Joe Redner: Strip Club King and Cigar City Beer Backer

Most Tampa Bay residents know Joe Redner as the fiery owner of Mons Venus, a world-famous nude strip club. Being supremely fringe, Joe was prime fodder for my book. I interviewed him for a chapter called “The King of Trampa.”

Since my book went to press, Joe’s battled lung cancer and watched his son’s craft beer business, Cigar City Brewing, which Joe funded, flourish nationally. (The New York Times rated Guava Grove Farmhouse Ale the best value in sour, craft beer).

In fact, Cigar City Brewing is in such demand that Virginia friends begged me to haul them a case on my flight up as if I were a bootlegger. I opted for a change of clothes rather than gratitude that would have lasted about as long as it took them to down a six-pack of Cigar City’s Florida Cracker. Their disappointment was nothing compared to that of the brew lovers’ who were left thirsty at Hunahpu’s Day, Cigar City’s annual special release party, when they discovered their tickets were counterfeit.

As you can see from his interview below with WFLA Channel 8 News Anchor Gayle Sierens, Joe’s clearly proud of Joey and happy with the return on his investment.

Sierens interviewed Joe for a two-part story this week ostensibly because he’s closing in on his 74th birthday. But hey, it’s ratings week and everyone knows that hints of nude women draw more views than a scandal about the Mayor’s sweet, taxpayer-funded ride.

Joe admittedly enjoys weed and credits it for helping him deal with cancer. Ever passionate and prone to pursuing the forbidden, Joe pursues his Gaunga-love through another business endeavor – a marijuana grow house.

Joe, always provocative, forever fringe.

WFLA News Channel 8

WFLA News Channel 8

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Easter in FLA: Fabio Jesus and Furries

Source: Florida Keys News Bureau

Source: Florida Keys News Bureau

Although all the hardcore fetish porn news stories of late might give outsiders the impression that Florida is a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, for the most part Floridians are as religious as people anywhere else. The Pensacola area even claims to be the site of the first Christian service in America on Aug. 15, 1559. (A nerdy piece of trivia: Pensacola actually predated St. Augustine  by about six years, but it didn’t endure due to Floridian’s biggest foe, the hurricane.)

Like most events in Florida, Easter celebrations often take a surreal twist. Hordes of Christians crowd the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando to watch a Disneyfied reenactment of Jesus’ resurrection. The Jesus actor who looks a lot like Fabio is mounted to a cross while Mary and his posse dance and sing to a recorded orchestra. The faux resurrection is performed daily, but Easter is the most popular performance for obvious reasons. Get the details in the book Fringe Florida.


The crowd seizes the photo op as Jesus' body is carried away by the Roman soldiers.

The crowd seizes the photo op as Jesus’ body is carried away by the Roman soldiers.

Then you have Easter egg hunts, Florida-style. Not that the traditional association of bunnies and brightly colored eggs and the resurrection of Christ isn’t strange in itself. (Supposedly, Easter eggs represent the empty tomb of Jesus and they were originally dyed red to represent the blood of Christ. Pretty gruesome when you think about it, which may be why that isn’t shared with the kiddies.)

Here in the land of furries – that is, people who are into anthropomorphic characters, -Easter egg hunts offer an excuse to dress up like a giant puppy or the Energizer Bunny. One group of Florida fursuiters hopped around hunting eggs at a Palm Bay park. 

Of course, not every Floridian who dressed like a bunny this Easter was a “furry.” Every year dive Capt. Spencer Slate dons a bunny suit complete with long bunny ears and hides hard-boiled eggs on the sandy ocean bottom in the Florida Keys. This year, about 60 people – divers and snorkelers – paid $20-$65 to hunt the eggs. 

Matt Pehrson, manager of Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures on Key Largo, says diving in a furry suit isn’t as difficult as it might seem. “Once you’re in the water it doesn’t weigh you down,” Pehrson said. “It’s not like a full-on mascot suit. The worst thing is keeping the ears straight.”






