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Hi everyone. It's Josh in for this week's Y as Kay selects. I've chosen how flea circuses work. It's actually one of my all time favorite episodes. By the time we recorded it, there was a 10 percent chance that I still didn't know whether flea circuses are actually real or illusions tricks of the imagination. It was a thrilling experience, to say the least. I hope you enjoy this episode because it was a fun one to do.
Welcome to Step. You should know a production of Heart Radio's HowStuffWorks. Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. And there's Charles W.. Chuck Bryant. And there's Jerry Roland that makes this stuff. You should know the podcast. Yeah. Who would have ever thought that we could do more than one podcast on Flea's?
Had I thought about flea circuses, I would have thought that, yeah, we covered it a tiny little bit.
I went back and looked just to make sure we weren't being too redundant. All right. And we just sort of mentioned it briefly. But how delightful to dig in even further. Yeah.
I mean, like, there's no way that we really got into it because it's one of the least documented aspects of popular culture I've ever come across, man. And there's so much misinformation. And you run across people who act like they know exactly what they're talking about. And you do more research. You find out they really are wrong in a lot of it. It's it's really it was crazy. It was a crazy research.
Yeah. And you go to Web pages that are solid green with white letters.
He's turned out to 1937 punctuation. What's that? Yeah, it was a little weird, but yeah, people take us to task on the accuracy of this one. Then we'll be like you. You got to do better. Yeah.
So I think we kind of gave it away. The cat's out of the bag. And so are its fleas. We're doing flea circuses. We're talking about flea circuses. And they actually, like I think of Flea Circus is fairly old timey, but I usually think of them as like the 20s or 30s, maybe even the 40s from like that old Tex Avery Flea Circus cartoon. You're putting a way further back than that or even the concept of of training fleas in some way, shape or form goes even further back than that.
Which we'll get to. But training them is a bit of a misnomer.
Yeah, that's a stretch for sure. It's sort of like tying and gluing things to fleas and just let them be fleas.
Yeah. Basically, as you will probably come to the same conclusion, flea circuses are really mean.
Yeah, they're cruel no matter how you feel about fleas.
They are. Yeah. They're cruel, cruel acts of barbarity.
I think that's all the instability actually. Tiny, cruel acts and barbarity. Come see Professor Longhair and his fleas circus, which he torments, but they're small, so who cares, right. So 15 70s is if this is accurate, we're all gonna go all the way back to a man named Mark Scarlet, who did not have a flea circus, but he was supposedly in London, one of the first people or perhaps the first person to use a flea as a prop of some sort.
Yeah. To basically show off his skills as what? As a he was a blacksmith.
Yeah, it was a Smithee. And he made like this really, really tiny, intricate colour that he put around a flea. And he said, check this out. Yeah, and if. I guess because this apparently other people like watchmakers and stuff, would make little tiny watches as well as gimmicks. But I guess the thing they were trying to show is the only thing I can think of is if I can make something this tiny that works. Right.
Imagine what a real sized Human Watch would look like.
It would work even better. So he got kind of famous from it. From what I understand and the idea of using fleas, call it on. Kind of. Kind of.
Well, it took a couple hundred years. Sure. But if you look into fleas and flea circuses, if you like, I just took them for granted. I never stopped and thought, why fleas? But there's actually really good reasons why fleas. And it has to do with four one fleas. Used to be everywhere. Yeah. Like no matter where you lived in the world view shared your living space with fleas. Yes. Which must have been pretty awful.
But apparently it was just a fact of life. So that's one thing. They're ubiquitous. They're easy to come by.
The other one is that fleas are really, really good at jumping.
And that actually makes them under the right circumstances. Really good for this flea circus idea.
Yeah. And would you know, if you really want to watch yourself, go to listen to the flea episode? Yeah, but they come in a couple of thousand varieties and the ones apparently for circuses are the little flat, reddish brown ones, about 2.5 millimeters in length. And they can jump though, 2.5 millimeters. They can jump sometimes as high as eight, nine inches in the air. I saw the 10 go up to where you get your fleas.
That was from the Royal Air Force Experimental Station. They apparently set up some equipment in the 60s and were photographing fleas jumping. Oh, yeah.
