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Bearded Ladies and Fire-Eaters: Inside the Venice Beach Freakshow

A photo tour of a bizarre and colorful world where, as ringmaster Todd Ray says, “Normal is dead”

Venice Beach Freak Show

Jessa the Bearded Lady not-so-gently coaxes passerbys to enter the Venice Beach Freakshow.

Brian L. Frank

When Grammy-winning producer Todd Ray came home from work one day and told his wife, Danielle, that he was planning to leave his job in the music business, giving up a seven-figure salary, to open a freakshow, she thought he was out of his mind and she told him so. But Ray is a persuasive and steadfast guy — not only did he do as he said he would, opening the Venice Beach Freakshow in 2006, but he also convinced Danielle to work there with him. She greets visitors as they enter the circus sideshow and museum of oddities to this day, and she isn't the only family member to be part of the production. Ray's son, Phoenix, is a co-owner and up-and-coming ringmaster following in dad's footsteps, and his daughter, Asia, is one of the show's marquee performers, eating fire, swallowing swords, sitting in electric chairs and contorting her body as "The Rubber Girl."

This unusual family business is the subject of the AMC reality series Freakshow, which follows the lives of the Ray clan, as well as those of three-foot-five-inch-tall "Amazing Ali" Chapman, shock artist Morgue, Jessa the Bearded Lady and more of the uniquely shaped, sized and talented individuals that Todd has brought together. (The series' two seasons are currently available for streaming on Netflix.) We recently sent photographer Brian L. Frank to meet some of the fascinating characters behind the Venice Beach Freakshow and to capture all the wild action.

Venice Beach Freak Show

Audience members react in shock during the performance of Asia Ray at The Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, CA

Brian L. Frank

Stage Fright

Audience members react in shock during a performance by Todd's daughter Asia.

Venice Beach Freak Show

"Jessa the Bearded Lady" at The Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, CA

Brian L. Frank

Jessa the Bearded Lady

She owns the Guinness World Record for the longest beard on a woman in history.

Venice Beach Freak Show

One of many 2-headed creatures at The Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, CA

Brian L. Frank

Twice as Nice

One of the many two-headed creatures at the Venice Beach Freakshow.

Venice Beach Freak Show

"Morgue" shocks the audience by placing a large hook through his nose and out through his mouth at The Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, CA

Brian L. Frank

Fishing for Compliments

Shock artist Morgue amazes and horrifies the audience by placing a large hook through his nose and out through his mouth during a performance.

Venice Beach Freak Show

Brian L. Frank

Rock the Volt

Miss Sunshine, the Electric lady, has so much power coursing through her body from sitting in an electric chair that she lights up a bulb when it touches her.

Venice Beach Freak Show

Asia Ray thrills the crowd with her fire eating routine at The Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, CA

Brian L. Frank

Some Like It Hot

Asia Ray thrills the crowd with her fire-eating routine.

Venice Beach Freak Show

Miss Sunshine at The Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, CA

Brian L. Frank

Taking a Breather

Miss Sunshine — who does a fire-eating routine, as well as an electric chair act, at the Freakshow — takes a break.

Venice Beach Freak Show

Audience reaction at The Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, CA

Brian L. Frank

Child’s Play

The intense performances at the Venice Beach Freakshow can be a little too much for younger members of the audience at times.

Venice Beach Freak Show

Asia Ray, "Morgue", "Jessa the Bearded Lady," Larry Gomez and Miss Sunshine pose for a portrait outside The Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, CA

Brian L. Frank

Freaks and Family

Asia Ray, Morgue, Jessa the Bearded Lady, Larry Gomez and Miss Sunshine pose outside the Venice Beach Freakshow.

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