Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue took the U.S. by storm last year with their Face Your Fears tour, bringing Circus Sideshow to the front and center stage to raise awareness of these amazing performers and death-defying feats even while a lot of artists were still too afraid to tour. When I first saw them at The Cotillion in Wichita on July 1, 2021, I immediately knew that I had to find a way to bewitch them to visit us here at Haunted MTL.
There’s no stop’n Hellzapoppin!Bryce “The Govna” Graves
This year, they’re at it again, encouraging audiences to join them for the next Face Your Fears tour with these talented performers as they worm their way deeper into our hearts. Here at Haunted MTL we were fortunate to snag an interview Bryce “The Govna” Graves, the Ringleader behind Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue. Follow along with bated breath as we journey deep into the magical circus tent and peek behind the curtain to learn more about this incredible show.
So without further ado, here’s the interview…
You are a man of many talents, including high rise window cleaning and the fundraising Making Memories bicycle ride. You’ve also been intensely immersed the entertainment industry as a jack of all trades in rock n roll, television, stuntsmanship, casting, production, mobile tunes, and more. What drew you to the freak show when you first witnessed the art form in 2004?
OK, this is a good question. Back in 2004, I was a young man, cocky, maybe even a little arrogant but also completely naïve. I thought that I had seen it all but what I didn’t realize, I had not seen anything yet! I was managing rock bands, TV personalities, traveling the world and I even had my own Rock ‘n Roll TV show called True Music on Mark Cuban‘s old TV Network, HDNet. I was on top of the world!
I was producing a large scale event for a local radio station at a haunted attraction in Dallas Texas and was searching for something unique and different. I ended up booking an authentic turn of the century traveling circus Sideshow. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into at the time. I’ve seen many circuses at this point in my life. When I was a child I remember seeing a Freakshow at the state fair. It was terrifying to me at that time. They had Siamese twins, a bearded lady, a half man, Sword Swallowers and all sorts of other performers.
Anyway, I remember driving up to the haunted attraction and seeing the circus tent with the incredible beautiful giant handpainted banner line in front. I was immediately bewildered, overwhelmed and stupefied at what was before my eyes. I was even more blown away when I saw the show. Circus and sideshow is literally a dying art form. Before the Internet, before television and yes before radio, the first forms of paid entertainment in America were circus and sideshows. I had an epiphany… I knew at that very moment it was my job to let the world know that this sort of entertainment still existed.
I am so passionate about music, I loved working with rock bands and TV personalities but nothing filled my heart more than the circus. This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and here I am 18 years later still in business and thriving more than ever. We have traveled and performed well over 3000 shows in 16 countries. When we are not off touring and performing in our own circus tent or inside music venues and small theaters we are touring with some of the biggest and most famous rock bands in the world.
How did this experience drive you to become involved in the Brothers Grim SideShow and later create the “vaudeville freak show of wonder”, as you yourself have described the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue experience?
Okay… this is a very touchy subject and I’m a little reluctant to respond. Up until now I have ignored this question so consider yourself lucky. It’s bittersweet if you will. It actually makes me cringe however when I hear the words Brothers Grim Sideshow.
The sideshow world is a very small and tight niched community. As you can probably imagine, it is a very dark and dangerous business. There are a lot of very unusual people in this business and they don’t take lightly to inexperienced newcomers such as myself at that time and rightfully so. I had an artist management company called Brown Gravy Entertainment in Deep Ellum, Dallas Texas. As mentioned, I was managing rock bands and TV personalities. Soon after my haunted attraction event ended, I met with the owner of the Bros. Grim and offered him a management deal. At this point in their career, the performers were actually running the outfit and they had only performed a handful of shows.
Within a few short years, I had taken this little sideshow that nobody had ever heard of all around the world. I personally and solely produced all our tours including Ozzfest 06 and 07, The Family Values Tour with Korn and Deftones 07, the Vans Warped Tour 07 and on Festival Tours all around Scandinavia and Europe. I brought all of my industry connections to the table. I invested countless backbreaking hours, days, months, years and personal money into someone else’s project. I put my name and my entire being on the line for someone else that I truly believed in and later it came back to bite me in the ass.
The show owed me a ridiculous amount of money so the owner agreed to convert what he owed me into equity. I then became 49% owner of the show but that didn’t last very long. He was notorious for not paying his bills. I brokered deals with friends of mine in the business and he later screwed them over and never paid them either. My name was being soiled and ran through the mud and due to massive creative differences and personality conflicts, I decided to leave and start my own show.