See here that they said that at the start of a jump, a flea jump, they experience forces greater than 140 times that of gravity. Yeah, that's crazy.
Yeah, they have these little what are called elastic cuticles in their legs and they can store a tremendous amount of potential energy. And when they release them and they jump, that potential energy turns into kinetic energy. And since that, it's basically this elastic connector that's really storing the energy, they're not having to use up a lot of their own. So they can jump like this like thousands of times in an hour. And apparently when they jump, I don't I'm sure we said something somewhat contradictory in the actual Flea's episode.
Yeah, but the relation of their jumps to their body size compared to human to be like us jumping over the Statue of Liberty or something along those lines. Yes. Which is very hard to do.
It's getting harder every day.
It was kind of thinking about these fleas jumping in, like, evolutionarily speaking. Why?
And I guess they're just so small that when a dog goes to scratch or bite at it or whatever animal tries to get the flea off, they can't just be like, well, let me run away as fast as I can because the dogs bite will still get it. So they learned, I think, quite literally, how to jump and get the heck out of there very, very quickly. Yeah.
In order to survive and the coolest fleas make the bionic man sound when they jump. If you listen, really close all the hipster fleas. All right. So I guess we should talk about the main dude, though, right? Here we owe. All of us owe a great debt to. I'm not saying his name.
You know, you got to say his name is the eighteen twenties. And he was an Italian impresario in London named Louis Berthelot.
The Nice. Bert's a lot, though. Yes. There's so many O's and T's, I thought I messed it up. No, I know it's a it's an unusual name. Yeah.
So he's the guy in London who said, I want to be really famous one day. And my big idea is to take Flea's and put them in shows. Yeah. And it worked.
It did work. I saw somewhere that the the origination of flea circuses was due largely to him. But I didn't really see anybody else cited earlier than him. You know. The watchmaker, the Smithey Mark.
Yes. Mark the blacksmith. He wasn't doing any kind of shows or tricks. Louis Berta Loto said, you know what? The fleas aren't props. The fleas are going to be the stars of my show. That's right. And I think he may have been the one who had the original idea to do this. Yeah.
I love our own article. Said his show was part action, part humor, part social commentary.
But I think that was the case. You know, they would. Well, we might. We'll talk about what these things did. They would do everything from high wire acts to sword fighting to political and historical reenactments gather.
They reenacted the Battle of Waterloo dressed dressed in military garb. Yeah. They would play soccer or football, right? They would do high diving. Pretty amazing stuff. A little pools of water right there. A little chariots and carriages.
Yeah, that was one of the first ones because, you know, I think especially back in the early 19th century, people didn't know everything there is to know about fleas like we do today. Right. So the idea of watching a little tiny, tiny flea like a three millimetre long flea pulling like a hearse or a chariot or a cart that was, you know, hundreds of times its own way, does it get better?
It's kind to that's going to impress you, especially if you're a five year old chimney sweep who's owned by the guy who bought you from your parents. Yeah. Or I actually looked up some flea circuses on YouTube. They were just little kids. There was one. And I think Denmark in the 1950s that I looked at, I saw that. Unlike in Telfair. Yeah. People were just delighted.
Yeah, yeah, I mean, I watch some of the videos, too, and I notice that, but my hands clasped together beneath my chin.
I think it might have been the perfect post-election YouTube thing that I could have done. Actually. Yeah, they worked pretty well. So Bertel. Sorry. Berthelot loto his his act was not small. If you think. Well, sure, he did this at some county fairs inside shows his wife made him stop.
Yeah. Not true at all. He actually got really famous for this. I don't know. I mean, they likened him to Elvis Presley. I don't know if he was that big.
I think the point the author is making is like that this guy wasn't some some like he wasn't Internet famous. He was like famous. Famous.
Yeah. Like he traveled the world doing this. Right. So good for him. Right? Yeah. And he didn't as he traveled the world. People were like, hey, I can do that too. Sure. Tired of working. I want to do this. But it turns out that I from what I can tell, as far as show biz goes, running your own flea circus has got to be one of the more demanding shows there. There are.
I mean, part of the problem is your performers. Well, first of all, it says in here, and this is like, again, with this research, you just sort of have to take some of these people at their word. But they say that about one in 10 fleas can even make the cut. All right. Once you find your your champion team of the 10 percent there, they're going to die and there need to be cared for.
