Yes, it's true: The man behind the dildo-wearing Mexican transvestite wrestlers is trying to reform his image. The wacky freak show known as the Jim Rose Circus was a hit when Perry Farrell selected it to open for Lollapalooza, eventually leading to guest appearances on X-Filesand The Simpsons. In Europe Rose's act is the No. 1 ticket at several international festivals. "We were in Saudi Arabia last year," the Arizonan says. "I went to a strip club afterwards. Guys were screaming at the girls, 'Show us your face!' "
But to play to the pubescent Lollapalooza crowd, Rose started cussing and speeding up the show like an MTV video. "What else do you do? They're kids. I don't know what to say to them. So I just tried to freak them out as hard as I could." As a result, he started getting booked only at punk rock clubs, to a limited pimple-faced audience. Finally he refused to do any more American gigs. "I ended up buying a house in Maui. I don't even need to work anymore, and it's like, 'Fuck you guys. I'm not going out and playing to punk rock kids anymore.' " At last his agency agreed to book him into comedy clubs to try to break into the American mainstream.
To do that, he's dropped the F-word and has started emphasizing his little-known nerdiness. When he first heard of Jane's Addiction, he thought, "I hope she gets treatment" -- he's a Neil Diamond fan. He started off in politics as a fund-raiser for Mo Udall's failed presidential bid; you can see him standing next to Mo as he's giving the keynote speech at the Democratic Convention in '76. Rose occasionally guests on CNN's Spin Room with Bill Press and Tucker Carlson. "Now, I'm liberal .I should be Bill's friend, right? But Tucker's the fan," Rose says.
The transvestites are gone, and so is the human pincushion, because Rose "can't watch it." Apparently he still thinks wife Bébé's "fire in the hole" bit is a draw, because it's staying. In it, Bébé, who comes from a circus family, files a piece of metal affixed to her crotch with a grinder. "Like a mining accident -- don't send the canary down too far," Rose jokes as his "tattooed reptile" bends over and lights a cigarette in the spew of sparks. "She learned that from her mom," Rose explains. "It's a family stunt."
Such is Rose's quandary. His show is wild, make no mistake about it, and anyone who goes will have a riot. But if we tell you how wild, it might scare you away. So we'll leave it at this:
"P.T. Barnum meets John Waters. The top ticket in the history of the Melbourne, New Zealand and Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Thrills, chills and doctor bills, a ticket's good for a seat, but you'll only use the edge, until you slip off rolling down the aisle," Rose says, with perfect circus hyperbole. "If you'll put that in there, we can't print enough tickets."