Donny Vomit with Pretty Things Peepshow
10 p.m. Wednesday
1221 N.W. 50th
In today's anemic job market, it is critical to make one's résumé stand out. And few things do like being able to hammer a nail frighteningly deep into a nose canal.
Although the application of that skill might seem limited, Norman native Donny Thomas' unique skill set was a ticket to New York's Coney Island where the sideshow tradition of "10-in-one" shows are alive and well.
Now known as Donny Vomit, Thomas is swinging through Oklahoma as part of a tour with the Pretty Things Peepshow burlesque troupe. The group makes a stop at the HiLo Club tonight.
Thomas has expanded his repertoire to sword swallowing, fire eating, sticking his hands in animal traps and serving as the emcee for the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. But the nail-in-the-skull bit he first attempted when he was 15 is still his trademark stunt, which gave him the nickname "the Human Blockhead."
"What keeps the sideshow alive is these stunts are something people have only heard about or seen on TV," Thomas said. "People still don't know exactly what it will be; there is a little bit of mystery and thrill to bear witness to these types of events. There is nothing like watching someone shove 32 inches of solid steel down their throat 5 feet away from you, or have someone breathe fire and you can feel the heat."
The sideshow tradition is not what it once was, when performers crisscrossed the country, hitting every town they came across, but Thomas said Coney Island is where the spirit remains vital.
"Coney Island is the mecca of sideshow entertainment. At one time, they had dozens of sideshows working out there, from dwarf villages to two-headed cows," he said. "I work for a not-for-profit arts organization that is dedicated to keeping the sideshow traditional alive. The show we do is a strange homage to sideshows of the past, but also playing to the romantic notion of the sideshow ... by exploring new things that can be done through technology in the world of the strange."
Of all his talents, he said his emcee skills are the most important, since hosting is a critical part of making a sideshow work.
"Being the host means introducing the acts and keeping the show moving along, being the person that serves as a connection to the audience and the world of the strange and bizarre," Thomas said. "In the case of a burlesque show, the guy that introduces you to these gorgeous women doing amazing numbers."
He added that the burlesque troupe is not so much "adult entertainment" as "entertainment for adults," which draws in couples from a wide age range looking for a "classy presentation with only a small hint of dirty fun."
Thomas said he believes that vaudeville sideshows will continue to endure, despite the proliferation of digital special effects in other forms of entertainment.
"There is a backlash starting against digital entertainment," he said. "There is more to live entertainment then watching a band or a play. There is this weird, wide world of vaudeville sideshow where there is drama, excitement, danger and sexiness. It's a different form of entertainment. Once they are exposed to it, they will keep coming back for more." "Charles Martin