "The Greatest Spy on Earth", Max and 99 are investigating a diamond smuggling ring in a circus, which has the obligatory World's Strongest Man in Hondo.
    Hondo: Hondo can lift locomotive with one hand.
    Agent 99: Really? Do you happen to know anything about diamonds, Hondo?
    Hondo: Hondo can crush diamonds with teeth!
    Max: What kind of a trick is that?
    Hondo: Expensive.
    Agent 99: What else does Hondo do?
    Hondo: Hondo's greatest trick is keeping twin engine plane from taking off.
    Agent 99: How do you do that?
    Hondo: I break pilot's legs.
  • Parodied in the second season opening for Circus Day on the Mickey Mouse Club. Cubby and Karen (the youngest and smallest Mouseketeers) are billed as "weightlifters". Cubby, wearing the stereotypical strong man animal skin, acts as if he is struggling with and unable to lift a prop barbell with the balls on the ends labeled "500 lbs". Karen, dressed as a ballerina for no apparent reason, lifts it easily with one hand.

    Video Games 
  • Pocito from Moshi Monsters works at a circus lifting weights to impress people. He also wins at the "Test Your Strength" game consistently until the Super Mosis beat him.
  • In Pokémon, Timburr and its evolutionsh evoke the image of the traditional Circus Strongman, with each form wielding a heavier object to bludgeon foes with, starting with Timburr wielding a large log, Gurdurr wielding a metal girder, and Conkeldurr dual-wielding massive slabs of concrete.
  • The City of Heroes Circus of Fear enemy group the Carnival of Shadows included strongmen among its members. Medical examination of a captured strongman revealed they're zombies.
  • Q'aman from The Longest Journey is a literal giant of a man (easily over 3 meters tall) who worked as a circus strongman in Corasan until he accidentally injured a prince's son and had to flee the country, literally swimming across the ocean to reach the Alais Island where April meets him in the game.
  • Wolfgang from Don't Starve is labeled as such, and is fittingly the strongest character in the game.
  • Dark Seed II has the circus strongman Gargan, who is depressed about not being as popular as the other acts and is implied to be deliberately sabotaging the circus’s popularity.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In the Old Timey setting, an Alternate Universe set in a vaguely 1930s-ish setting, Strong Mad's equivalent is called The Strongman and he dresses in the costume of a circus Strong Man.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Phineas and Ferb, the titular stepbrothers convert their home into a fun house. One of the things found here is a strongman who is trying to lift up a feather that weighs a ton. As this happens, Phineas and Ferb are each holding up a 1,000-lb. weight by their feet.
  • In one Droopy cartoon, Daredevil Droopy, Droopy and Spike compete for the role of acrobatic dog in a circus dog act. One tryout they have to do is a test of strength courtesy of Simpson the Strong Man. Spike tries to cheat by covering part of the barbells Droopy is to lift so that it looks like he's lifting one-pound weights as opposed to the original 1,000 pounds. As one might expect, Droopy succeeds in lifting the barbells with no trouble at all, but when a surprised Spike tries it, the strips covering the barbells come loose and they weigh down on Spike and send him crashing through the floor.
  • In the Dick Van Dyke episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Van Dyke's carnival is haunted by a ghostly strongman. It's revealed that the strongman wanted to be the new owner of the carnival.
    • A strongman figures in the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! episode "Bedlam in the Big Top." But he's not the perp—he and the circus midget ran away from the circus because of the ghost clown.
  • Family Guy has Phineas and Barnaby, two Recurring Extras who mostly showed up early in the series. They are a pair of fitness-obsessed strongmen who have a tendency to act like Fish out of Temporal Water by doing things typical of The Gay '90s, like riding old time bicycles with giant front wheels and using a gramophone to play jazz, which they consider to be a new genre of music.
    I say Phineas, great day to be doing squat thrusts and lifting our huge triangular iron weights!
  • The Pink Panther cartoon "Come On In...The Water's Pink!" Has the panther upstaging a beach beefcake by inflating two balloons and placed at the end of a barbell rod. When the dude pushes the panther away, the barbells crash on top of him as if they weighed a ton.

    Real Life 
  • Louis Cyr was a French Canadian strongman with a career spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His recorded feats, including lifting 500 pounds (227 kg) with one finger and backlifting 4,337 pounds (1,967 kg), show Cyr to be, according to Ben Weider, a former chairman of the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness, among the strongest men ever to have lived. (Incidentally, his two thousand dollars weekly earnings was worth in his lifetime some 25 times what it would be at the time this trope was launched.)