All right. And traveling all over the world with your prized fleas is precarious.
Well, yes, especially if you're traveling to do shows in colder climes where there aren't fleas and fleas don't do very well there. Your whole troop may die the night before a show. Can you imagine?
No, but apparently it happened a lot. There is a guy I read and I'm not quite sure who it was, but they he had a standing gig in, I think Switzerland maybe or somewhere somewhat northern Europe. And he had descend down. No, she I'm sorry. She had to send down to me Yorka to get some fresh shipments of fleas like every two weeks. Yeah. Because hers just kept she couldn't keep him alive any longer.
Yes. Yes. I have offers from all over the world to take my show. But you're afraid of one thing when you get out of the country. Can you get fleas? I went to Sweden and I had to sinda my Yorka in Spain to get fleas fortnight every fortnight.
Who was that? It was a woman. A sword swallower. Right. Was that Professor Tomlin?
No, I can't remember her name, but she's like a legendary sword swallower.
Professor Testa's now Professor Chester.
No, none of the professors. And that was another thing I noticed from this, too. But I couldn't really find the origin. Apparently, if you had a flea circuses from like the 19th century to the early 20th century, you, the flea master, billed yourself as professor, whatever. Yeah, so weird. There's just all these really weird trends. But the in the history of flea circuses, it was like one person would come up with an idea and then they go and show it.
And for some reason it would attract a bunch of other imitators. Yeah. That's that's basically the history of it.
I would have built myself as a count. Oh man. That would have broken new ground, but they would have to pay money. And it says in the 1950s, Professor Testa said, we pay six shillings a dozen, although there have been times of shortage when a single flea has cost as much as two shillings.
Well, you know, also, if you look around today, which I did, I couldn't find anywhere to buy flea's you or send off from overseas. But I've thought surely there's some weirdo somewhere who's selling fleas to flea circuses and there are none, none whatsoever. Well, there is a flea circus in Germany still.
Yeah. At the Munich Oktoberfest. Yeah.
Where else would you have one? All right. So you want to take a little break here? Yeah. All right. Well, let's break. Let's go pick the fleas from our own bodies. I know I'm itching or scratching. Then maybe we can train them to finish this episode for us.
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So check where we kind of made it as far as Bertil Loto and there's actually a lot of mystery surrounding that guy.
Here's the weird thing. OK, I'm going to confess something to you. When I first read this article, I was like, well, here's a stinker. Yeah. Then I dug in a little further and I was like, oh, I'm being tortured with research to do a stinker. And then the more I did and the more I did, the more I dug in, I'd find these weird little things that kept popping up that combined create the the the history or the culture of flea circuses.
Yeah. And the more I came upon these little things and put them together, the more I was just totally delighted. But then I think like you, when I when I finally hit YouTube, I was like, okay, I need to see some of these. Then I was like, I love flea circuses. I could sit here and talk about them all day. Well, we'll try and keep this to 30 to 40 all day. So I just realized I didn't finish my thought.
The the the weird little thing that I found out about Professor Barry lowed Dolo a little. Berta, Berta, the lotto. There you go.
Thanks, man. He just vanished. He disappeared. He was like as famous as an astronaut. And then all of a sudden he's gone. And there's a guy who is I think his name is Andy Rich. He's like basically the foremost flea circus researcher working today. And he found Professor Berta Loto. Apparently, he moved to Canada and lived out the rest of his life in anonymity.
Wow. Yeah, I have a question. Okay. Why do you ask his astronaut as a fame indicator?
It's a it's a Simpsons reference. Okay. It's Homer saying somebody is richer than an astronaut. I was going to challenge you and say name an astronaut.
Oh, dude. Jim Lovell, then the name of a current astronaut. Oh, current astronaut. We've got Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly. Okay. All right. The twins get back off then her that her.
Their parents called them Project Gemini. That's cute. But they they didn't interest me then. Oh really? Yeah. Oh man. That would have been surely some great asset.
The thought of that. If not, I'm going to trade market.
Yeah. And then you could blackmail them.
Be like you want this nickname. I know you're richer than an astronaut.
