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Lions and Tigers and Bears – God Damn!

The problem with the world today is that circuses don’t have animals anymore.

Back when I was in short pants, a visit to the circus was something you looked forward to all year long. The big top was home to a wide selection of nimble contortionists, motley clowns, sideshow freaks and sketchy carnies on the run from the law. It was the embodiment of the American people and as fine a representation of our culture as there ever was.

Everyone loved a three-ring circus and one of the highlights of the trip was watching a majestic African elephant dancing in a tutu – wondering all the while if this would be the day it would finally lose its mind, shed its chains and try to kill us all.

Nowadays, though, having animals in a circus is considered a damned crime. People get all up on their hind legs if anyone dares try to put a dress on an appaloosa or asks a seal to play Camptown Races on the squeak horn. They petition, they picket, they moan and scream bloody murder about animal abuse and animal rights.

Animal rights? Last time I checked, animals didn’t have any rights. That’s why we’re free to own them, eat them and hunt them to extinction. As far as I remember Joshua Q. Pachyderm didn’t put his name to the constitution and wasn’t consulted on the Bill of Rights either. And judging by the steak I ate last night, if animals do have protection under the law they’re doing a damned lousy job of enforcing it.

Not only have lion-hugging zealots removed animals from circuses – they’ve sucked the fun out of them in entirely. Nowadays, circuses are all damned Broadway productions with atmospheric sound tracks, smoke machines, laser light shows and a $200 entrance fee. Clowns don’t wear red noses or stuff themselves in tiny automobiles, no one gets shot out of cannons and I haven’t seen a decent freak since I visited Pip and Zip, the human pinheads, back at the World Circus Sideshow in 1941.

In my view, the circus has become just another national institution we’ve ruined like the moving pictures, radio serials and censorship. So do yourself damned favor and the next time the circus rolls into town, put away your placards, buy a bag of peanuts and go watch a monkey riding on an elephant’s back. It’s a fine tradition and as American as apple pie, baseball and bearded ladies.

Circuses don’t have animals anymore. That’s the problem with the world today.

51 Comments leave one →
  1. 12:49 am

    Oh, Don! One of my favorite memories is of being taken to a five ring circus that set up its tents outside of Boulder Colorado one cold September evening. We paid the extra money to go see the reptile exhibit, which featured a huge python about 25 feet long who was hugging its heat lamps and wishing it was somewhere tropical.

    There were aerialists, and clowns and girls in tights and spangles and it was wonderful.

    I also love the Cirque de Soleil shows, though. I’m a sucker for lasers and smoke machines, especially when they have the most amazingly beautiful people dancing amidst them.

    • 1:13 am

      Many thanks healingmagichands,

      I was always particularly fond of the human cannonball. Even as a lad I appreciated a hard-headed man.

      I’ve never been to one of those Cirque shows – smoke machines, laser light shows and beautiful people sounds a little too much like Studio 54 to me.

      All the best, healingmagichands, and many thanks for the visit.


  2. 12:57 am

    Welcome back from vacation, Don. Hoping you took my advice and applied sunscreen to the tender areas.

    This is exactly why that tiger attacked Roy in that damn Las Vegas act! That tiger didn’t cotton to being treated like a household tabby. Siegfried and Roy got carried away trying to put fancy conditioners on it’s fur and using some kind of damn irritating teeth whitener to make it’s pearly whites glow in the circus lights. Serves ’em right! Up on that stage in their jungle patterned ding-slings and sticking their heads in the mouth of those big cats! Circus animals are suppose to have a threatening air in order to entertain us by keeping us on the edge of our seats. Who in the hell wants to pay good money to go see a dog and pony act? Bring back the scary animals! I want to ride a elephant that might go a little crazy and stampede the first 10 rows of the audience! What fun is it to go and saddle up on a sedated camel? NONE!

    Keep yelling it like it is, friend!

    • 2:02 pm

      Many thanks TPB,

      The beast in question was likely more offended by the “jungle patterned ding-sling” than by being treated like a tabby cat. There’s only so much abuse an animal can take.

      All the best, TPB, and thanks for stopping in.


  3. 12:59 am

    It’s turned into a Made in China version of the circus. Last time I went I had to check my ticket stubs to be sure I wasn’t in a Barney production. There was a purple dinasour and a bunch of overdramatic kids bouncing on stage. I swear, it wasn’t a circus at all. They did bring out five domestic housecats for a few tricks, but the rest were performances by motorcyclists and Chinese acrobats.

    • 2:34 pm

      Thank you Tricia,

      Sounds damned horrible. Besides, if I want to see hopped up children, domestic housecats and motorcycles running amok I need only look out my front window. The streets are lousy with them.

