The king is back in the building, baby, and you won’t believe what Bruce Campbell is bringing to San Diego Comic-Con this year. Or will you?
The host and executive producer of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! on Travel Channel said he first began making the rounds at cons around 1988 but didn’t land at SDCC until 15 or 20 years ago. Ever since, the man behind The Evil Dead’s Ash has reigned as con royalty, existing in a pantheon that includes the likes of Stan Lee and Kevin Smith (his 2005 panel/one-man show for Sky High is of special note in SDCC history).
Now, Bruce returns to support Ripley’s with a Saturday panel in the Indigo Ballroom (4 pm PT), with “Cyborg” Angel Giuffria, who possesses an advanced prosthesis; John “Hammerhead” Ferraro, who has a skull more than two times thicker than average; “Half-man” Short E. Dangerously; and Ripleys.com editor Sabrina Sieck. The Ripley’s event presence also includes autograph signing, a “Ripley’s Garaga” activation on the con floor (Booth 4015, complete with shrunken heads and the original Star Wars lightsaber), and the outdoor “Ripley’s Car Lot” in Petco Park (featuring Inflatable tube men, human car washes, and a pinball arcade).
While the first season of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! airs on Travel, Bruce joined us to discuss why the show is perfect for SDCC — compared to “panels that suck” — and how the sideshow element of the series is inspirational and cooler than the Smithsonian.
DEN OF GEEK: Ripley’s just feels like the right kind of show for you to host. But why do you think that is?
Bruce Campbell: Oddly, it’s a good fit. I’m not sure why. I suppose you could call it edgier entertainment. I like the fact, ultimately, it’s a massive brand. It’s like working with Ivory soap, they’ve been around forever. But also on top of it, the angle that they’re taking is a little more documentarian. You get to know people like Short E. Dangerously or John “Hammerhead” Ferraro a little bit behind the show, behind the oddness or the weirdness, or perceived weirdness.
“Perceived weirdness” because this isn’t about pointing and making fun of people.
A lot of it is come-from-behind stories. People who were disabled, then they’re going to try and do something that overcomes that disability. There’s a lot of that. That helps me get past the road kill angle because I didn’t want to be a producer of something like that, per se, that there’s no substance. When you watch it, I feel like I’m watching just a documentary about kind of extraordinary people. That’s the word we use.
Rather than a “road kill” aspect, the show celebrates the offbeat. Why do you think viewers, and people overall, are drawn to that?
All of our lives, we hear how miserable humans are, the failings of humans … Here are the human limitations. They limit this by your certain age. If you have this condition, you can only do that. Well, most of the people in the show have been told something at one time or another that you can or can’t do something, or their physical body has thrust upon them a limitation, but they then have taken that and basically said, ‘Yeah, you know what, I’m going for it, I’m going to make this happen.’ So I think our little tiny human complaints will pale in comparison to what these people had to go through, and that’s the purpose of it. It’s to make us realize, we ain’t got it so bad. Or you see somebody to go, ‘Man, if they can do that, then I’m going to try this.’ And I just find it old-fashioned inspirational.
Why is San Diego Comic-Con the perfect place to bring Ripley’s?
Because we have all been to panels that suck, that sit there like a rotten egg and there’s really no reason why that show or movie should even be at Comic-Con. A Ripley’s panel, now that’s a panel. I guess we do have, I think, a certain amount of people who are confirmed to show up, and so I want to meet them. As a host, I did the wraparound so I was involved a little more on the periphery. I didn’t meet these folks so I can’t wait to meet them and talk to them and let the audience get to know them too.
You guys are bridging the “con” between Comic-Con and Coney Island.
We’re the most appropriate panel at the convention. It’s cosplay, only it’s real. My opinion is it represents the true Comic-Con, which is the unusual parts of fantasy, horror, sci-fi, whatever. If Short E. Dangerously was walking around on his hands, which he does at the convention, people would look, but he’d fit right in with Pikachu or a 10-foot-tall Darth Vader. It’s a very good fit in that respect. And it’s a bit of a throwback, yes, to carnivals that came through your local town and P.T. Barnum.
Ripley’s will have an indoor booth with the Ripley’s Garage, and an outdoor booth with the Car Lot, and LeRoy’s office at Petco Park. So you are on the main stage and sideshow.
Every carnival had a sideshow, every single one. So, you got the main tent, but then the truth is the cool show was off to the side. I guess that’s us. We’re the cool show off to the side. We’re not the biggest, but we’re the coolest. It’s like Ripley’s, their collection isn’t the biggest, but it’s the coolest. Smithsonian may be bigger, but they’re not cooler.
Are you getting in the human car wash at Petco Park?
I’m going to bring my stuntman for human car wash. He’ll take care of that.
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Aaron Sagers is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.