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Everything I Wanted to Know about Santa I Learned in Florida


Santa finally gets to model his swimwear. Photo by James Williams.

Santa finally gets to model his swimwear. Photo by James Williams.

One of the great joys of living in the fringe state of Florida is that the same attractions that bring 94 million flip flop-wearing tourists to our roadways every year also draw conventions of about every conceivable subculture to our backyard.

Being a fringe voyeur, I couldn’t resist dropping in on the recent annual convention of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (not to be confused with the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, now defunct due to a schism in the Santa ranks)

For three days, about 275 rotund, white-bearded St. Nick’s along with a posse of Mrs. Clauses and elves waddled around the DoubleTree by Hilton Tampa Bay sharing trade secrets and the latest in Santa gear.

Luring Santas from around the nation to sunny Florida wasn’t a tough sell for the host Florida chapter, the Palm Tree Santas. Many kicked off the annual rendezvous with a group excursion to Busch Gardens theme park or a swim with Mermaids. Hey, it’s Florida; fantasy worlds collide.

For the public and press, they held a sleigh show and an autograph session with celebrity Santa and retired World Wrestling Federation star Mike Foley.

This particular afternoon is more sedate. More than a dozen Santas sit around the hotel lobby conversing, reading their Ipads, or in the case of one, taking a nap. Although they aren’t wearing red furry Santa suits, there’s no accidently mistaking them for Jerry Garcia. They dress campy Santa casual – green shorts, red shorts, red and white-striped shirts, sleigh-riding Santa Hawaiian shirts, red and white polka dot socks, and on and on. One particularly round Santa in an old-fashioned, red and white-striped bathing suit wanders around holding an inflated parrot swim ring as if searching for the pool.

Many Santas are in seminars learning how to whiten their eyebrows or tell a good a story, while others vend fake Santa IDs and essentials on the tradeshow floor. A relaxed bunch, they are more than happy to share their love of all things Santa.

Burly Jim Chason, with a part down the middle of his curly white locks, sells raffle tickets for a free course at the International University of Santa Claus in California. “There’s a lot to being a Santa that people don’t realize,” the Santa from High Springs, Fla. says as he pulls out his master’s degree certificate. “I have this and my bachelor’s degree.” A Kriss Kringle clamors at the table for details.

Santa Steve, the most cunning of Santas. Photo by Lynn Waddell

Santa Steve, the most cunning of Santas. Photo by Lynn Waddell

At another booth, Santa Steve Gillham from Chapel Hill, N.C. shows off his inventions. His fluffy white beard and mustache sparkle with glitter. Although he’s not lean, by comparison to other Santas, he’s an Olympian. Red, yellow, blue and green glass balls encased in leather are clipped to the side of his belt like Santa hand grenades.

“What are those?” I ask.

“That’s the fairy dust.”

“Fairies? I didn’t know Santa dealt with fairies.”

“How do you think I get down the chimney?” he says, his blue eyes twinkling over the rims of his wire-framed glasses.

He breaks from character to explain.”Children are real smart and they’ve seen all the movies. They know there are a lot of fake Santas out there, but they are always hoping that they meet the real one. So, I never go out without an earbud.”

An earbud?

Turns out, he employs a little Santa subterfuge to keep the Father Christmas dream alive. His wife, dressed not as Mrs. Claus even though she sometimes plays that role, works the kids at his appearances. She finds out names, ages and then the clincher — their favorite present from the previous Christmas. She relays all this to Santa’s Steve’s ear piece. “When I ask them how they liked the red bicycle I left them the year before, they think, ‘I have found the real Santa!'”

Santa Steve also doesn’t skimp on his costume. The oversized leather boots with swollen toes and belt like he’s wearing are on special at the adjoining table for $875. The most basic Santa suit without embroidery runs $995 on sale. Santa Steve has clearly surpassed entry level Santa accoutrements.

