Interview: Jim Rose

The Jim Rose Circus is at it again. A tour of the States starts July 3rd, this time with Jake “the Snake” Roberts along with a living Burmese Python. Also set to appear are SiNn BoDhi and BEBE the Circus Queen. You can catch them all in Seattle when they appear at the Showbox Market on Wednesday, July 8th.

I talked with the founder of the circus, Jim Rose, last week and I was curious about his background and how he got into this kind of work. Because it is work, it is a profession for sure and takes very careful planning and execution. Plus I wanted to know about his plans and what he does in his spare time.

Dagmar: You’ve got a Burmese Python on tour with you this time around? Is the snake male or female?

Jim Rose: She’s a female. They’re the larger [snakes] in Burmese life.

D: Is she at your home now?

JR: Yes.

D: Is she well-behaved?

JR: Yeah, she scares me though.

D: She’ll be on the road with you?

JR: Yeah, for two months. She’s 340 pounds, by the way. She’s a big one. It’s bigger than my professional wrestlers. She’s something like 28 feet. They average about 140 pounds and 20 feet. She’s in an encampment. For now she’s living like she would be in the wild. She will be when she’s on the road too. I care for this thing, but I guess I am still scared of it. If it got out it would really ruin my day.

SiNn BoDhi with Burmese Python. BoDhi says, “The albino Burmese Python is a quirky, needy and rare reptile. It’s pickier than Mariah Carey.” Photo courtesy Magnum PR

D: Do you have any tips for first time circus viewers?

JR: Make sure you watch people watching it. The faces that people make that they don’t know they’re making are very entertaining. Of course that’s the only way I’ve ever seen my show.

D: I think I might start laughing at people though.

JR: Why not? That’s probably the only context where you can laugh at people. In any other context it might be kind of looking down on them. I think there’s license there.

D: You went to Fool School? What do they teach there?

JR: They teach how to hit each other in the face with a pie. I left pretty quick. You take the makeup off a clown and all you get is an old pervert.

D: Did you ever work with cats and dogs onstage?

JR: No. Although when I was a lot younger – you gotta realize my wife [Bebe the Circus queen] is from a circus family in France, actually her brother is the director of the Royal Deluxe – in her family circus when I was a kid I mentored to be a bear trainer. At first you leave the bicycle outside the encampment so they can see it. Then you ride around the encampment on it for a week or two so they see that it moves. Then you put training wheels on it and put it in the encampment and then one of them gets on there and starts pedaling around. Whichever one does that is probably the best one to train. And then you take the training wheels off and sort of help the bear along – before you know it you have a bear riding a bicycle.

D: It seems like that would take a long time.

JR: It does, like six months. It’s not six months 24/7 – about an hour a day broken into 15-20 minute segments.

The Jim Rose Circus – Photo courtesy Magnum PR

D: Are there tricks/acts that have made you queasy?

JR: Well, there’s people who do stunts, and they’re bloody. That’s not what I enjoy. I don’t do stunts where if there’s blood you’re successful. I put my face in broken glass and let people stand on the back of my head. If I come out looking like hamburger am I crazy or is that a stunt?

D: I was reading that your dad was a magician? What did he do?

JR: Mostly mentalism.

D: Was he a psychic?

JR: Yeah, he did that. He did magic as well. I guess if you dug that deep you found out that I was cross-eyed. I don’t know what was so interesting about my left eye that my right eye had to look at it. Until I had corrective surgery I spent a lot of time at home because it wasn’t real fun out there socially. Kids had seen a wheelchair, a cane, a colostomy bag or two but cross-eyed seemed to stick out like a sad thumb. Up until I was in the sixth grade I pretty much just hung out with my dad.

D: Kids can be so mean.