All right. So early. Nineteen hundreds. If you're talking imitators over here in the United States, we had a man named William Hechler and he was one of the first dudes over here to be a successful fleet master. And he did the usual things, made them box and race and juggle. And we're going to tell you some of these secrets, by the way, if you're wondering how these things are accomplished. Just hang in there. And he said at one point he was bringing in two hundred and fifty dollars a day or performance.
And in a day of performances a day. Yeah. So many, many performances. Here's the thing. If I kind of wondered, I was because I didn't find it until later in the research, like, well, how do you see this stuff? But you wouldn't have very many people in there. You'd have like ten or fifteen people crowded around a little table. Right, for six to 10 minutes. You'd shuffle them out and bring in the next group.
Yes. I saw somewhere that if you were really dedicated to it, I think Cecil Adams wrote it on the on the straight dope that if you were like a really dedicated performer, you could conceivably do 50, 10 minute performances a day. So that's basically like 10 hours with a 10 minute break every hour. And if you're not a really dedicated flea master, then just get out of my face. What do you even bother? Seriously, though, I mean, as when we talk about how to do this, it will become clear just how much work this must be.
Yeah. All right. Well, let's talk a little bit about that.
Every flea is different. And like I said, if you believe the research, about 10 percent of the fleas are fit for the job. Right. And like we mentioned, you don't really train them. What you do is back in the day you would take either some silken thread or some really thin gold wire, like hopefully you can't even see it. That's sort of the idea. Mm hmm. And you tie a little tiny. News of sorts around this flea's neck.
And apparently that was really hard to do. Oh, yeah. Because when a flea eats. The blood of their master. Yeah, which is true. Yeah. We'll get to that again later. But their next well so you can't tie it too tight or else they're going to die. And the price fleak a day or if it's too loose, then the flea goes away and the chariot stays behind.
And that's no good now. And you just hear a tiny bionic man sound. That's right. So that's very hard. Number one. Number two, the idea that you have to do that with new fleas every I would guess probably every few weeks if you're on average, because fleas I mean, if they live maybe a year. Most fleas live. Yeah. About three or four months. That's an old flea. So you got like some star performers and they're just they're performing, you know, for a few months or whatever.
So you're having to basically constantly harness fleas all the time. And and again, before you even harness them, you have to sort them. So you have to study and observe the adult fleas, see which ones like to jump. There's an old legend that apparently came from Professor Hechler son. Yeah.
If not Professor Hechler himself, who said you put a lid over a jar and you can train them not to jump too high because they'll hit their head on the jar and they don't like to do that. So they learn not to jump. Then they've passed their first test. Right. It's not clear whether that's actually hokum or not. But that's for for a very long time. That's been part of the lower of training fleas. The problem is, I think you said it, fleas can actually learn anything.
They're not really being trained. They're actually being physically restrained in lots of ways, including that harness and starting with the harness.
Well, I don't know, though, Hechler. Professor Hechler, that is also said and this is fascinating to me as far as whether or not these fleas can learn anything. He said that he would to get the best fleas, put them in a glass jar. That's too tall for them to jump out. Right. And he said that he would notice the really good fleas would jump up on the side. Fart out a little bit of sticky stuff.
Whatever that is, and then spend the rest of the time trying and trying to hit that identical spot again to grab hold of the sticky stuff. Basically a foothold to be close enough to the top to leap out. Right. Amazing. Don't know if I believe it here. Well, yeah. I mean, he was a showman, consummates showman. Like, you didn't just basically point and be like, look at the phillies'. Give me your money.
Please leave now. Like you were like carrying the show on, right. You had to tell this, this, this. You had to help the performance along. Yes, sir. For God's sake. Right.
When this guy is being interviewed over the years, I can't imagine he didn't like ham it up in the interviews. No, Cheryl.
So I don't know. Like, a lot of it's lost to two time what was true and what was in as far as these these all guys go.
Yeah, but he Professor Hechler also said when he was picking them out and he said stodgy ones are broken to the merry go round harness flighty fleas make good dancers. Those with especially strong legs will become kicker's, jugglers and chariot racers.
Yes. So you've got you've got fleas harness. That's like the the first initial thing. But there's other things you need to do to him, too, right. You can take that harness in. The most basic thing you could do is take that harness and actually hook it up to, like you said, a chariot boring or or a merry go round or something like that. And yet people will be like, that's pretty neat. That's cool. Before I could do that, you know, but you could do other stuff, too.