“When I go out I’m wearing about $4,500,” Santa Steve says. Not surprisingly, you won’t find Santa Steve working shopping malls. “No, I’m a premier Santa,” he says. “I do appearances at special events and homes.” That’s for $175 an hour and an extra $75 an hour for his assistant.

Despite some high paying gigs like the North Pole Experience in Arizona or television work, Santa wages aren’t something that most can live on given that there’s only work about two months out of the year. “Nobody does it for the money,” says Santa Steve, who’s also a Remax Realtor. “Nobody wakes up one day and says I wanna be a Santa.”

Rather like many Santas I and other reporters speak with, Santa Steve “got the calling.” Ten years ago his wife, a pediatric nurse, urged him to fill in after regular hospital Santa dropped dead. (“There’s a high death rate in the world of Santas because most are so fat,” he adds.)

After seeing the children’s faces light up on his first Santa appearance, Steve let his short grey hair and beard grow long. He’s donned the red suit every Christmas since then. “If you put on the red suit, it’s a rare man who cannot continue to do it.”

Ho, ho, ho.

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The Pitfalls of Living with a Lion – Fringe Florida

As I clean up a bag of flour scattered by my mischievous golden retriever (I swear she only had free roam of the house alone for 30 minutes), I think of Terine and realize it could be much worse, much, much worse.   Terine had a pet lion.

Lion Love, Terine and Mus. Photo by James Harvey. Rights Reserved.

Lion Love, Terine and Mus. Photo by James Harvey, rights reserved.

I met Terine at Everglades Outpost wildlife sanctuary during the research of my book, Fringe Florida. She volunteered at the rescue outside Homestead and was raising the 7-month-old lion cub for a breeder. At the time, Mus was about the size of full-grown golden retriever. He lived with her, slept in her bed, and shared a litter box with her domestic cat. This of course created quite of few challenges, not the least of which was the potential loss of digits.

I’ll talk about Terine and other unique Floridians from Fringe Florida tonight at the Vero Beach Book Center. Event begins at 6 pm. In the meantime, my pet goes into timeout, and I’ll be wiping flour off my skirt all the way to Vero Beach.  

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Fringe Begets Fringe Sideshow

Perhaps only in Florida would a book presentation at a library turn into a honest-to-god sideshow. I know I can be a little freaky, especially after too much coffee, but St. Pete native Daniel Funk made me look like a sleepy librarian Monday night at my “Fringe Florida” book talk.  It appeared that I had planned it; my talk ended with photos of sideshow performers.

I had met Daniel previously at my book release party. He’s friends with Angye Fox, a nudist, swinger and boob-painter (that’s painting with her ta-tas), who I wrote about in Fringe Florida. Some may recognize Daniel from Playgirl as I’m told he was on full display last year, but that’s another story.

I ran across Daniel again at Ward Hall’s Sideshow Arts Seminar earlier this month in Tampa. Daniel is a renaissance man of fringe.

He was sitting in the back during my presentation at Mirror Lake Library. He commented during the Q&A and I introduced him as a showman and half joked that he might perform for us. He did just that.

He pulled out a 3-inch nail. And that bulge in his white pants? Well, he wasn’t that excited to be there.  Out came a stubby hammer. He used it to pound the nail up his nose.

More than one audience member captured it via cell video. (I just have access to a vertical shot. Videographer wanted.) Many cringed in horror. One woman looked away while she held up her cell phone to record every millimeter of the nail disappearing up Daniel’s nose.

Bravo, Daniel! Bravo, Fringe!

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Spirits, Fairies, and a Blow-Up Mary

Like most things in Florida, religion here can be a little different, fringy. The state is home to many unconventional faiths and even the more conventional often present themselves in unconventional ways. Take the Biblical-based Pentecostal faith. It has its own theme park in Orlando. The Holy Land Experience is a Disneyfication of the Bible complete with a reenactment of the crucifixion and cardboard cut-outs of Jesus for photo ops. One even has Jesus with wings sitting on a Harley. Maybe there’s a Bike Week in heaven that requires wings as well as a hog.

