Something Old, Something New – Public History, Museums, & the World Today
Q&A With Jason Black, Black Scorpion
In my last post I spoke of my meeting with Dr. Jeffery Birnbaum and my trip to Coney Island. In our discussion, Dr. Birnbaum mentioned Jason Black. I contacted him, and he was kind enough to answer some questions for me.
Mr. Black told me, “I am the Black Scorpion. I do participate in freak show/sideshow performances. Mostly what I do is to teach humans about other humans through humor with heart.
The world I’ve grown up in is one that can be, at times, hard headed and difficult to communicate with, because of preconceived notions or thoughts, if you will, as to who someone with different “fill in the blank; i.e.: color of skin, body type, number of fingers, walking ability, height, sex, sexuality, birth place…etc” is suppose to be- their place in the world and how they should act.
What I do on stage is magic, not because of illusions or tricks but because of soul. I try to change preconceived negatives into positives and at times fail miserably when agendas have already put blinders along someone’s path through our world.”
What influenced your decisions to become a performer? Harpo Marx, Andy Kaufman, Richard Pryor to name a few…
What are some of the best experiences you’ve had as a performer? Usually if a crowd is attentive it will be a fairly good experience.
Do you have any specific examples of shows that have gone really well or just terribly bad because of the way people are trained to think?
No examples I can recall. I’ve had folks walk out because of jokes.
How do you think things would be different for you as a performer if you lived in the late 1800s-early 1900s? What impacts those differences in perceptions?
I probably would have made more money, owned a show and my act would have been slightly different because I would have to change some of the topical humor or I may have been chased by an angry mob of villagers with pitchforks and torches into a barn only to be silently killed by my creator.
Also, have you had any negative feedback from people who don’t think you should “exploit” yourself and your disability?
I think when folks see my act the word “exploit” doesn’t really cross their minds, though I could be wrong. My act is more of a surreal comedy show in the vein of Andy Kaufman and Harpo Marx. Negative feedback I’ve received has always been of the political nature, usually geriatric white men upset over something I’ve said. I mostly teach about and share experiences of life with ectrodactyly. But really all performers are exploiting themselves. If anything I exploit my quick wit, charm and comedic timing.
Have you studied the sideshows of the past, and who is your favorite performer from the past? Why?
No I stay away from learning too much about past performers of sideshow, don’t want to be influenced. Also that is the same reason I do not watch South Park. I study more of the comedic genre of the past, simply love the playwright George S. Kaufman.
Dr. Birnbaum did mention that in the past born-differents were seen as almost taking part in pornography, but now many of those people are seen as the rock-stars of the industry. What do you think about that? It depends on what point in the past you are referring to, remember the winners write the history books so when the freak show fell out of favor of course it was either written off or erased.
I’m pretty sure there aren’t any, but do you know of any people who have cognitive/developmental disabilities who are performing still in the United States or other parts of the world?