By all accounts, Miss Tansybaum’s Circus of the Moderately Peculiar should not have continued to operate. They were a very small operation as circuses went, they had no rides and their menagerie consisted of a single geriatric lion and a handful of obscure species, such as the Sudanese Crooning Lizards, who were obscure for a reason. Sure, Brendan the Mono-juggler could keep a single ball in the air for hours, but you got tired of watching after the first few minutes.
Lord Maggothaunch’s Carnival of the Un-Ordinary should have crushed them out of existence in the first year–indeed, that was among the lord’s stated goals–and its failure to do so was a source of intense frustration for him. Did he not have scantily clad women and a genuine, if sullen tiger? Did he not have a genuine freakshow, with real live freaks, including a pair of dubious Siamese twins and a two-headed calf in a jar?
Miss Tansybaum did not have a freakshow (at least not in the conventional sense, although the less charitable would argue that the entire operation qualified.) Instead she had Sister Rosemary’s Curious Convent.
The six nuns of the Curious Convent belonged to the Traveling Order of St. Barnaby, patron of sideshows, and they took their work seriously. While Sister Rosemary had retired from performing, claiming that sword swallowing was work for younger women, the Curious Convent still included the World’s Smallest Nun, the Fire-Eating Nun, the Strongnun, the Bearded Nun, and occasionally the Tattooed Nun as well. (Sister Mary Odelia’s tramp stamp was considered rather too racy for some venues, even if it DID portray the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.)
This was all very entertaining in its way, even if Sister Clara hated being billed as "The TRIUMPH of FAITH over FIRE!" and insisted on ending her performance with a short speech about how faith was wonderful for triumphing over adversity and despair, but was less useful against careless handling of flammable oil, and one should never attempt fire-eating at home. Nevertheless, the Curious Convent had difficulty competing with a two-headed calf in a jar and lived in dread of the day that Lord Maggothaunch procured a real live Feejee Mermaid.
No, the success of Miss Tansybaum’s Circus lay in three things.
First of all, she knew her audience.
She knew, for example, that there was no real point to a petting zoo when you mostly toured rural communities with children who could pet a sheep any time they wanted and anyway knew too much about sheep to want to pet one in the first place, which cut down significantly on overhead.
And there were absolutely no clowns. The Circus of the Moderately Peculiar was a place you could go and be absolutely sure that you would not encounter a clown. They’d had a mime ventriloquist for awhile–at least, he said he was a ventriloquist, although since the dummy was a mime too, it was hard to tell–but he’d moved on to more avant-garde performance art and no one was sad to see him go.* Miss Tansybaum hated clowns and didn’t think someone should be subjected to a sudden clowning just because they wanted to come out to the circus for a day.
Lord Maggothaunch thought clowns were jolly and employed six, at least one of which was rumored to be a Bulgarian hit man attempting to flee from his past.
Secondly, Miss Tansybaum’s roasted peanuts were better.
Third, Miss Tansybaum’s fortune-teller, Mother Radish, could actually tell the future, and was wise enough to know when not to do so.
*Penelope and her Perilous Frog took his trailer.