Get to the point!

World’s youngest professional knife thrower never misses

By E.F. Shaub

Photo: Nine-year-old Grennan Nealeigh and his six-year-old sister, Charlotte

Most people would be insulted if you called the work they do for a living a “freakshow,” but not Grennan Bartlett-Nealeigh’s family – they take it as a compliment.

This is because they run an actual freakshow. Their company, called Freakshow Deluxe, was incorporated in 2006 and has since become popular enough to put their nine-year-old son Grennan on the national stage, after appearances on Nickelodeon and, more recently, NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

This is no accident; it’s the result of years of discipline and perfecting a craft many on this planet don’t know exists. Circus acts have become a forgotten art, gone by the wayside in many places. But the Bartlett-Nealeigh family looks to change that.

“I’m originally from Greenville, and Alice, [Bartlett] Grennan’s mom, is from Xenia, [Ohio],” Thomas Nealeigh, Grennan’s father and the owner of Freakshow Deluxe, said. “We were both working at a drama theatre called ‘The Blue Jacket’ in Xenia and a friend of ours had a side show act. That’s really the first time we both got into it. The first time I tried doing anything really crazy came when I learned to breath fire for another friend’s KISS cover band.”

Thomas’ parents were teachers at Greenville High School. Alice’s mother was a nurse and her father was a respiratory therapist. In early 2000, Thomas and Alice started dating, eventually deciding to make the move to Los Angeles, California.

“I really got into it when I started dating Thomas,” Alice said. “He taught me. One day he said ‘I want to go to L.A.,’ I said, ‘I want to go with you,’ and the rest is history.”

Like many other young entrepreneurs, the pair struggled early on to make ends meet financially.

“Right after we got out there, I started working for a law firm that represents a number of high-profile clients,” Thomas said. “We kind of watched the celebrities and how they worked. “They’ve always got a couple of projects going on at once, so if one fails they have something to fall back on. We tried to model ourselves after that.”

Once Freakshow Deluxe got big enough, Thomas was able to turn his side project into his full-time work. Eventually, he went from working for the law firm to employing for his own defense.

“I do all of the acts and I run the business end of things,” Thomas said. “Some of our common acts include the bed of nails, the human blockhead, the pin cushion and the straightjacket.”

One of the biggest criticisms Thomas and his family face is that some of the acts they do aren’t safe. Some claim it’s not safe for their kids to be performing with them in acts that put their lives at risk, but the family doesn’t see it that way.

“I don’t make any of my performers in our troupes do anything I wouldn’t and haven’t done myself,” Thomas said. “Every act our performers do has been done first by me. If it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t do it. We’ve had one landlord tell us we were Satan worshippers; I’m an ordained minister.”

Freakshow employs all different types of performers. If it’s something you imagine seeing in a classic Barnum & Bailey circus, it’s probably something you’ll see performed by the entertainers at Freakshow. Currently, Freakshow has 25 performers on staff, touring in troupes. According to Thomas, there were once five Freakshow troupes touring the country at the same time.

“Freakshow Deluxe is an industry leader,” Thomas said. “We’re doing shows other people aren’t. We’re diverse and we’re well-educated. Some of our performers have master’s degrees.”

But for all the variety in their performance staff, Thomas and Alice never intended to include their own children in their performances. According to the parents, it was something that just came naturally.

“Grennan’s first steps were actually on stage,” Alice said. “Every boy grows up wanting to be like his dad in some way and I think this was a situation kind of like that. Grennan saw Thomas performing on stage and wanted to perform himself. Initially, we resisted. But Grennan was adamant, so we let him.”

Grennan’s younger sister, six-year-old Charlotte, also performs with Freakshow. Although she isn’t interested in performing many of the acts herself, she does enjoy being on stage with her family and introducing the performers.

“We never wanted to put Charlotte out there on stage either, but she wanted to, so we let her, too,” Alice said.

During the performances, Thomas goes by the alias “Reverend Tommy Gunn,” Alice goes by “Miss Malice Aforethought” and Grennan, “The Green Monster.”

