Coney Island Impresario Richard Zigun Plans Comeback After Hurricane Sandy

'Mayor' of Brooklyn Beach Mecca Reclaims Summer Spotlight

He Can Hear The Mermaids Drumming: Dick Zigun, founder and artistic director of Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore, suffered multiple injuries and $500,000 in damages as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Norman Blake
He Can Hear The Mermaids Drumming: Dick Zigun, founder and artistic director of Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore, suffered multiple injuries and $500,000 in damages as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

By Simi Horwitz

Published May 24, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

At the age of 14, Zigun grew disaffected with Orthodoxy when he attended Expo 67, the world’s fair in Montreal. “It was a mind-blowing experience,” he recalled. Thanks to Expo’s state-of-the-art science and cutting-edge technology, religion no longer had any traction for him. Prayer and praise didn’t make sense. Despite good relations with his family, gatherings became difficult when they centered on Jewish rituals and on synagogue attendance.

On the secular front, Zigun boasts a graduate degree in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama and is married to a pop musician from Lagos, Nigeria. And on the pagan front, three of his four limbs are covered with baroque swirls of color evoking on each “sleeve,” respectively, air, water and fire imagery. One leg remains bare, awaiting the tattoo artist’s needle for images of the earth.

“That will happen when I’m more grounded,” Zigun explained, deadpan.

Zigun has always had a flair for the theatrical. Early on in his career as the public relations director for the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, he forged a quirky persona for himself that included a vintage bathing suit and cool sunglasses “way before there was any such thing as the Coney Island hipster,” he said. “I knew that if I were interviewed on television in costume, I would create a visual image that was Coney Island. I became the Mayor of Coney Island in 1984, and since I don’t get a salary and it’s no real position, there’s no term limit, either.”

Instead of aspiring to a Broadway career, Zigun set his sights on Coney Island. “I had this crazy idea that Coney Island could be a staging ground for my whole dramaturgy. Circus freaks and popular culture themes existed even in my early plays. If I was working at The Public Theater or some loft in Manhattan’s SoHo, I’d be creating intellectual art — deconstructionist and metaphorical plays — about popular culture. I wanted to come to Coney Island and do popular culture.”

Sideshows by the Seashore is a marriage of traditional and experimental. Like its earlier incarnations, it’s literally a sideshow — off the main drag — with ongoing performances: sword swallowing, fire eating, snake charming. The requisite inside and outside talkers, popularly known as barkers, are also on hand.

But Zigun’s sideshow also embraces gender bending, women performers who speak (and are not simply seen) and entertainers who voice gay and lesbian, feminist or other political viewpoints. Freaks, born and self-made, strut their stuff, occasionally clad in black and sporting platform shoes as if they’ve stepped out of a 1980s goth nightspot.

Others who are less grunge in their appearance still emerge from a dark place, such as Baron von Geiger, who has had his tongue split as an example of “body modification.” Onstage, he shoots staples into himself and hangs fishhooks from his eyes, bearing chains and heavy weights. Rotating his head, he swings the fishhooks, weights and chains — dangling from his eyes — around in circles.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.