And a lot of it involves glue, unfortunately. So say like you take a tiny piece of wood or a tiny piece of metal and you glue it to the flea's arms. Right. Yes. And we should say, once that happens, that's it. That's never that's never coming off for the rest of the flea's life.
Yeah. I mean, do you think they even survived that day? I think so, yeah. I think that they typically survive a few weeks of performing. Okay. So even if they have a little sword glued to their body. Yeah. I just think they live with really horrible lives.
I mean, basically, we as a species should know more about this because if the fleas ever rise up and become intelligent. Our backs are against the wall for what the flea circus flea masters have done to them. Yeah. Glued to the wall. They'll be like, oh, guess who's turn it is.
All right. So what? Go ahead. Oh, so you you glue a piece of stick or something to their arms. And remember, already they're harnessed and you do the same thing to another flea. And then you tie their harnesses down and you just kind of tickle them or do something to stimulate them and they start waving their arms. And it looks like they're sword fighting. So that's a really good example of a flea circus like you. You're having them do things.
And then the flea masters like, well, look at this. This is a sword fight. Everybody see they're doing. Are fencing or something like that. Right. And I've trained them to do so. Exactly. Exactly. So there's there's these things we're really it's the interaction between a restrained flea, usually with a prop glued to it. Yeah. Defending itself or responding to some sort of now noxious or threatening stimuli. And then the flea master coming and saying, oh, they're they're fencing.
Right. They're walking the high wire something or they're. This is Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Yes.
They would play soccer, like I said. So what they would do there is they would get a little piece of cotton wool. They would soak it in something that the flea doesn't like. Some odorous, malodorous thing.
Yeah, I looked it up like lavender works really well. Citronella cedar oil. Oh, those are all lovely.
That's a shame. But come to think of it, when you see natural flea sprays. That's what's natural flea spray. Exactly. So they would soak it in that stuff and then just the flea would literally just kick at it to get it away. Like a little soccer ball. Right.
They're either kicking it to get it away or because they're restrained. And when they kick, instead of propelling the flea away, it's repelling the ball away from them. So if you have them just kind of do that back and forth and yeah, they're playing soccer. What about juggling Josh? Love it. What you do there is he would glue a flea to its on its back basically and then put another little tiny piece of cotton and their legs and they would kick out it trying to get it off and it apparently would just kind of go up and down and spin around like it was juggling.
And like this is, this is thanks to Hechler in particular in the United States. He really started hitting the county fairs and the the the carnivals. So it became basically part and parcel with the sideshows, the circus, like basically anytime you went to a D.C. carnival. There's a flea circus there.
Yeah. And I get the feeling that these professors would try and they would try and innovate. They would try and come up with new tricks and new things that would delight people because you want to keep people coming back, you know. Right. So that's where you come up with things like that. The high, high wire act and the flea walls, when it would appear as if a flea orchestra was playing and fleas were dancing.
Yeah, because there's there's other things that fleas respond to to besides citronella. They respond very well. The heat, they since heat very well. And if it gets too hot, they want to get out of there. So if you apply heat from beneath on, say, like a just a drumhead or something like that, yeah. They'll all start hopping around. But if they, if they can't get away, if they're harnessed in that, it looks like they're dancing.
If you put a little flea orchestra to the side with instruments glued to their their arms at a nice backbeat. Exactly. Then you have fleas playing music and fleas dancing to it, a flea ball.
So this all is delightful and well and good. But what fun is a naked little flea doing these things? If you could have a fully dressed up as Napoleon. Right. And that's what they did. They apparently historical figures were lampooned. They would supposedly get Mexican nuns who had, quote, nimble fingers, tired and eyes deteriorated. I don't see how that makes any sense. So they're these they they're nimble. Fingers grew tired and their eyes deteriorated, making these things OK.
That was that was a good quality they look for in a Mexican nun seamstress. How are you? Nimble fingers feeling kind of tired.
They hired. That's sad actually then. Sure. So they would get apparently these Mexican nuns to make these tiny little costumes. And they're still on display today. If you go to.