It was like a horrible horrible divorce between my former business partner and I. We were the best of friends so it was incredibly heartbreaking for me. Still is… Half of the performers and crew went with me and the other half stayed with him. Even up til today, many of these people still slander, harass and bully me. They have defamed my character and integrity as a person more than you can imagine. I can’t begin to tell you the damage they have caused. No matter, I have stayed true to myself and just ignore the lies and horrific accusations.
There was something good that came out of all this hell. Had I not seen that beautiful circus tent and banner line, had I not worked with so many amazing performers, I would not own my own show today. This is how Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue came to be.
In response to the last couple of years and the definition of FEAR as False Evidence Appearing Real, how have the Face Your Fears tours inspired you, the myriad of performers with whom you share the stage, your audiences, and others? What advice can you offer our readership on facing their fears?
You are just full of good questions…
Up until 2020, HELLZAPOPPIN was unstoppable. We had been through a lot of shit in our time. We survived the 2008 economic crash, the constant slander and bullying from my former business partner and his goons and now a global pandemic.
There’s a tagline that I live by. There’s no stop’n Hellzapoppin! I never thought in a million years that something as simple as a global pandemic would cut me off at the knees and leave me stranded but it did. We lost over 150 shows and 1.5 years of work. Two months prior to Covid, my lady and I had purchased a 20 acre tree farm in Florida. We were supposed to be in Russia March 2020 but that got canceled. We were scheduled for a European tour, a Canadian tour and two U.S. tours but they all got canceled as well.
Naturally, I was terrified and in uncharted territory. I didn’t know what the hell we were going to do. The definition of Hellzapoppin is chaos. It means anything can happen and it probably will. The world had met Hellzapoppin head on.
I remember spending months terrified and living in fear. My lady Willow Lauren and I had decided to turn the TV off. We stopped watching the news, we stopped worrying and we began to focus on ourselves. We had decided to use our down time from touring wisely. We spent the next year rebuilding, re-branding, rewriting and restructuring the entire show from top to bottom. We were not about to let this pandemic get the best of us.
We are signed to one of the most amazing rock ‘n’ roll booking agencies in the world, TKO. We were strategizing a tour for months and we wanted to be ready to pull the trigger the second the economy reopened and we did. It was February 2021 when we announced our first tour back. Florida was one of the first to re-open so we booked shows all around Florida. Soon there after many other states were beginning to open so we launched a national tour. According to my Booking Agent, we were the first touring act in America to hit the road after the economy reopened. The eyes were upon us. Damn near every booking agency, every promoter and every venue around the country was keeping an eye on us. They all wanted to see how we would do.
I had two major fears. Were people going to buy tickets and could we get through a tour without getting sick? It was time to face our fears and get back out there and show the world that we were a force to be reckoned with and that’s exactly what we did. We sold out damn near every single show from February to August and we set record merchandise sales!
By mid April the first tour was coming to an end. At this point we have seen so many bizarre differences between the various cities and state mandates. Our last few shows were in Colorado and South Dakota and at this point neither had mask mandates. If we were going to get sick it was going to be here. It wasn’t until we were driving home back to Florida that almost everybody on the show was feeling sick. The second we got home we all got tested and all but two people came back positive. Luckily the tour was over so we all quarantined here at our farm. The good thing, none of us had it all that bad. It was pretty much the standard headaches, loss of taste and smell, brain fog, leg cramps, etc. I found that if I laid in bed I felt worse but if I got up and stayed busy on the farm I got through quite easily.
I have named all of my tours last year and this year, Face Your Fears. I found that sitting at home and watching the news and all the chaos that was going on in the world was tearing away at my soul. We can’t let this define us. We must continue to move forward and if we don’t the world is going to become a very ugly place. Think about it. Friends, neighbors and even family have turned against each other. The presidential election, the pandemic, the vaccinations or lack there of has turned us all against each other. This madness must stop! It’s time to put our differences aside. This is time that we are supposed to come together and support one another. It’s time to face your fears! You must dig deep and muster up the courage to get back out there. You can’t let this define who you are. We can do this. Face Your Fears! Get out there, support your local restaurants and bars, touring shows, artists, festivals and so forth. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you want to get vaccinated, get vaccinated and if you don’t, don’t but either way you’ve got to FACE YOUR FEARS!
I hope to help re-open venues, help employ people, and bring fans back together again to reclaim our livelihood and inspire other touring artists to take the plunge and get back out there. Laughter and wonder can be the best medicines. I love seeing the excitement, the positive shock and awe on people’s faces. Most importantly, I like to connect with people and bring them into our world and share our stories with them. We aim to teach them how to look at the world differently. If people can escape their harsh realities, fears, and anxieties for just a few moments, then we have succeeded.
