LAS VEGAS – When Sinn Bodhi is not the strangest person in the room, you must be at Freakshow Wrestling. There he is, tattooed-to-the-gills, his long hair frizzled and free, wearing polka-dot leggings, as well as pants and boots studded with mini-Teddy bears. But over there is a gay Hitler, with shoulder pads made of pink dildos. And what’s that? A bloody Easter bunny. Eww, a cockroach!
But make no mistake, Freakshow Wrestling, a regular occurrence on Las Vegas’ ever-demanding “entertain me” local scene, is absolutely, 100% a product of Sinn Bodhi.
The website sets you up for adventure, for sure: “See midgets fighting giants! Sexy evil women swallowing each others swords while jumping in glass! Vampires fighting chickens! Fire-breathing-knife-throwing clowns! Invisible stunt men! Sin City Strong Woman open challenge! Whip-cream-thumb-tack-pies! A high class Donkey Show! Jesus vs Satan ar sooo much more!!!”
There was a time when Bodhi was Nick Cvjetkovich, a young wrestling fan in Orangeville, Ontario, who was friends with future WWE champions Edge (Adam Copeland) and Christian (Jay Reso). Those days are long gone, except at this show, where his brother, Steve, is making his first visit to the Freakshow, an anchor in choppy waters to a distant past.
Not yet in his own gimmick as the masked wrestler Kobra Kai, Steve Cvjetkovich stands out for his normalness; while he has his own tattoos, his receding hair line, jean shorts and hoodie are the exception in a room filled with a referee dressed as a chicken and a Donald Trump imitator.
He is in awe of his brother’s creation.
“Coming to the shows is really like stepping around in his head,” said Steve Cvjetkovich. “This is definitely, definitely not just a wrestling show, not just a variety show, a carnival show, it is therapy for Nicholas, for sure. This is taking 20 years of wrestling and spitting it out.”
There have been miscues and mistakes, gimmicks that didn’t work and props that broke. Supposed villains became beloved heroes. One-off characters take on a life of their own and refuse to be cast aside. Venues that have said “Don’t come back.”
“I’ve made so many mistakes with Freakshow Wrestling. I’ve got so many great performers on there, but I’m not the biggest business guy,” said Bodhi. “The business stuff, I’ve forced myself to figure out — it’s just wearing that necessary hat to figure out. I don’t want to do any of that stuff. I want to be artsy-fartsy, jumping around in spandex. I don’t want to deal with ticket sales, insurance, all the real-life crap that comes with doing shows.”
This particular Freakshow Wrestling event is at the Freemont Tavern, just a stone’s throw from the glitzy light show on Freemont Street. The Freemont Tavern is a Vegas institution, with a history of great bands — especially punk rockers — in the venue. By the time the doors open for the show on April 14, with the bloody Easter Bunny and the Chicken Ref having already been outside to hand out flyers to unsuspecting tourists, there’s a lineup around the corner.
Photographer Wayne Minert has been to a number of the Freakshow happenings before, and this one looks similar to other shows. “The crowd here, you get your regular wrestling fans, you get people not knowing what to expect, you just get a wide variety of people,” he said.
Earlier in the week, the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino, off-strip and a distinctly lacking in the glitz and glamour of the newer venues, was the host venue for the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion. It is best described as the alumni association of professional wrestling, an organization that runs an annual get-together to promote fellowship and hand out a few awards. Fans are welcome, if only tolerated by some of the more famous grapplers who are hounded for selfies and autographs. A handful of the attendees have made their way to Freakshow, both as fans and a few with wrestling pedigrees who have been co-opted — corrupted? — into performing.
In his 20 years as a wrestler, including runs in the early days of TNA and in WWE as the old-speaking Kizarny, Bodhi has made many friends. He’s a likable, bright, enthusiastic guy, and a welcome presence on long drives in the car or hanging out in the dressing room. There’s both a loyalty and a curiosity factor for the recruits.
“How can you not like Sinn Bodhi? He’s one of the nicest guys in the world,” said “Wildman” Gary Williams of Nova Scotia, with just as many backdrops and suplexes under his belt as Bodhi. He’s gone from tough guy persona to Gorgeous Gary Galaxy, with tight-fitting shorts, a belly dancing scarf as a boa, a star painted around one eye, and glitter, lots and lots of glitter glistening off his rock-solid frame. He only learned about his new act when he arrived. “I got the name this afternoon, and of course I popped because you’ve got the Triple G,” he said. “I watched a few of the matches on YouTube just to familiarize myself with what they do.”
Bodhi’s girlfriend, Karen Kreep, is a veteran of the entertainment scene in Vegas, a performer since the age of five, including 15 years in a band. Now 30, with a daughter following a similar path, Kreep has found a soulmate in Bodhi, one who shares a love of the bizarre. When she saw him floundering, relying on people who didn’t always come through working on the promotion for Freakhow, she stepped in.