How do you pronounce that in England, mispronounce everything in England? It's spelled Hertfordshire, so Cambridge. All right, Cambridge, England. Thank you, sir. At the Rothschild Zoological Museum, there are two flea's dressed as Mexican fleas on display and right in our lovely Edinburgh, Scotland, that we adored so much. Had I known at home, had I known that there was a museum of childhood there with a flea wedding party dressed up on display, I would have gone in a second for sure.
But yeah, it was a thing. I think it was already a thing in Mexico. Yeah. And the flea circus master said, hey, I need to get some of those. So, Chuck, if you have a bunch of fleas in there making you money, you want to keep them alive.
Right. Yeah. How would you do that? Well, as we all know, fleas are parasitic bloodsuckers. And so they would just go down to the blood bank and get a bag of blood.
Right. Right. And let the fleas swim around in it. Yeah. And they loved it. Now, what they would do is and this is like gives me chills thinking about it. They would roll up their sleeves, stick their arm down there and let the fleas feed on their bodies. Yeah. Couple of times a day. But apparently apparently, though, it was part of every single show that you would end the show with. And now, since these flea performers have done so great, I shall let them down.
My blood in the crowd would be like you. Gross. And I did, no doubt. Oh, that makes sense. Yeah. It was part of stage patter, but apparently they at least Hechler. But I'm sure others actually did let the fleas feed on them. Yeah, I mean, what's a good flea master to do? Well, feed your fleas, blood. Either that or have like a again, a chimney sweep that you bought from a chimney sweeper to let the fleas feed on.
I hope that episode does come out, but I think it's going to be really confused here or it'll be really delightful when it does come out and we'll be like, oh, that makes sense now. Hey, one more thing about Hechler. So there was a heckler, senior and junior, and apparently Junior kept it going in Times Square until like the late 50s. Yeah. Had a flea circus going and hecklers flea circus shows up in a scene. An easy rider.
No way. Yeah. I couldn't figure out what scene and have time to go check. But there's this scene in Easy Rider where in the background there's hecklers, Flea Circus.
And then they were pushed out of Times Square by peep shows. And then the peep shows were pushed out by Walt Disney and Giuliani. Yeah. Heckler tried at first to do pantless Flea Circus. Well, it didn't work very well. Yeah, no one wants that. No. And finally just packed it up. All right. Well, let's take one final break here and we will talk about another kind of flea circus right after this.
Hello, this is Leah Remini. And I am joined by Mike Rinder, and we are so excited to continue this journey with a new podcast called Scientology. Fair Game. Mike, thank you for continuing this journey with me. And thank you for continuing to fight.
Of course, Leah. And the same to you. I couldn't be happier to be back together in the saddle again. Taking on the subject of the abuses of Scientology and hopefully with this podcast, we can get into things in even greater depth and perhaps more incisively than we were able to do in the limitations of a network TV show. So we got a lot to do.
Helier guess who isn't happy about this podcast? Mike Scientology. So gear up.
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So check one thing that I found pretty sure you found it, too, was that when you started looking into flea circuses.
Some people think that there is never such a thing as flea circuses that used real fleas. Yeah, I thought you were gonna say when you start looking in the flea circuits as there's no going back, you'll never be the same again.
That's definitely true, too. Like I'm changed forever. Yeah.
I always thought that flea circuses were a complete ruse and that there were never any real fleas performing. Right.
Apparently now that's not the case. There have been and indeed are. As recently as the 90s, there have been flea circuses that used real fleas following these traditions that we just mentioned. But if you believe that there are plenty of flea circuses out there that don't use any fleas whatsoever, you're right to because they're both. Yes. There's the type of flea circus that doesn't use fleas is called a humbug flea circus. It's all it's all stage magic. It's all illusion.
And it's pretty, pretty awesome, actually. Yeah.
There was a man, a magician named George Tylertown in the 1930s, and he wrote a booklet actually outlining its fake flea circuses and skits that you can do when you're sort of the I mean, while the carnival barking was going on in the real flea circuses, you really want to take center stage if you have a fake flea circus.
Right. And not only introducing the death defying feats, but then you are are following these fleas, jumping around with mimicking it with your eyes and following it around, you know, by moving your head around as if the audience is looking at some invisible thing, which they are.
