Ringleader Bryce Graves spills his guts about his bizarro circus show
The Hellzapoppin Circus SideShow Revue has toured the world non-stop since forming in 2008, freaking people out with their eccentric combination of vaudeville, comedy, and revolting antics. They’ve opened for everyone from Marilyn Manson to Snoop Dogg, Bob Dylan to Blink 182 and somehow never lost a limb along the way. If you’ve ever wanted to see someone swing a bowling ball from their eyelids or close a bear trap on their tongue, you’re in luck and also maybe in need of some therapy. The grotesque gang performs on January 6 at Express Live! with theatrical Swedish metal band Avatar, and 1870 Mag spoke with ringleader Bryce ‘The Govna’ Graves about, well, why the fuck he does this crazy shit every night.
1870: Alright, I have to ask first, what freaks you out?
BG: Gross things like loogees or when people pop other people’s pimples! You know what really gets me, germs in public places like grocery stores, truck stop bathrooms and especially amusement park handrails. I’ve found over all my years of traveling most people don’t wash their hands very often, even after they use the bathroom. I can’t handle touching public door handles so when I enter a public place I use my shirt to open doors. I know this is weird coming from a freakshow owner, but those things really freak me out!
1870: This is the start of the biggest tour you’ve ever done, how have you been preparing compared to a normal run? What are you looking forward to most?
BG: Touring is a very complex and chaotic business, I literally work from the moment I wake up until I crash at night nearly seven days a week. I rarely get a day off but it’s okay because I love what I do and I am very passionate about it all. I’ve always personally handled all of the booking, management, market research, marketing & promotions, planning, road managing, publicity and even driving the bus and handling all the vehicle repair and maintenance. I’ve always said, I get paid to produce the shows and as a perk I get to perform.
Tours like the Avatar Country World Tour is believe it or not, much easier on me than my own independent tours, now we have a wonderful team of people putting it all together for us. We pretty much just have to show up and do our thing. The best part about this tour is that I get to be an artist and not so much a business man. I’ve toured all over the world but I love Europe and I am very much looking forward to getting back over there. I’m mostly excited to be performing along side my brothers from Avatar, we’ve been talking about this for a long time and now it’s all coming to fruition.
1870: So how did you get hooked up with Avatar? You’ve known them for awhile?
BG: Long story short, I was touring Sweden back in 2010, Avatar reached out to me through a mutual friend and asked me to be in their ‘Black Waltz’ video. We all collaborated and dressed up in circus costumes and painted our faces. It’s funny because I think we really inspired each other because when we departed from one another Avatar was dressing like circus performers and my crew and I began dressing like rock bands.
1870: What was the first freaky thing you learned how to do?
BG: That would be the blockhead! This is where I roll a condom down the shaft of a screw driver and then shove it into my nose. I’ll pull the screwdriver out leaving the condom in my nose, I’ll then snort the condom through my nose, down my throat and out my mouth.
1870: When did you realize you wanted to do this and when did you actually realize you could make it your life?
BG: I managed rock bands and during the summer of 2004, I started managing an old-time authentic circus freak show. I instantly fell in love with it and knew from that very moment when I saw the circus tent and bannerline that I would make this my life path. I felt it was my job to let the world know that this type of entertainment and these performers still exist, but I wanted to do it my own way. I loved it so much I let all my bands, artists and even that freakshow go from my roster and set out to start my own show, Hellzapoppin Circus SideShow Revue. I started the show in December of 2008 and by May of 2009 we were on tour full-time, eight to ten months out of the year. My first tour was with Mudvayne, Static-X and Black Label Society. Then we toured Europe and Scandinavia where we opened for Bob Dylan and Marilyn Manson. Now it’s like a game for me, I want to see how far I can take it!
1870: Have you ever had a stunt go really wrong?
BG: Well, when I drilled out my nose for the first time it hurt and bled like crazy but I knew it was going to go wrong before doing so. You can’t go putting a drill up your nose and not expect something to go wrong. I study all the stunts I perform, sometimes for years before I try them. I study my anatomy with x-rays and I talk to other professionals before making any attempts on new stunts. I’ve always been very careful and have been fortunate to not have been seriously injured, but I know many that were not so lucky.
1870: What’s the strangest reaction you’ve ever seen to one of your acts?
BG: Other than the typical fainting at nearly every show, there was this moment that stands out most when a man in Kill Devil Hills, NC was a skeptic from the moment the show started. He was heckling every single thing we did. When I got to the blockhead stunt with the drill he started yelling that it was a rubber drill bit. I got right up in his face, drilled out my nose and then told him to stick out his tongue. I ran the dirty, bloody, booger-filled drill bit quickly across his tongue before he could pull away. He turned around and walked away terrified, and I never saw him again…
1870: What would you be doing if it wasn’t this?
BG: Well, I’ve never been one to sit around and do nothing. I get bored easily, so I like to stay busy. I’ve done a lot of things in my life including bar tending, owning an Italian restaurant, was a high-rise window cleaner in Hawaii for 5 years, I sold fine Italian suits, I had a rock-n-roll TV show with Mark Cuban, managed bands and TV personalities, I’ve produced concerts, festivals and music videos. I’ve operated tractors, had a lawn service and a maid service and I even created a ringtone company which did very well and gave me the capitol to start Hellzapoppin. I love producing entertainment and I love working with artists and most importantly I love traveling so if I wasn’t running a freakshow I’d probably be producing movies or working as a promoter of some sort.
1870: Finally, because this will be read primarily by college students, what would you recommend that people major in if they want to end up the ringleader of a freak circus?
BG: Physics, math, science, theater and then combine it all together!
Here’s a few more performers that make Hellzapoppin not for the faint of heart…
Dan Sperry: One of the world’s most acclaimed illusionists and magicians, his performances will shock and astound and probably make you gag.
Ryan Stock: An eight-time Guinness World Record holder whose act incorporates running chainsaws and lawnmowers…
Short E. Dangerously: A half-man daredevil who walks across red-hot shards of broken glass with his bare hands, a favorite of ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ who feature him in all of their museums around the globe.
Hellzapoppin Circus SideShow Revue performs January 6 at Express Live! with Avatar and The Brains. Doors open at 6:30 and tickets are $20 in advance or $23 day of show.
Edit: The original version of this article stated the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue will be performing at the Newport Music Hall, but that was incorrect. The show will be taking place at Express Live!