- Ed the Editor (

If you've ever been to Los Angeles, you've no doubt spent a day on Venice Beach. Unlike other warm-weather hotspots, Venice is famous not for its white sand, clear waters, or tropical fish, but for its truly awesome parade of freaks. Other cities may boast of the occasional street performer, but Venice Beach is an entire strip of land devoted to amateur entertainment. You can see escape artists break out of straight jackets, daredevils juggle chainsaws, and even the occasional roller skating, turban wearing electric guitarist. Reflecting the cultural extremes of the city at large, Venice Beach epitomizes the term "fringe element."

But just how hard is it to perform on the boardwalk? Thousands of tourists and locals flock every weekend to watch these amateur sensations. Can they spot a fake? Is there such a thing as a "certified" amateur performer? After spending many of my own weekends cruising the beach, watching acts from the exciting to the atrocious, I decided that possibly anyone could join their ranks. The only thing you really needed was gumption. Pure brass cojones. Unlike a club or a theatre, there's no barrier between you and the audience when you're on the boardwalk. And nothing, that is, to stop them from killing you if you suck.

A seed began to germinate in my mind. Digging out a long forgotten novelty record, "The Superbowl Shuffle" from my collection, I was filled with inspiration. Within seconds on the turntable, my roommates and I felt the mad urge to breakdance. In fact, we couldn't shake the image of the four of us popping and spinning to this lite-rap chestnut. So, armed with a roll of linoleum (for the spins) and a couple of quickie flyers Matt printed up on the Mac announcing that Eazy-Ez and the Skrewball Krew were available for Weddings and Parties, we drove straight down to Venice the following weekend, determined to outclass even the worst street entertainer. Finding the right place to perform was a daunting task. We finally chose an available stretch of pavement where two sidestreets met, directly across from a burger joint. Not exactly prime, but centrally located, and without much direct competition. After a few long looks and deep breaths, Mark gently laid down the linoleum and Joe slipped the tape in his boom box. The beat started to sputter out:

"We are the Bears shufflin' crew

  • Shufflin' down, doin' it for you
  • We're not here to start up a scuffle
  • We're just doin' the Superbowl Shuffle"

    As dancers, each one of us took on a different persona: Matt became a slowly spasmodic David Byrne; Mark, in his purple robe, had kind of a mystical Tai Chi going; Joe flashed some "robot" moves, and I just flapped around like a chicken, all while the Casio-style rhythm section chugged along behind us. It was "Electric Boogalo" time! Embarrassed, maybe even frightened, our audience tried its best not to make eye contact. People would drift by, glance over, hear the awful music, and quickly move on. Some would crack up when they got about ten feet away, genuinely amused but somehow unwilling to mock. Still others would laugh right in our faces.

    The first paranoid thought that went through my mind was that somebody might shoot us. "What the fuck are you doing, assholes?!" some guy would yell, ripping lead bullets straight through our satiric little hearts. A militant breakdancer, some bent out of shape extra from "Beat Street", his pride destroyed would blow up in a fit of rage. "How dare you mock the great Shabba Doo Quinones!" he'd say before lynching me with his parachute pants. Suddenly, my adrenaline started to give way. "Shit, this is hard," I thought, my chest beginning to heave. Not really knowing how to pace myself, I was becoming exhausted in a matter of minutes. Those spins on the mat and kicks in the air were going to send me flat on my back. In an effort to seem convincing, we were really giving it our all; one hundred percent spaz entertainment. I developed a genuine admiration for the boardwalk entertainers who went on all day, without breaks. It's a true workout, aerobic and otherwise. And it isn't easy to maintain your enthusiasm when the crowds treat you like a festering leper.

    But as the tape moved past "Shuffle" and into "Pac-Man Fever", something magical began to happen. We started to pick up a little momentum. People actually stuck around to watch us, nodding and tapping in time to the music. Kids came out of their apartments to cheer us on. Maybe "Fever" was so obviously out of date that people HAD to know we were kidding. One guy came and dropped a quarter in our hat. This retarded girl paused and stood in front of Mark for a full five minutes, mesmerized by his tricky moves. My back was killing me but we were on our way to success.

    By the time the tape came to an end, we'd blazed through four "Shuffles" two "Fevers" and, as an added bonus, The Chipmunks rendition of The Cars' "Let's Go." This turned out to be the surprise hit of the afternoon, drawing hoots for our herky-jerky lip synching dance fest. Although no one tossed us roses for the big finish, we did get some warm applause from the teenage balconeers. A second guy flipped us a quarter. (I think he even took one of Matt's fliers). The kicker was this very cute, very hip looking girl with a gold nose ring came out of her apartment as we were wrapping up the linoleum and approached us. Her review? "I've lived on Venice Beach for years and you guys are the best thing I've ever seen." But even after her glowing review, she wouldn't have sex with any of us. So much for groupies.

    Chainsaw jugglers, roller skating guitarists, and escape artists can all kiss my ass. No one shot at us. No one even gave us the finger. It's true: any enterprising soul with a little home cooked eccentricity can join the big leagues of weirdness. You don't need a degree, or funding from the NEA to make a splash on Venice Beach. We waved our flag in the parade of deviance, and quite possibly, won the prize, or at least made a dollar and some assorted change. It had gone so well we even entertained the thought of going back another weekend, but thankfully this never came to pass. Fifteen minutes of breakdancing fame was probably about fourteen too many.


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