I caught your show in Wichita, Kansas, USA on July 1, 2021 and was awestruck by the mastery, passion and showmanship that everyone in Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue puts into all they do. You have an amazing lineup on your 2022 tour featuring some of the previous performers as well as new talent. Please introduce us to the incredible artists you are bringing with you and let us know where you met them. We want all the juicy details we sink our teeth into…
First off, thank you for those kind words. I’ll feature many star-studded performers on Hellzapoppin this year. We have four tours going out this year. This coming March and April I will feature performers such as Lucian Fuller. Lucian is a freshly unique, high energy and family friendly circus performer with world class juggling skills, dangerously funny stunts and clean fun comedy that is sure to entertain and create an enjoyable memory of a lifetime. In addition to Hellzapoppin, Lucian Fuller is also a performer on Cirque Du Soleil and has amazed audiences around the world performing in over 5,000 shows and 27 countries.
Fans will also get the chance to witness the world’s most amazing half-man, Mr. Short E. Dangerously. This tiny daredevil is a Ripley’s Star and has been featured in 2 of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books! There are wax figures of Shorty in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museums all over the world, and he was featured on the Ripley’s international TV show. You may have also seen Short E. Dangerously on AMC’s Freakshow!
Also making an appearance this year is the mysterious, sultry, and spellbinding fabulous woman of enchantment – Ms. Willow Lauren. Beautiful beyond desire and cruel beyond words, Willow is a former motorcycle stunt-rider turned international touring sideshow stunt-woman and aspiring illusionist and aerialist. She’s known as the Ballerina of the Blades. Willow swallows swords and performs the contortion blade-box of death. She not only eats fire she also eats and regurgitates razor blades! Willow will swallow a lifesaver, using dental floss she’ll saw a hole into her throat and will miraculously grab hold of the lifesaver and will pull it out of her neck right before your very eye’s and with no blood and no pain.
You’ll see the pain-proof strong man Mr. Eric Ross! Eric is a world renown magician and sideshow stunt-man. He performs death defying stunts live on stage such as the ancient and deadly art-form known as Fakir. Much like a sewing pincushion, Eric takes long stainless steel skewers and pokes them right through his biceps, through the palm of his hands and even through the mandible which is located directly underneath his tongue as it pops out just under his jaw and next to his throat. This is a demonstration of mind over matter and again with no blood and no pain.
Last and definitely not least, with a playful curiosity and a sweet demure, Camille Zamboni revels in twisting her way into your little black hearts. Camille is an incredible contortionist, a hand-balancer and archer that hails from the Paris of Appalachia. With as much grit as the city she comes from, she is self-taught in her acts. A background in artistic gymnastics left her bending and balancing. She picked up archery, and now sends arrows flying through the air using her feet as she balances upside down on her hands and bent over backwards. Camille Zamboni holds the official Guinness World Record for painting the world’s largest Ouija Board at the Grand Midway Hotel in Pennsylvania!
I will be announcing other amazing and incredible performers soon. To learn more about Hellzapoppin, and for tickets to the “Face Your Fears” tour, please visit https://hellzapoppin.com/tour-dates.
How long will this tour run and where can we can catch you next? (Here’s hoping a return trip to Wichita is in the cards…)
The first tour is going to last two months in April and May. I will be announcing the other three tours over the next few weeks. You can again find that information at hellzapoppin.com.
In the past, we have witnessed astounding feats, Guinness World Records have been broken, and we were even invited onstage to see Willow Lauren survive the contortion blade box of death… Are there any tantalizing tidbits that will appear in the show that you’d be willing to divulge to our Haunted MTL readership? Is there anything in particular we should keep our eyes peeled for when we come?
I can’t give away too much more, you’ll just have to Face Your Fears and come see the show and these world famous performers for yourself. Bring a friend or 10…
Thank you so much for dropping in and chatting with us here at Haunted MTL. Is there anything else you’d like to mention – any freakishly delightful morsels that may have rolled off this plate, onto the floor, and down the basement stairs?
Yes, please support a dying art form and one of the very last authentic Touring Circus Sideshows. Stop by hellzapoppin.com today and pick up some merchandise. We have amazing T-shirts, hoodies and all sorts of fun stuff at our merchandise store. Be sure to like us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you’d like to know more, sign up for our email newsletter also at hellzapoppin.com. Thank you for this opportunity, I look forward to seeing you all out on the midway.
Give me your eyeballs, and I will put them in a jar of formaldehyde and show you the world.Bryce “The Govna” Graves
So there you have it folks! Be sure to catch Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue on their current Face Your Fears tour. And remember to stalk us here on Haunted MTL for the meaty scoop on all your freakishly favorite horrors…