‘Freaks’

All you can say is Ow!

"Freaks" sets new standards for toughness in Las Vegas entertainment. I no longer feel sorry for 52-year-old David Copperfield doing four shows on Christmas Day.

And all you impressionists doing Louis Armstrong’s "What a Wonderful World"? Yeah, it’s hard on the vocal chords. But how about a new rule? You want cheap applause for that bit, then you do it after someone runs two hooks through the skin of your shoulders and attaches them to a winch that cranks you up in the air until your feet dangle above the floor.

Twice a night.

The Strip’s new badass is a guy named Andrew S., even though he looks less like a UFC fighter than someone who escaped a concentration camp. ("People in Ethiopia send him food," one of his co-stars quips.) Andrew doesn’t sing about trees of green and red roses, too, but he does endure this hook routine for the love of you people.

Twice a night.

Andrew is the most pain-resistant of the six performers working the little 130-seat theater at O’Shea’s. If you’re not familiar, it’s a rockin’ "college bar" connected to the Flamingo Las Vegas, the rare place in the heart of the Strip to serve up cheap drinks and beer pong for the budget-minded traveler.

This show has at least a decent chance of taking off in the little casino not frequented by the Celine Dion money crowd. It certainly lives up to its title, at least if you understand that since the cult movie "Freaks" was made in 1932, we’ve gone from gawking at people with birth defects to the "Jackass" school of people doing gross and dangerous things to themselves.

There’s plenty of that here, from light bulb munching and sword swallowing to the sticking of long needles all the way through the arm.

The bigger surprise might be that the show as a whole is pretty funny, and occasionally even pulls off moments of dark beauty that are less Diane Arbus and more David Lynch.

Lil Miss Firefly, an extremely little person, doesn’t just roll in broken glass; she does it in front of tattered curtains that make the scene unfold like a fever dream. And Brianna Belladonna only takes a chomp out of her wine glass when she realizes her restaurant date won’t be showing up.

It’s all seamlessly constructed and even looks like some money has been spent. For that you can credit producer Anthony Cools, better known as the filthy hypnotist at Paris Las Vegas, and writer-director Bruce Block, an underrated comic magician who never found the right fit for his warped humor.

Block seems quite in his element here, strolling around in drag or doing ventriloquism with a dummy that looks like it had been rotting in a landfill. Picture Curly as the smart Stooge and you’re in the right humor zone.

And Block has enough tricks up his sleeve that when his banter with SleaZ-O the Clown — who seems to be the troupe’s normal emcee — wears thin, he completely shifts gears.

But Block doesn’t have to worry about going over the top when SleaZ-O is getting lucky with two female clowns on a bed of spikes. Or when an act optimistically introduced as "the one you’ve heard about" uses balloons and a blowgun to explain the lobby sign offering "used vajayjay darts" for $10.

The double-arm piercing with Andrew and Kelvikta (who also is the dart shooter) is the only display so painful to watch that a couple walked out. Everyone is aptly warned going in. But on the way out, it’s hard to deny that if there is such a thing as a sideshow with good bad taste, this is it.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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