The MacGyver-like skills for building things that she inherited from her father and her creativity in costume design and makeup has made her an essential part of the show, and she works with Hunter Jackson, who designs the costumes for the costumed, thematic heavy metal band GWAR. “[Nick] just makes me laugh. My goal in life is to just make whatever comes out of his head a reality, and try to make him laugh back,” she explained.
There’s a simple reason it works, said Kreep, including herself in the thought. “I think everybody wants to make Sinn happy. If wants something, that’s what he wants, and that’s why you’re on the show. You’re on the show because he wants that, and that’s what he wants, and he wanted me to make the costume that way, so that’s what you get. If he wants you to put on pink lipstick, then you’re putting on pink lipstick.”
Steve Cvjetkovich can see how well Nick and Karen work together. As he’s talking to a reporter outside the venue in a make-shift smoking area — ever see a guy in a chicken suit smoking a cigarette? Only in Vegas—Karen flits by, in a panic over lost car keys, and it’s getting harder and harder to search the parking lot in the Vegas twilight.
“They’re running around crazy today,” he said, explaining that while it is a collaborative art where everyone adds their own flavour to their characters, in the end, it’s Nick and Karen. “Nick has a couple of things that he wants to be to the letter on, so he’s, I won’t say micromanaging, but he’s very involved with everything, and rightfully so. You see a little bit of that Nick flavour, Sinn Bodhi flavour, in everything they do. She’s a maniac; give her sugar and she’ll be climbing up the walls like crazy, a hyper-metabolism.”
The characters don’t always stay constant from show to show. Tim Reilly was originally from New York, but lives in Las Vegas now. His initial exposure to wrestling was as a referee in a local promotion, but he just wasn’t cut out for it. Instead, they found out he could run his mouth. After meeting Bodhi at a few shows, he was invited to play a part in Freakshow Wrestling. For a couple of shows, he was a manager. But on this April night, he’s Father Timothy Paul Reilly.
“I will be walking the floor as a Catholic priest offering my blessings to women’s breasts as the show goes on,” he said, picturing his night to come. “I imagine the first quarter of the show, it’ll probably be a little mellow, but once the ladies start drinking, I’ll probably be the one that’s embarrassed.”
The crowd is different than other wrestling shows in town, he said. “It’s an adult-only audience, so you’re going to see people that normally bring their kids to the show let their hair down a little bit, have a little bit more fun, maybe drink a little bit more than they would, and get a little louder as the night goes on.”
Befitting a man of the cloth, he is thoughtful when describing Freakshow–“Wrestling meets a horror movie meets science fiction, and occasionally meets porn, depend on who’s out there.”
Yet that description does not do justice to Gaydolf Hitler, an overwhelming favourite of the other Freakshow performers in an informal poll.
Even Drugz Bunny — yes, you read that name right — is a fan. Kevin Johnson is a veteran of the Hoodslam promotion, a similar “out there” promotion from California that shares a zeitgeist with Freakshow. After nearly five years as Drugz Bunny, “a 1920s gangster, coke-addicted rabbit,” he knows unique and how to make it work, right down to the powder dripping off his rabbit nose and constant sniffing.
Now, what about Gaydolf Hitler?
“It made me scratch my head and that’s hard to do. I’m a drug-addicted rabbit wrestler and I just thought that Gaydolf was super-over,” said Drugz Bunny. “He owns his character, as do I. He leaves it all in there. Someone told me I was going to be a drug-addicted rabbit; someone told him, ‘You’re going to be a gay Hitler.’ And we were like, ‘Okay.’ We went out and we’re doing our thing. He owns it. I think it’s as entertaining as hell.”
Already dressed for battle, with his pink suit, and ever-so-neat mustache, Hitler is game for an interview, even if it means waiting to eat his just-delivered Subway sub. Out of character, he’s okay to reveal that he was a wrestler back when, but got hurt and took some time off. Then he got a shot with Freakshow, and it was really just supposed to be that, a one-off that took on a life of its own.
In-character, he drops into his lisping German-like voice and makes a reporter laugh.
“There was a time in Freakshow Wrestling when a lot of the other wrestlers, they got way to out of control and they needed a little bit of a solution, let’s say. I came with the final one, and I said, ‘It is time for the Hitler to break into the Freakshow Wrestling because I am not welcome in Israel any more. I am not welcome in Germany.’ So I had to come out here to Las Vegas and I wrestle against stupid people who think they can beat Hitler.”
The fans are something else, he said. “The crowd is very gay. The Freakshow crowd is one of Hitler’s favourite crowds because they open up their hearts and they open up their pants and they love the Rainbow Reich that I come with, and they love my personal assistant, Hans DownMyPants. They love everything about Hitler, so Hitler loves everything. If I could stand anywhere and say, ‘Heil Hitler!’ and have 100 people say it with me, I think I am doing good, ja?”
