Since 1993, the surprise hit of the Edinburgh Festival has been the bizarre and twisted world of the Jim Rose Circus. You won't see any clowns or tightrope walkers here (but you may come face to face with a woman who eats scorpions for her supper)
've got a feeling a feeling that I'm the top ticket in the history of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival," says American ringmaster extraordinaire Jim Rose, speaking from Seattle as he puts the finishing touches to this year's cabaret of madness, mind games and freakery that is the Jim Rose Circus.

The indefatigable Rose is keeping his cards close to his chest about what exactly is in the show but his many fans will be pleased to see the return of Mr Lifto ("world's strongest penis") and, of course, Jim's French wife Bebe, whose accomplishments include sword-walking and breathing fire from her nether regions. Sadly, this time there will be no Mexican transvestite wrestler. In fact the Jim Rose Circus has been becoming less and less simply a parade of weirdos on each successive tour. "You know, when I started out back in 1990," says Rose, "it was kind of like a punk-rock freak show, but I can't keep coming back year after year doing something I don't believe in any more. I'd describe the new show as a psychological thriller in which I explore the audience's fears and phobias, it's kind of a warped seminar."

For those not lucky enough to grab a ticket to see the new show live this August, you can now look forward to seeing Rose on the little, and big screen. After guest appearances in The X-Files and The Simpsons, he is now in talks for his own TV series, and last month signed a six-figure deal for the film rights to his autobiography, Freak Like Me.

It's a story that reveals a very different side to the masterly stage persona, and it helps explain Rose's own attachment to those society usually shuns. He was born 42 years ago, in Phoenix, Arizona, premature and cross- eyed. "When my parents took me home from the incubator, my first bed was a shoebox. As far as my eyes went, I don't know what was so interesting about my left one but my right one just had to look at it. They couldn't keep their eyes off each other." Until he had corrective surgery, Rose was mercilessly bullied at school. He drifted into a fantasy world and spent most his time with his father who was "an amateur magician and probably the best storyteller I ever heard".

Back to Edinburgh, and Rose's British followers will be interested to hear that when he's not packing them in at the Palladium and outraging the locals, he and Bebe will be looking for a house to buy. After years of being permanently on the road and living in hotels, he finally wants to settle down a little. "But don't worry, I'm not packing up. I'm still going to be that con man, snake-oil salesman kind of guy." n

The Jim Rose Circus is at the Palladium, Edinburgh 8-24 August

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