JR: I used to get beat up every day. I remember one morning my dad came in during breakfast and said, “Jim, at the end of the school year I’m going to get you corrective surgery.” I went to school and told everybody and nobody believed me. They still beat me up. I counted down the days, and finally school was out and I got the operation. I had bandages on my eyes for two weeks and my little brother would take me out to walk. Kids would throw rocks at us and say, “Mole, mole come out of your hole.” I kept saying, “You just wait, when I get these bandages off I’m gonna kick all your butts.” And then we went [to the doctor] and took the bandages off and wiped the yellow gook out of my eyes and before I could focus and look into the mirror I heard the doctor say, “It didn’t work, we’ll have to try again next year.” So I had to go back to school for another year. On a positive level it gave me a quicker wit than I might have already had. I would say anything to get people’s eyes off mine. I became sort of a comic because of it.

D: Have you ever used hypnotism for any type of therapy?

JR: No. Self-hypnosis is overrated. There are a lot of things you can do – your brain’s a computer. So let’s say you’re not very confident – you can say, I rule the world. Repeat that to yourself five times a day and after a couple of months you start feeling that way. But that’s not really self-hypnosis. I wrote a whole book on it called Snake Oil.

D: You’re a fan of Ministry. What other music do you listen to?

JR: I like Neil Diamond. Trent Reznor’s my best friend and I told him the other day he should do a whole album of Neil Diamond covers and call it Nine Inch Neils.

D: I like that idea. I just saw Neil Diamond last year and he was fantastic.

JR: I went to Neil Diamond one time with Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder and Michael Stipe. We went backstage after the show to meet him and he walks in with these guys behind him. He puts his around Eddie, photo’s taken. Photo is handed to Eddie. Then he puts his around Chris – same thing. Then Michael, then me and he walks out. He didn’t know who any of them were. It was just a meet and greet.

D: What kind of hobbies do you have?

JR: Every day when I’m not working I play a game called petanque. It’s basically the French version of bocce. It’s the same game, except instead of wooden balls they’re heavy metal balls. Sort of like lawn bowling. My wife’s French. I spend a lot of time in France. I love the game.

D: Have you learned French?

JR: I’m not fluent. I like to mess it up on purpose. That’s my humor with her family. A vache is a cow, right? If I want milk at the breakfast table I will say, “Passez excrement de vache.” And they think I’m just doing the best I can, when the younger people realize I’m pulling a joke on the older people.

D: You recently worked with Ben Affleck on a show?

JR: Yeah, a TV show on HBO. By the way I won 11,000 dollars off Ben Affleck in a poker game last year. He’s competitive. I beat Macauly Culkin too and actually saw him make that face where puts his hands over his face.

D: Do you ever think about doing more acting?

JR: Sure. The X-Files called me up a lot and I kept saying no because I had never heard of the TV show. I watched an episode and told my agent I wanted to do it.

D: I hope this is happening but I read something about a movie about your life. Who would you like to play you?

JR: A lot of people tell me I look like Gary Oldman.

D: That would be perfect.

JR: If they’re really going to play me to type they’d have to have bad posture and misaligned teeth. These days I have the posture of a jumbo shrimp.

D: Does your back hurt?

JR: Fuck yeah. I used to be a motorcycle daredevil. When I was a kid I was supposed to jump 27 cows at the Arizona State fairgrounds. And I cleared the cows but I must have landed on some spent cud. That is why I have the posture of a jumbo shrimp.

D: What’s the most unusual place you’ve done your show?

JR: I can’t pronounce the name but it’s way north in Sweden. We were there in the summer when the sun never goes away. We were with a friend of mine, Nina [Persson of the Cardigans]. She was from that area and she brought me in to do a show. We went to a bar at about one in the morning and we left at about 6 am. The sun never went away. That was cool. I played South Africa – a year after apartheid was gone. They were hijacking cars everywhere. I played a place in India where they stared at us like we were a field of wheat. I thought they didn’t like the show. Then I saw them afterward buying all my t-shirts and stuff. They just didn’t show that they liked it.

Details on tix can be found here.


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