He will acknowledge the mad genius of Sinn Bodhi, even while being Hitler. “Sinn Bodhi to me is the ringmaster of the Freakshow Wrestling. He puts so many crazy ideas together, and he puts them all under the Big Top tent, and he says, ‘Okay, everyone, we’re going to somehow put all these crazy things together for the fans. They are going to have fun, you are going to have fun, we’re all going to have fun.’ But as the leader, I would be a little more strict on a few things. There’s some people with some big noses at the wrestling matches, and I don’t think they deserve it. And there are people that are straight and there are even girls with boobies at the matches. This is not good. I think that Freakshow should be all naked men all the time.”
As good as Gaydolf Hitler is as a personality, the pink shoulder pads with dildos — think WWF Legion of Doom meets Pretty in Pink — complete the insanity. The creation is a good example of the serendipity that Freakhow not only seems to conjure up but also thrive off of.
Kreep took to the task with enthusiasm, but soon faced sticker-shock at the price of dildos. Even if she could afford the hundreds of dollars to cover Hilter’s shoulders, their weight was an issue. Then she got a call from a friend who was moving that had run an online adult bookstore.
“They had this huge surplus in their garage,” said Kreep. She went to check out the supply. “I saw those [dildos] sitting in there, and she was like, ‘Just take them, take as many as you want.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding? These are perfect, because they’re hollow!’ It was hatched completely from there. It was perfect. Who gets that? Who gets a pile of free strap-ons, when they need a pile? Who needs a pile of free strap-ons, and then who randomly gets a pile of free strap-ons when they need them? The universe loved me that day and it rewarded me with a giant pile of free strap-ons.”
She too is a fan of Gaydolf Hitler.
“It was an accident. It was only supposed to happen one time,” she said. “Gaydolf was supposed to be a one-off villain. He was supposed to just show up and that was it. He was so good that there was no way that we couldn’t come back with him, there was no way. Instantly, everybody loved him; everybody was supposed to hate him, but everybody loved him, everybody.”
That doesn’t mean that everybody knows what to make of him. The Sheik, Joseph Cabibbo, based out of California, was working a bout with Hitler, and found himself stunned as Kim Jung II died in Hitler’s arms. It was a strange place for a former NWA World champion to be. Other names from WWE’s past, like Boogeyman, Gangrel, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts have come in for events, and that’s not including The Ghost of Randy Savage character. On the next show, Bad Decisions, on June 18, it’s Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake who will be struttin’ and cuttin’ as the guest referee for the bout between Sinn Bodhi and “Darewolf” PJ Black (formerly Justin Gabriel).
AJ Kirsch had his cup of coffee in WWE-land too, participating in Tough Enough in 2011. With many Hoodslam events under his belt, and making his first Freakshow appearance, he says that he prefers the odd bookings to the straight-and-narrow traditional shows. “As a performer, I just feel like a dog that’s been leashed up for months, if not years, and is finally let go and is told, ‘Have fun,'” he said.
On this night, Kirsch actually had two roles. Initially, he was Remindo, a purposefully-annoying announcer whose job is to remind the crowd of what just happened 10 seconds ago. “Since everybody’s going to be drunk and high. I’m doing everybody a service, as far as I’m concerned,” he laughed. Before the fans were admitted, there was Kirsch with his roaming microphone practicing his shtick. Later in the evening, he became “Broseph” Joe Brody, his character from Hoodslam.
In the end, said Kirsch, the performers are all the same. “We’re all wrestling fans, so we’re all obviously going to be contributing to the show, but I think most, if not all of us, are just as interested in watching the show and enjoying it as fans.”
That certainly includes Canadian veteran Johnny Devine. Tonight, he’s dressed like Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones, leather vest, hair in a ponytail, sword. Instead of “Hotshot” Devine that he was in TNA, he’s the “Honey Badger.”
“There is an absolute impossibility to encompass what goes on at a Freakshow Wrestling event until you actually come and watch one,” raved Devine. “As much as I can describe to you octopus tentacles coming out from under the ring and throwing people out during a battle royal, as much as I can describe to you Skeletor fighting He-Man, as much as I can describe to you Gaydolph Hitler, until you physically have seen them in person, there is nothing, nothing in the entertainment market that is like Freakshow Wrestling.”
He’s more than happy to make the trek from Calgary for the experience.
“It’s a circus. There’s dancing bears, there’s horses doing tricks, there’s acrobats, and there’s wrestlers. You have wrestlers on an entertainment-based show, absolutely. I bring the wrestling contingent in there. Truthfully, I’ve seen enough Freakshow Wrestling now that I don’t care what’s on the marquee, I’ll always go watch because there’s no way that I can’t be entertained at this event.”
TOP PHOTO: Sinn Bodhi and Karen Kreep are the key figures behind Freakshow Wrestling. Photo by Greg Oliver