Coney weirdos stage benefit super-show for fallen freak

Coney weirdos stage benefit super-show for fallen freak
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Freaks gotta stick together — and in Coney Island, that’s just what they’re doing.

The oddest inhabitants of the People’s Playground are throwing a sideshow extravaganza aimed at lending a hand — though it might not look like any hand you’ve ever seen — to one of their own.

Last month, Jason Brott — called “The Illustrated Penguin” for his extensive body art, short stature, and having hands but no arms — was forced to leave Sideshows by the Seashore to get medical care in his native Baltimore for complications related to his rare condition.

His departure from the famous freak show, where he won fans over the past two years by performing on the bed of nails and inserting metal spikes into his nasal cavity, has worried his friends.

“We’re all of us, a really close-knit family,” said Ray Valenz, who joined the sideshow at the same time as Brott two years ago. “Now the worry level is up, and he’s on everyone’s thoughts.”

Valenz — a hype man, fire-eater, and grandnephew of rocker Ritchie Valens of “La Bamba” fame — said he knew Brott was struggling not just physically but financially, too, with hospital bills and living expenses.

So he and the Penguin’s friends decided to help.

“I thought, ‘We do shows all the time for our own gain, so why not do a show to benefit Penguin?’ ” Valenz said.

And so Valenz conceived “Penguinpalooza,” a one-night only super-sideshow spectacle, where all of the proceeds go to Brott.

The fund-raising event will star Coney’s favorite freaks including Amazon snake-handler Serpentina, pierced power-lifter Baron von Geiger, and burlesque queen Lefty Lucy, among others. Even Sideshows by the Seashore and Mermaid Parade founder Dick Zigun will come out of semi-retirement to help Brott, a performer Zigun has known for over 10 years.

“I love Penguin so much I plan to get on stage at his benefit and certainly embarrass myself,” Zigun, the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Coney Island,” said.

Valenz said the show will also feature an auction for one-of-a-kind Coney prizes, including a special event banner from the sideshow’s in-house artist Marie Roberts, along with items from Coney Island Lager maker Shmaltz Brewery, boardwalk wood-repurposer Huckster Fabrication, and the sideshow’s own gift shop.

“The whole community is coming together to support him so he can not only pay his medical bills but live like a regular person,” Valenz said.

Penguinpalooza at Sideshows by the Seashore [3006 W. 12th St. at Surf Avenue, (718) 372–5159 in Coney Island, shop.coneyisland.com]. Aug. 29, 9 pm, $15.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at wbredderman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman

A sick friend: Jason Brott, who has performed at Sideshows by the Seashore for two years as the Illustrated Penguin, fell ill a month ago.
Courtesy of Ray Valenz