See It Live: Good Ol’ Hum­bug­gery

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sunday Source -

Prank­ing is part of a big­ger pic­ture, says James Tay­lor, im­pre­sario at the Palace of Won­ders on H Street NE. Its her­itage harks back to show­man P.T. Bar­num and the rise of the sideshow cir­cuit, on which en­ter­tain­ers ped­dled their tricks, il­lu­sions and re­ver­sals to a pub­lic will­ing to be hood­winked.

The de­mand has dwin­dled for that kind of pay-tobe-tricked en­ter­tain­ment, Tay­lor says, though he and the Palace are keep­ing it alive. Head there Thurs­day night to see the Weirdo Show, a bevy of un­usual acts (such as sword swal­low­ing) pre­sented in clas­sic vaudevil­lian style.

“It’s like ‘ The Royal None­such’ in ‘ Huck­le­berry Finn,’ ” Tay­lor says of the sideshow’s prank­ish ap­peal. “Ev­ery­one sees it and feels [ticked] off that they’ve been taken — but only for a nanosec­ond. Then they go out and say, ‘Boy, you’ve gotta see th­ese guys!’ ”

Tay­lor’s ad­vice for prank­ing? Aim to amuse the pran­kee as well.

“When it’s over, peo­ple should feel let in on the joke and feel the need to per­pet­u­ate the joke,” he says. “For ex­am­ple: a se­ries of lies to con­vince a per­son one thing is some­thing other than what it ac­tu­ally is, and turns out to be some­thing ev­ery­body has a good time at. Like a sur­prise party.”

— D.Z.


James Tay­lor pre­sides over the Palace of Won­ders’ sideshow acts.

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