      All the best,


  4. 1:02 am

    As I said in your Made in China blog–I think I love you. I am wiping tears from my cheeks from laughing. I miss the animals at the zoo too. Long ago (when I was little and my mother had me on a harness (before they stopped making them)–zoos had gorillas in cages so you could see them. Now–they monkey acres are so vast that you can’t see anything but the sign that said, “Sorry folks, the chimps must be in their shady zone.” Thanks for the memories–I bet you still look good in short pants.

    • 8:02 pm

      Thank you kindly Heidi,

      I must say, though, that if I learned one thing on my recent vacation it’s that old men rarely look good in short pants. And even worse in tartan thongs and bicycle shorts.

      All the best,


  5. Cecilia permalink
    1:04 am

    Hi Don,
    I suppose I am not fit for reading this blog anymore, ita had been one of my favorites, but this post came further than what I can stand. I know it is all about humor, maybe my sense of humor is rather limited. Animal rights cause is a deeply important issue in my life, and this didn’t sound funny to me. It sounded an effort to reach the mass of people, because most think exactly like that: that animals don’t have rights. But they do, and deserve more than us, pathetic and ridiculous humans. We should put on clown noses on us, we are taught to play tricks before teachers, bosses and blog readers… not them. Lions, rhinos, elephants… they are not our property. They were born free.
    Sorry if I cannot understand this type of humor, never could… animals are facing terrible cruelty and slavery everywhere, we are trying to make people aware, make them conscious of brutality, trying to change the mass’s minds… and someone smart like you go and write such a disappointing piece of questionable humor for christ’s sake.
    My sense of humor is rather limited, sorry. I’m a fucking vegan and activist for animals right’s, yes. I think the problem with the world today is the lack of good and smart people in the right places doing the right things.

    • 1:21 am

      Thank you Cecilia,

      I appreciate your candor, your point of view and admire the strength of your convictions.

      All the best to you in the future.



    • 5:50 pm

      re “Sorry if I cannot understand this type of humor.”
      The humor is WE HUMANS are animals as well.
      re”animals are facing terrible cruelty and slavery everywhere”
      So are the human animals. Loving animals (innocent?) more than the human-animal is kind of silly.
      The animals would likely eat us, given the chance. Everyone (even animals) is just trying to make a living.

      • Sedate Me permalink
        4:33 pm

        Loving animals more than the human-animal is kind of silly. The animals would likely eat us, given the chance. Everyone (even animals) is just trying to make a living. “

        When is the last time a cow tried to eat you? Even though, (through their feed) we tried to turn them into meat eaters, cannibals even, they still show no interest in eating us, no matter how tender and Super-sized we get from eating their kind.

        For the record, dogs make much better lovers than employees. They’ll hump anything that moves without the slightest species bias, but they’re less interested in working than your average pot smoking teen. Like stoners, dogs spend most of the day asleep. When they are awake, they’ve got the munchies all the time.

    • Doppelgänger permalink
      6:30 am

      Don, I’m sorry but I too have a very poor sense of humor. You see, I am a vegan, which should imply to you that my morality is superior to yours and such human concepts as “humor” are beneath me. Humans are stupid and ridiculous next to animals. When I see a male chimpanzee murder it’s mate’s previous offspring in a desperate ploy to ensure it’s genetic survival, I think “how wonderful and free nature is!” I can hardly even begin to describe the beauty of watching two savage wolves fight to the death for the honor of dominating a female whose sole purpose in life is to fulfill the sexual desires of the alpha male. Oh, could only we humans live in such a blissful state! My dream is to one day run an animal sanctuary where we feed cows the ground up remains of people whose humor and ideology are clearly and objectively inferior to mine. You may think that I am stupid for dedicating my considerable wealth and resources to animals that would rip my head off and shit down my neck if it meant they got to piss on the tree I was sitting under, while all over the world there are sad, lonely, even suicidal humans forced into slavery, inhumane working conditions, and general misery. Anyway, I don’t expect you to understand where I’m coming from; I just expect you to recognize from my haughty, condescending tone and false attempts at masking the inanity of attacking what is clearly a satirical piece by claiming I “just don’t get your humor” (because it is beneath my station) that I am your moral and intellectual superior and that I want you to feel the shame inherent in standing in the shadow of a being such as myself. Namaste, and veggies for all!

      • Sedate Me permalink
        6:18 pm

        Thanks for demonstrating that, despite how we like to pretend one is better than the other, humans and animals are exactly alike. We murder, enslave, scheme, dominate and endlessly throw shit on each other, all in an attempt to appear superior or climb in the social rankings.

        Now clean off Mr Mills, some of your dung missed your target and hit him.

    • Cecilino permalink
      6:39 am

      For every humor blog there is that one idiot that takes themselves too seriously. Look at the rest of the posts. If you don’t see a blowhard berating others for not sharing their sense of moral superiority and faux outrage against a post clearly meant to be humorous…then you’re the idiot.