Me and JC

Me and JC

Despite the commercialization of the Holy Son, the park owned by the Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) is exempt from property taxes. That is as long as it offers free admission one day a year. Normally it costs $45 because hey, a trip to the Holy Land doesn’t come cheap.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, this year on January 28, the Holy Land Experience attracted its largest audience on a free day since it was forced to offer it in 2006 in exchange for the tax exemption.


Meanwhile, another bastion of spiritual fringe that I wrote about in Fringe Florida, the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. The community of spiritual mediums — those who hold seances and see fairies and such — is a taste of old Florida tucked away in the live oaks and magnolias about 30 miles northeast of Orlando. Spiritualists believe in the continuity of life beyond the grave and dozens of mediums in Cassadaga will communicate with your dead mom or even passed pet, for a donation that is.

As part of the camp’s anniversary celebrations, on Monday, Feb. 17, the community will hold ‘A Circle of Life’ ceremony in memory of one the camp’s most prominent former mediums and teachers, June Mahoney. June was reportedly medium to several celebrities including race car driver Richard Petty.

The camp also regularly hosts weekend spirit walks where you purportedly may see floating orbs or fairies hanging out in the trees.  For more info on that and the Holy Land Experience, check out my Fringe Florida chapter: “Spirits, Fairies, and Blow-Up Mary.”


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King of the Sideshow Shares What It Takes to Sell Weird

“The  strangest of them all is a seventeen-year-old girl from Leslie, Minnesota. Her name is Angela Perez. Angela has a normal head and an absolutely beautiful face, but that is all that is beautiful and normal about her. Because from the neck down she has a body that looks like a tarantula spider. It’s not pretty. It’s not nice. When you look at her it may shock you. But you will never forget the spider girl.”  — Ward Hall on the bally stage, from the book “Fringe Florida”

When I met Ward Hall a few years ago it was after much build-up. Carnie folk spoke of the showman in reverential tones, referring to him as “King of the Sideshow.” Even still, given that he had made his living off people and animals with deformities (he once charged people to see what showmen refer to as “pickled punks,” faux fetuses in a jar),  I had expected to find a grizzled old man who might sell his baby brother for $2. But as in most cases during my research for my book Fringe Florida, I found Ward pleasantly defied my preconceived notions, or at least any callous ones. Ward is possibly the world’s greatest salesman, but he’s also so charming you’ll overlook that his baby brother is actually a Cracker Box toy.


Ward’s a master of many sideshow arts. He and his partner Chris Christ own World of Wonders, reportedly the last traveling 10-in-1 sideshow, that’s show-talk for 10 acts at one price.  Beginning tonight (Thursday, Jan. 30) and continuing through Feb. 1,  Ward, Chris and a few other industry experts will share their sideshow craft and its colorful history with all who pony up the seminar price, of course. That’s $125.

For someone who wants to learn how to sell the fantastical or is just a hardcore sideshow fan, the 2nd Annual Seminar of Sideshow Arts is a bargain. Ward, now in his 80s, is a walking encyclopedia of the sideshow and will share stories, photos, and film tonight. Friday starts with a Sideshow swamp meet. (I’ll be looking for a human-size tarantula body.)  Afterwards sideshow pros will lecture on everything from sideshow banners to how to handle a tough crowd.  The final day is filled with field trips, including one to the Florida State Fair for a behind-the-scenes look at the World of Wonders show. The seminar ends with a big performance on Saturday night.

For those who just want to be entertained by sword swallowers, magic acts, and men who pound nails up their nose, tickets to only Saturday’s “Big Show” are $15 online. See the schedule and buy tickets onThe Magic Emporium website.

