Story by David Case

"TV bores us, movies have let us down, and the Top 40 is downright revolting."

’Twas the week before Christmas, 1997. I was moving into my new loft, on the third floor of a garment warehouse in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Coming off the freight elevator, I saw a man who appeared to be wearing a padded jumpsuit, the kind a person would wear when training attack dogs. (It turned out to be a snowmobile suit.) He had a long dark ponytail, plastic bolts through his ears, and a big, friendly smile.

In neighborly fashion, he introduced himself as Keith Nelson and invited me to check out his show at the Brooklyn Brewery. A circus show at a beer brewery? How could I say no?

Later I watched in amazement as Keith, in fishnets, a purple fright wig, and trashy lingerie, lay on a bed of nails, while Stephanie Monseu, posing as a New York City cop, pulled down her pants and dry-humped him, a plastic doughnut dangling from her gun belt.

After that show and subsequent others, I found myself proudly declaring at cocktail parties that I lived above the circus, and not just any circus, the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, a vaudeville and sideshow troupe that uses a neglected art form to explore the landscape of American culture, carefully walking the tightrope between subversion and commercial acceptance.

In the early ’90s, Keith and Stephanie were working the graveyard shift at Around the Clock, a 24-hour restaurant in the heart of the East Village. When Stephanie learned that Keith had a proclivity for eating fire, she begged him to teach her, and in the back alley behind the restaurant at four in the morning, he did. They fell in love and started a circus.

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