Right. Right. They are. And you're basically just using your powers of suggestion to get them to think they're seeing what you're saying. Right. Yeah. That's the most basic humbug. Flea Circus. There are. Right. Sure. But there's one and it started like, I guess the genuine stage craft. Stage Magic Humbug Flea Circus came about from Michael Benteen. Oh yeah. Who is a goon, actually. Right.
Remember, they all have explained that what the goons showed up in the Monty Python episode. They were the direct predecessor of Monty Python. Right. Spike Milligan and his goons. Yes. He wasn't a hockey playing goon. No. That's a different thing. Or a goon on Scooby Doo or a Goonie. Right. Never say die. Just a regular old goon.
Yeah. Michael Benteen. He was a British performer and entertainer, and he in 1950 performed that. The role was called the Royal Variety Show, I guess. I think so. And it was a little, you know, fake flea circus, apparently. Pretty elaborate one. Yeah. Because rather than just using, like, the his power of suggestion, he was using things like magnets and remote control pumps and mechanical devices to really kind of do this exaggerated simulation of a flea doing stuff going through the circuit of his flea circus.
Right. So he would say have a magnet or a piece of string of some or something pushing a ball or rather pulling a ball uphill an incline. And he would say that this is the the flea Sisyphus and he's pushing this ball up a hill. Right.
Or this is this is my favorite. This gets me every time a flea going up on the high dive board now, huh? And then so as he's going up the rungs of the ladder, each one gets depressed. Right. So you can see the fleas progress up the ladder, gets up to the end of the board, jumps a couple of times. So the springboard goes up and down and then it makes a springing sound as he jumps off.
Oh, yeah. Right, exactly. Dives into the water and there's like this huge splash. Yeah. Which a flea could never make a splash to begin with, but a huge one. It's just hilarious. I like the one, the sand table. They would have a little sandbox in the flea with the fake flea would invisibly jump around, but it would create a little splash of sand everywhere. He jumped all over the place. Right. And again, all with magnets, all fakery.
Yeah. But really, really clever. I get the impression he was not terribly old at the time when he first debuted on TV and in the grand tradition of flea circuses. Some other people saw it and said, oh, I do that too. So the Humbug Flea Circus took off and became pretty popular in like the second half of the 20th century.
Yeah, I should say popular as far as flea circuses go, which is to say not very popular, very popular among weirdos.
Yeah, I'm really kind of wondering about this bird to Loto and his fame. Like he might not have been. I don't know. I mean, just because he traveled the world. I mean, he could have been travelling the world, performing in front of, you know, 60 people a day. That's not exactly Elvis. True. It's true. This whole thing is under a cloud of suspicion, is it? I mean, it's really tough to figure out the what's from the who's and the winds and the why and the fleas from the magnets.
Yeah. Yeah. Because once you introduce that humbug very into it, everything comes into question. There was actually, though, there is a book that I want to get. It's a it's a pamphlet basically turned into a book from 1975 that a guy named Tom Palmer wrote. It's called The Famous Flea Act. And it teaches you everything you need to know to do a humbug flea circus. I just want to read it does refunds is you know, Christmas is coming up.
There is someone out there. I'll send that to you. I was talking to, you know, this is someone else out there. Well, OK, bye.
Call to you the public listening stuff. You should know public is another doing this on October 1st. But somebody needs to bring this back in a big way. Well, a woman did in the 90s, but it didn't take very long. But I mean, it was pretty big in the 90s. Her name was. What is it, Chuck? Maria. Fernanda Cardosa. Okay. Did you read about her now? You should check out her act.
You didn't see the video of it. Now there is like a seven, eight minute video of her act. And apparently it's just the highlights. So I guess her act was longer and she's a performance artist. So it was she did it at like different places like she did at the new museum in New York and San Francisco and just kind of some some pretty neat places, places you wouldn't expect to see a flea circus is what I'm saying, I guess.
But she used live fleas in the grand tradition of flea circuses and made a very beautiful, neat, almost Cirque de Soleil ish flea circus in the 90s.
Wow. Yeah, but there's a video of it. There's plenty of videos, I'm sure of it out there. Just look her up and look for the flea circus video with with our thumbs up on it. Yeah.