The curious of strange can also catch the World of Wonders and the freak animal sideshow, Tampa-based Jim Zajicek’s Big Circus Sideshow , at the Florida State Fair beginning Thursday, Feb. 6.  (Yes, I said freak animals, but that’s a story for another time.) Don’t miss seeing Spider Woman at the World of Wonders while you’re at the fair. You may have seen scarier things at Wal-Mart, but you certainly won’t forget her.


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Typical Florida Weekend: Drunken Pirates, Swamp Buggy Races, and Horrifying Ink


This time of year in Florida you can hardly step outside your door without tripping over fringe in full regalia. Case in point, Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Fest. This past weekend much of downtown and Bayshore Boulevard were overrun with socialites gone cosplay crazy and the drunken every-man who fought for tossed plastic beads in between chugs of beer and peeing between parked cars. Mind you, the grand Gasparilla parade occurs before a string of mansions including the home of MacDill groupie Jill Kelley whose Gasparilla parties are legendary.


The Gasparilla event is named for mythical buccaneer Jose Gaspar, who if he had existed, would have never stepped boot onto the Disneyfied vessel that bears his name. He probably wouldn’t have been invited aboard. The ship is owned by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a club of predominately white rich guys. I say predominantly because the club of around 750 didn’t initiate a few members of color until after it’s all-white, male status almost cost Tampa the Super Bowl back in 1991.

2014 swamp buggy races

Farther south in Naples, crowds celebrated a more redneck version of Gasparilla. Swamp buggies were the Joie de vivre. The amphibious vehicles are Florida’s contribution to motorized transportation and have been raced in Naples since the 1920s.

swampyNaples swamp buggy fans have their own parade, furry mascot, and a queen who is ceremoniously dunked in mud by the winner at end of the races.  (Side Note: A former queen contestant who turned buggy racing champ was recently released from probation after being convicted of severely beating a woman over a man.)

Meanwhile, another mud-loving crowd converged at Redneck Yacht Club in Punta Gorda for the Gone Jeep Country Weekend.  Apparently, a little more sedate crowd than usual, however, it was limited to Jeeps.  Look for the rowdier swamp buggy and four-wheel-drive muddin’ crowd to converge at RYC’s annual Mud Bash on Feb. 7-9 and the St. Lucie Mud Jam on Feb. 21 & 22.

St. Lucie Mud Jam

St. Lucie Mud Jam

Up north in the Florida Panhandle, Pensacola tattoo enthusiasts finally got their freak on at their first Immersed in Ink Tattoo & Horror Festival. (Fest also appears in other larger cities)
The photo and cutline from the Pensacola News Journal says all you need to know.

"Amber Rupp and her 3-month-old son Spencer, get their photo taken with actor Tony Moran, who played Michael Myers in the 1978 horror classic Halloween, Sunday during the Immersed in Ink Tattoo arts and Horror Festival at the Pensacola Interstate Fairgrounds" -- Pensacola News Journal photo by John Blackie/

“Amber Rupp and her 3-month-old son Spencer, get their photo taken with actor Tony Moran, who played Michael Myers in the 1978 horror classic Halloween, Sunday during the Immersed in Ink Tattoo arts and Horror Festival at the Pensacola Interstate Fairgrounds” — Pensacola News Journal photo by John Blackie/

South Florida being South Florida, doesn’t need weekends to roll out the fringe. What, with butt-injection parties and celebrity street racing, what could go wrong?

Justin Bieber arrested for DUI and driving without a license after Miami cops caught him street racing.

Justin Bieber arrested for DUI and driving without a license after Miami cops caught him street racing.



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“Chubby Chin Barbies,” Twirling Chihuahuas, and 13 Other Weird Fringe Florida 2014 Predictions


Just when you think life can’t get any stranger in Florida, it always does. Now, I typically don’t focus on “weird” breaking news stories as I’m more interested in fringe subcultures and the stories behind the news stories. But I just couldn’t resist gazing into my plastic Dixie cup for hints of the weirdness 2014 holds for my sunny state. Cheers to another year of madness and ever-evolving fringe!  