The Green Monster specializes in the quick-draw and pinpoint accuracy of knife throwing.

“We have a couple of friends who were throwing knives one day and Grennan saw it and was interested,” Alice said. “We thought he would do it a couple of times then move on to something else, but he stuck with it.”

Grennan is a southpaw that has been throwing knives for over two years. His first performance on stage was at the Wilkes-Barre Sideshow in Pennsylvania. When he’s not in school, on stage or swimming with his local team, the Dayton Dolphins, Grennan is practicing his technique.

“I practice five times a week for about 30 minutes each time,” Grennan said. “My friends ‘Jack Dagger’ and ‘Cowboy Dan’ encouraged me. I watched them.”

Even before he had this dedication to the craft, Grennan was already one of the world’s youngest sideshow performers, according to Thomas. His first stage appearance came at the age of four.

“I think the strangest thing about what we do is it’s not strange at all to us,” Alice said. “All of our friends work 9–5 jobs and to us, that’s strange. We think normal people’s lives are weird.”

Even though they do often live life on the road, Alice and Thomas still strive to keep a balance between work and family.

“It’s tough,” Alice said. “You’ve got to be solid. Thomas and I get to remember how lucky Grennan really is all of the time. We’ve got to remind him ‘even though you got to do all of these cool things, you’re still a nine-year-old boy.’ You can’t let his ego get out of hand.”

That’s not easy to do when Matt Lauer and Howie Mandel are having conversations about you, and when your face is on NBC promos.

“Grennan is in commercials for ‘America’s Got Talent,’” Alice said, beaming. “I think it’s pretty awesome as a mom. You definitely get proud, but you’ve also got to be that anchor.”

Though his appearance on network television has boosted his popularity, Grennan’s first appearance on the national scene wasn’t on NBC; it came one year prior on Nickelodeon’s “Slime Time,” a show where children, in two teams of four, answer questions and complete challenges. The losing team gets “slimed,” and the winning team gets $1,000.

“‘Slime Time’ was a lot of fun,” Thomas said. “He actually avoided getting slimed. Not many kids have done that.”

Grennan has also met a few members of the acclaimed rap group The Wu-Tang Clan; not many nine-year-olds have done that either.

“I also got to meet the original Ronald McDonald,” Grennan boasted.

The family has inspired others who appreciate circus acts. In fact, Thomas claims the AMC television show, “Freakshow,” was inspired by his own company’s performances.

“People always ask about ‘Freakshow,’” Thomas said. “The producer used to attend a lot of our shows in Los Angeles. Next thing we know, we find out he’s going to do a sideshow, and it’s on television.”

“Freakshow” began airing on AMC on Valentines Day, 2013, and has since aired 20 episodes. It is produced by Todd Ray and Greg Johnston. Ray owns the Venice Beach Freakshow in Venice Beach, California.

“One of the things we get asked a lot is why we live in Dayton,” Thomas said. “There are a number of reasons: It’s where we’re from. It’s where Alice and I were raised, and I think we wanted to give our kids something like the experience we had growing up. Our parents are also still here, which helps us out a lot.”

Thomas also discussed some advantages living in the city of Dayton provides them.

“Dayton is actually a great jumping off point to the East, too,” he explained. “From Dayton, we can get basically anywhere within a day. If we need to go to New York, we can get there in a day and if we need to go to Los Angeles we can get there in a day. It’s really been a great advantage.”

Currently, Grennan is set to continue his knife-throwing by performing at Coney Island in New York later this year.

All in all, the family is a relatively normal one. Grennan acts and talks like any other nine-year-old kid might, and his parents are proud of his successes. But he does have one piece of advice to give to his peers.

“I want to do this because no one else really is,” Grennan said. “I tell other kids, ‘don’t try this at home, try this at your grandparents’.’”

For more information about Freakshow Deluxe or Grennan The Green Monster, please visit or

Reach DCP freelance writer E.F. Shaub at

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Evan Schaub

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