GALVESTON — Eight years ago, Ben Thomas sobered up and searched for more interesting work than his restaurant job.
He ended up in a sideshow. With cheerful aplomb, Thomas does unusual things to himself with animal traps, hammer, nails and broken glass.
On the drawing board are plans for a sequence with a “taxidermied cat and impossible feats.”
Thomas isn’t kidding. He regularly aims to astound.
“I enjoy the most the crowd interaction,” Thomas said. “It’s getting the laughs and making people squirm.”
Thomas’ stage name of Blockhead Benny is derived from derring-do with a hammer, a nail and his face.
He just started performing in Galveston after moving here six months ago, drawn by the city’s consistent tourist trade and the beauty of the coast.
Hendley Market on The Strand provides an ideal setting for shows and oddities museum tours Thursday through Sunday.
“It’s acts of daring and danger with a lot of really bad jokes … to take away from the horror you see,” Thomas said.
He stresses that this is a G-rated show.
“This is family friendly; I do entertain children,” said Thomas, who also performs at birthday parties.
Thomas, a native of Idaho, has honed his act for more than four years.
He first learned the craft from sideshow performers at the state fair in Salt Lake City, where he was working in restaurants and searching for a new start in life.
“I had quit drinking and partying and decided I wanted to be sober,” Thomas said.
He moved to Austin where the sideshow artists were based, and discovered there the Museum of the Weird on Sixth Street.
The facility was short of sideshows at the time and making do with tarot card readers.
Thomas auditioned with sword swallowing — which he no longer performs — and nail pounding in his nose and got a job.
“I showed them my chops and came up with some things to say,” he said. “I just knew I didn’t want to work in another restaurant.”
After several years of performing 10-minute shows at the museum, Thomas moved to Galveston. He started at the Hendley Market earlier this month, gathering crowds to pay $2 for tickets to his show and oddity museum — including a shrunken head and other weird wonders — in the back patio area.
Thomas dons a red fez, tuxedo T-shirt and vest to become Blockhead Benny.
“He’s sort of comedian,” Thomas said. “I do it for the jokes. … It really does entertain me more to do it than it even entertains the crowd.
“I always get good laughs and good squirms.”
At a glance
WHAT: Blockhead Benny’s Sideshow and Weird Wonders Museum
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays
WHERE: Hendley Market, 2010 Strand, in Galveston
INFORMATION: Call 512-998-0568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hendley Market celebrates its 35th birthday this summer. The market is in one of the first commercial buildings on The Strand, built in 1858. Call 409-762-2610 or visit www.hendleymarket.com.