NEW YORK — Famed entertainment pioneer P.T. Barnum has come under fire for systematically excluding able-bodied performers in his circus.
Critics have pointed out that Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, which features a wide array of animal acts, acrobatics, and abuse, has a disproportionate number of disabled performers.
Barnum insisted that he hires based entirely on merit, and that overrepresentation of disabled performers is a coincidence.
“I look for the people who can best fit the roles of freaks and human oddities,” said Barnum as he repaired the stitching on the Feejee Mermaid. “If an able-bodied person can do that, I hire them on the spot.”
An anonymous spectator exclaimed, “Oh come on with that excuse! It’s 1861 — get with the times!”
“Just because we don’t have easily-exploitable abnormalities doesn’t make us less capable,” said able-bodied Nancy Hallett, casually juggling five balls. “It’s not fair. We didn’t choose to be born this way.”
Barnum was quick to defend himself. “I hire a ton of able-bodied people. In fact, most of my peanut salesmen and dung scoopers are able-bodied. You might recognize …” he trailed off, focusing on straightening a poster of Tom Thumb.
Barnum then exclaimed, “Nobody would pay a dime to gawk at normal people!” and stormed away. He returned several seconds later to remind everyone that the show starts at 7.