Sideshow freaks take pleasure in pain

Dr. Carny's Emporium of Marvels and Oddities brings a classic sideshow feel to CoMO.

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Many times, friendships are cemented through similar hobbies or interests. For some, those interests are art and music. Others enjoy the company of those who like to read or have fun watching sports. A select few find refuge in friends who enjoy smashing one another's faces into glass, throwing darts at each other and eating bugs.

These masochistic individuals make up Dr. Carny's Emporium of Marvels and Oddities.

Local to Columbia, Dr. Carny's Emporium of Marvels and Oddities is a group of self-proclaimed freaks. Together, these "freaks" take pleasure in making others uncomfortable or prodding at people's curiosities with their unconventional methods of amusement.

"It's about getting that reaction from people," Emporium ringleader Dr. Carny says. He enjoys pushing the envelope.

"People will turn away, but then they'll be like, 'So when is the show? I wanna be there,'" he says.

Dr. Carny's Emporium is a one-of-a-kind act in Columbia, featuring residents who are new to the stage, have been doing sideshows for a few years or have simply been a bit different all their lives.

Carny in particular has a history of making others feel uncomfortable. Before the Emporium, he participated in a sideshow at Six Flags and was also a performer at Fright Fest, where he learned to interact with people on a one-on-one basis.

"I moved to Columbia, and I just noticed I was gathering around me people who would be perfect to do this show," Carny says.

Although Carny has been performing for almost eight years, he started making people uneasy as a child at home.

"I do it for fun," Carny says. "When I was younger, my mother really hated cloth in her mouth. I would just walk around with my shirt collar in my mouth just to make her cringe."

And he isn't the only one. Another member, "the bug eater," has been eating insects since his childhood. His act includes ingesting mealworms, crickets, earthworms and more.

"It didn't occur to him that people would pay to see it on stage," Carny says.

Although many of the performers have been involved in sideshows before, the next show will be their first together.

For some, bug-eating might not seem too daring. Other acts are gut-wrenching. Carny wouldn't give away all of the upcoming acts, but he alluded to a human dartboard, a bed of nails and a man swallowing razor blades.

"It's really sadistic in a way," Carny says.

When watching self-inflicted pain, it is usually comforting to know the act is a trick - especially when acts are visually intense. Watching Carny and friends, though, will not provide that comfort.

"It is painful," Carny says. "It's all 100 percent real. When I put myself in the glass, my face is going into glass. It's not fake."

Dr. Carny's Emporium of Marvels and Oddities might be composed of "freaks," but it is not a freak show.

"I try not to call it a freak show, because not anything we do is along the classic geek act from the carnival," Carny says. "It's a sideshow - anything could be a sideshow. We kind of shy away from 'freak acts.' We do call ourselves freaks. We do not call ourselves a freak show."

If Carny and friends are trying to promote any single idea with their show, it would be to not take life too seriously.

"We don't necessarily have a message, per se," Carny says. "We don't take each other that seriously. We do odd things for people's entertainment."

Carny and his fellow "freaks" want people to know they are not as different as they outwardly seem.

"Be accepting of people for who they are and not necessarily what they look like," Carny says. "You've gotta have fun while you can."

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