  1. In efforts to stamp out illegal voting by immigrants, the Florida Legislature allows registered voters to carry assault rifles to polling places.
  2. Mons Venus strip club owner Joe Redner opens an adult theme park adjacent to the Holy Land Experience in Orlando. For a $1,000 entry fee, park goers can get unlimited nude lap dances, free Cigar City beer and rides on the Mons Venus, a roller coaster that dives into a giant replica of a woman’s vagina.
  3. Swamp buggies are allowed on Interstates.
  4. Former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is a late independent entrant in the Governor’s race, but leaves the state in disgrace after it is revealed that he sleeps with an inflatable Jesus doll.
  5. Pasco County opens the nation’s first public nude golf course.
  6. The Koch brothers purchase 1,000 acres near Live Oak with plans to develop the retirement village Tea Party City where the only currency is gold and silver and the help wear all white.
  7. A new AMC reality show, “Chubby Chin Barbies” follows a Lake Wales banker who wears a rubber Barbie Doll mask and injects Miami Socialites’ necks with helium after chubby chins become the latest beauty fad in South Florida
  8. Governor Rick Scott is photographed nude hula hooping at Swing Fest 2014.
  9. In preparation for rising sea levels due to global warming, Fantasy Fest organizers move the parade to the water and feature cross-dressing windsurfers, topless mermaids and the Twirling Chihuahuas, a male baton-twirling, water-skiing troupe who wear only leashes and dog ears.
  10. Owners of big cats, monkeys, and constrictors open Heavenly Zoo, an exotic animal cemetery beside Coleman federal prison. Admission is $45.
  11. Florida voters approve the medicinal use of marijuana and Attorney General Pam Bondi goes granola, stops bleaching her hair, and becomes the state’s largest pot farmer.
  12. Tampa socialite Jill Kelley sues CNN for ignoring her.
  13.  Two members of an outlaw motorcycle club and an undercover ATF agent accidentally set themselves on fire while attempting to blow up a rival MC’s clubhouse for the sixth time.
  14. The first annual Trial Groupie Convention is held in Orlando.
  15. A skunk ape is captured in the Big Cyprus Swamp Sanctuary and found to be merely Brittany Spears gone feral.
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Holy Mother of Rubber Mary

Just when I think  I have a handle on the most bizarre fringe in Florida, another morphs to surface. Thanks to colleague Craig Pittman, a chronicler of weird Florida, for forwarding me a Daily Beast piece on Maskers.  Maskers are typically men who cross dress in rubber masks and suits, taking on the appearance of a creepy living rubber doll. They may take the, uh, rubbersona of Wonder Woman, a French maid, and of course, Barbie. 1235248_626935767351367_1747132303_n

I actually spotted a masker at Fetish Con in Tampa several years ago, but at the time wasn’t aware of the term. The man looked like a blow-up Orphan Annie and was mentioned in passing in my book Fringe Florida.  I found him a little creepy, what, with the human eyes peering out of a rubber face. Think Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs” crossed with Baby Tender Love.

While masking is an obscure fetish, Florida apparently is a significant address in the kinky world of human rubber dolls, and I’m not speaking of Rubber Doll, the latex fetish performer who lives in South Florida. The DB piece profiles a masker, Robert a.k.a. Sherry, who lives in Orange County, Florida and was featured in the documentary Secrets of the Living Dolls which premiered Monday night on Britain’s Channel 4.  Robert, who by the way is a property developer, said he buys his rubber doll suits from a Wildwood, Fla business called FemSkin.  DB says FemSkin is “a family-owned and -operated business running out of Wildwood, Florida, where Barbie Ramos and her three sons build and deliver $1,800 realistic custom-made skins to clients across the globe.” That’s right. The matriarch of the rubber doll business is named Barbie.

Stay tuned. Something stranger is always just around the bend of the Florida imagination.





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