And, you know, we kind of joked about this being cruel. It it's easy to to say this is a flea, so who cares? But I'm sure there are people that get up in arms about using any sort of, you know, mistreating an animal for any kind of insects, animals.
Let's just say for this argument, for sure, for the entertainment of humans, you know, there's probably at least one person out there that thinks this is a very cruel thing to do. No, there's a there's apparently societies that are dedicated to preventing cruelty to insects in particular. Now, there you have it. And they have called specifically for flea circuses to be banned outright. And they make a pretty convincing case, especially if you don't allow yourself to stop and remind yourself that these are fleas we're talking about.
But they you know, they're held in captivity their whole lives. They're held they're connected by a harness that keeps them held down their entire lives.
You know, the the tricks that they're performing are actually like stress behaviors and they die probably prematurely.
Yeah, well, guess as what went off on Fleas and the flea episode, so I can't really say anything about that. Sure. I've had bad infestations and. I had no problem grabbing them between my hands and holding them under water until they slowly drowned.
They're like, please just crush me. You say never drown.
You can't crush him. You can crush a flea if you get. It's hard. Eat fingernails. That's your problem. You bite your fingernails too much. Yeah.
But you try to smash a flea and he just goes, oh ha. Dying.
Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee.
Anything else you can buy, flea circuses, readymade flea circuses, if you want? Well, that's fun.
Yeah, like an ant farm. Good luck. Finding fleas is the thing. Right. And I think that's it. Man, that's a flea circuses. Good. Just go watch some flea circus videos on TV or on the computer TV. You're going to love it. Yeah.
It's a good way to just dumb it down and check out. Yeah, it's delightful though too, since I said it's delightful. If you wanted to. That's right. I got all the order I was thinking about Flea Circus and yeah, a few. I know more about flea circuses do it. I just said and you can also type those words in the search bar HowStuffWorks. And since I said it's delightful before, it's time for listener Matt. I'm going to call this what the writer called it, which is pick me for listener mail.
Thanks from a teacher. It's hard to resist. Sure. Josh, Chuck and Jerry.
And finally writing to you all. I've been listening stuff, you know, for years. I think of listening nearly of every episode, even the ones from the dark days when the discussion lasted fewer than 10 minutes and Josh was still looking for his perfect podcasting partner. My sister introduced me to you. So if you pick this for listener mail, please do. Be extremely cool. If you give my sister Laura a shout.
Well, that is really nice of you, Chuck.
And as you're feeling very generous, regardless, I've been meaning to e-mail my thanks and praise for your work. I was a high school English teacher in Illinois, but recently relocated to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I've been moved on, where I've moved on to become a community college professor. Yes, professor. Maybe she could train, please.
Your podcast has been a great supplemental teaching tool, not to mention a guaranteed way to keep my mind occupied during long road trips to and from undergraduate and graduate school or while running with my dog Visa episode on book banning several times while teaching To Kill a Mockingbird or informing students about banned book week. I've also used the episode about police interrogation during a unit featuring Walter Dean Myers novel Monster, about a boy who is on trial for a crime he may not have committed.
That sounds good. It does.
And more recently, I use a listener mail about the benefits of hunting as an example of how to structure an argument.
Let's hear that. I want to hear that argument. Well, chefs are right back in.
The students got a laugh out of Joshes comments about waiting for the deer to fall over and collect dead bodies instead of actually killing the animals anyway. Really enjoy the show. Look forward to new episodes every week. If teaching doesn't work out for some reason, I think podcasting would be a pretty great career. And that is from Sarah Amato. Professor Amato. And a shout out to Laura.
Yeah. Her sister Laura motto or whatever her name is, shout out. Not presuming they have the same last name.
My modern guy or anyone. You have a beard. Thanks for teaching and doing what you do, Professor. Yeah. And thanks for writing in smart thinking with the subject line reworked.
If you want to get in touch with us, you can tweet to us. I'm at Josh Clark and Twitter and you can also follow the official as. SCCA podcasts on Twitter. Can I go with Chuck. Charles W.. Chuck. Brian on Facebook or Facebook. Dot com slash stuff. You should know you can send us an email to Stuff podcast at HowStuffWorks dot com. And as always, join us at our home on the web. Stuff you shadow.
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