  6. 1:16 am

    You’d like the circus that comes to our town. They set up a tent in an abandoned lot, and have clowns and acrobats and animals. There are no freaks, though. Only my sons! Hahahaha! Oh, my. That was a good one.

    • 8:28 pm

      Thank you Robin,

      It sounds like an enjoyable day out. And I’m delighted to hear your boys are doing their part to keep the circus-freak tradition alive and well. I chalk it up to excellent parenting on your part.

      All the best,


  7. 1:23 am

    Hmmm…this is news to me, Don, since I haven’t bought a ticket in years. All I remember about the circus was that I was in the lucky section of the tent that got to watch, up close and personal, one of the prize elephants taking a dump. Other than that, all was a blur.

    • 12:41 am

      Many thanks Jillsy Girl,

      You’re lucky, we had to pay extra for that. Sounds like you could afford the premium seats.

      Thanks for visiting, JG.

      All the best,


  8. 1:24 am

    BTW….glad to have you back…you’ve been missed.

  9. 2:06 am

    We didn’t have circuses up here when I was a kid. I think the town council outlawed them for fear half the young people would run off and join them. And they could have too, what with all the inbreeding going on in these parts.

    • 12:44 am

      Thanks yellowcat,

      Rather backward thinking on the part of your local council.

      If I honestly believed that any of the damned young people in this town would muster the energy to run off and join the circus I’d be bringing the big top to town 6 times a year.

      Many thanks for visiting with me.


  10. elizabeth3hersh permalink
    3:23 am

    “Marcusson! Marcusson, you were right! People are alike…. people are alike everywhere!”

    – Circus on Mars (The Twilight Zone)

    P.S. Don, you are so damn LOVEABLE I can’t stand it.

    • 12:56 am

      Thank you Elizabeth,

      An excellent episode of a damned fine television program. I used to think I did a halfway decent Rod Serling impersonation but my wife, Aggie, said it sounded like a cross between Orson Bean and Jim Backus.

      Always a pleasure to have you visit, Elizabeth.



    • Sedate Me permalink
      4:52 pm

      If that’s the episode I think it is, it sure changed how I saw zoos.

      It’s a pity that the 20,000 channel universe is incapable of producing anything that can make you think as much as one Rod Serling script.

      “Oh look, another eviscerated body. Let’s solve everything with a CGI autopsy and some surveillance video.”

  11. 7:49 am

    You’re back? Jeez, how did I miss that?
    You’ve been sorely missed.

  12. 1:45 pm

    There was a movie from the 20’s or 30’s called Freaks about circus freaks and they used the real thing. Amazing footage of a man with no arms or legs pulling a cigarette out and lighting it all with his mouth.

    • 1:10 am

      Thanks Bearman,

      I believe the original “Zip” was in that film. The lads at the World Circus Sideshow (and many others) were based on him.

      Best regards,


    • 7:00 am

      that brings to mind the old joke:

      a madame of a house of ill-repute opened the door, looked out, and then heard a voice saying down here. she looked down to see a man with no arms and no legs. look at you, with no arms and no legs, what the hell do you think you can do here? the madame asked. grinning, the man answeredhow do you think i rang the doorbell?

  13. 3:43 pm

    Don –

    I remember the circus much the same way, full of exotic animals and even more exotic people. Between the elephant droppings and the incurable strains of monkey-borne infections, the circus was a magical place for a child, one that often took several years off their life.

    The midway games and rides were a treat as well. I still remember winning a stuffed koala or two while playing the “Passenger Pigeon Shooting Gallery.” The man running the attraction gave us a rundown of the “flying rat” stating that the only difference between it and its more plentiful brethren in New York City was its “passenger,” a blood-borne virus that turned to a fine, breathable dust in its droppings.

    These were no ordinary stuffed koalas, either. Rather than the softly squeezable pink and red “koalas” today’s kids are used to, these koalas were the handicraft of black market taxidermists who stuffed the little bears full of sawdust and formaldehyde rather than light, fluffy, fire-retardant poly blends.

    Unfortunately, I no longer have these hard-won keepsakes. They both went up in flames during the Great Bedroom Fire of 1963. If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s to never start up a pipe after 7 pm. It’s a sure way to waste tobacco and emergency response resources.

    Keep keeping it real, Don, whatever that means,

    C.L. Tanager

    • 12:52 pm

      Thank you Clifton,

      I recall reading about the great bedroom fire of 1963 in the Pleasantview Post. If I remember correctly, it came straight on the heels of the “Unfortunate Kitchen Grease Fire of 1962” and was followed by the rather suspicious “Tax Document Inferno of ’64.” A rough couple of years for you, lad, but I’m glad you were able to persevere.

      Thanks too for sending your resume, Clifton. It’s an impressive read and you can expect an employment contract to arrive in the mail shortly.

      All the best,


  14. Peregrin permalink
    4:38 pm

    I took my family to a circus recently. There were tigers, elephants, horses, dogs. I don’t remember any bears. Not one protester, though. The only person hugging lions was the cat trainer.

    • 12:53 pm

      Many thanks Peregrin,

      Glad to hear there are still some decent sources of family entertainment available.

      All the best,


  15. 5:14 pm

    “I haven’t seen a decent freak since I visited Pip and Zip, the human pinheads, back at the World Circus Sideshow in 1941”

    I find that hard to believe Mr. Mills. You write about the ones at the Piggly Wiggly all the time.

    I’m surprised you are not working the discipline angle that could be practiced on damned young people by employing the way circus animals are treated. Confined to small spaces, forced to toil all day, do only what others tell them.

    My son will never go to a circus with animals. I would rather him see the potential of the human form as display in Cirque du Soliel. I’m happy to know they are starting go the way of the rotary phone and cotton gin. To history!

    • 1:12 pm

      Thank you kindly theultimateoutcast,

      You raise a fine point. I suppose I should have qualified my statement to say that I haven’t seen a “decent professional freak” since the World Circus Sideshow back in ’41.

      The young people at the Piggly Wiggly certainly qualify as freaks but don’t appear to be doing anything to capitalize financially on their enlarged earlobes, odd dress and abundance of body art. When you really stop to think about it, the real “freaks” among young people today might be those that wear a decent pair of slacks, comb their hair and refrain from sticking large pieces of metal into their lips.

      To history indeed! Just don’t try to take away my rotary phone.

      All the best,


  16. 7:21 pm

    Cirque du Soliel is one more exciting show! What a wonderful alternative to the (dying) circus institutions with their confined, bored and tortured “performers”. Not to mention the unintentional diseases that are spread when wild animals come into contact with humans. It’s a nasty business through and through.

    The only thing I’m grateful to the circus for is that this knowledge and awareness launched me to become vegan. I fully understand the need for the recognition of animal rights. It’s not that they don’t have them… It’s that our greedy and self indulgent culture refuses to acknowledge that they do!

    Animals used for “entertainment” is one of the most frivolous, non-justifiable excuses for animal abuse. I’m with many others who say it’s time to shut these places down!

  17. 12:14 am

    Mr Mills

    Yeah you right..back in your day I am sure you could have gotten a bi-carbonate and a small hot dog for a quarter. Sadly you know what has replaced the circus is the god damn prowrestling and monster truck…i for one miss the 20 clowns in a car..that was always a hoot…your god damn right though..zman sends

    • 1:58 pm

      Good to hear from you Zman,

      Actually, I seem to recall that you could get a bicarbonate of soda, a large hot dog AND a pretzel all for a quarter. A fine value and a good meal as well.

      I miss the clown cars too. Damned funny and a marvel of science as well.

      All the best, lad. Thanks for sending.


  18. 3:16 am

    Some neighbors took me to the circus when I was nine years old…I was there for all of ten minutes and then we were notified that my mother was going into labor with my youngest brother. I remind him of this every year on his birthday.

    You couldn’t pay me to see Cirque du Soleil. If I wanted to see tiny people in spandex/leotards twisting and flinging themselves about, I’ll just prop up a mirror and play twister in my living room.

    Of course, I am a critter lover and wouldn’t want them to be mistreated. But I’m jonesing for a freak show.

  19. 9:56 pm

    Back in your day the animals walked two by two 😉

  20. 7:02 am

    don’t waste your money, don. skip the circus. if you want to see animals, go sit in front of a junior high school for free.

  21. 2:44 am

    I’m with you. More tigers biting stupid trainers’ faces.

  22. 4:42 pm

    I watch the circus on cspan daily, as it has all the animals anyone could ever hope to see. Lions, tigers, bears, elephants and donkeys, Oh, my!

  23. Sedate Me permalink
    9:10 pm

    Mr Mills,

    I too long for the days of a good travelling carnival, particularly ones with a Cooch Tent. I never thought much of Cirque du Soleil until an acquaintance of mine convinced me to go. One of the young acrobats came right over to me and gave me a spandex clad version of this while, more or less, maintaining eye contact with me and keeping a smile on her face. That’s about as close as it gets, I guess.

    As for the freak shows, let me introduce you to the Jim Rose Circus

    The man is keeping the tradition alive.

    • elizabeth3hersh permalink
      9:21 pm

      Almost as astonishing as ‘flexy beach’ are the passersby that don’t STOP to watch/ogle said AMAZING flexibility. I would have stood there awestruck while suppressing urges to make inquiries into her ‘love life.’

      • Sedate Me permalink
        2:27 pm

        Excellent point on the passersby.

        But you’d be suppressing urges to inquire about her love life? I doubt I could suppress the urge to inquire about joining her love life.


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