#2. Tiny Tim Gets Famous for Being Weird, Incidentally Talented
A great many of you kids don't know who Tiny Tim was. You have this in common with your grandparents from the '60s, who watched his debut in bafflement. To the people of that era, the 6-foot-1-inch Tim was a pioneer of the American freak show, and all they needed to know was that they could laugh at him and his stupid ukulele. (Takeaway: Your grandparents were dicks.)
With his long hair and falsetto voice, he was the opposite of the Mad Men aesthetic, and thus a perfect fit for Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, a show where two classic comedians guided Mr. and Mrs. America through this freaky counterculture, baby. Just watch this video, where he gives a solid performance while host Dick Martin acts as the audience's POV character, goggling at the weirdo.
Tim's height was a direct contrast to his 1930s starlet singing voice. Don't pretend you wouldn't climb an ivy trellis to reach the owner of that voice. And don't front like you'd be upset to discover it was Tiny Tim, real name Herbert Buckingham Khaury, which is the boss name of some kind of berserker alchemist warrior king.
Submitted as proof: a duke kneeling before him.
So while his talent was manifest, he came of age in an era when the people who would have thrown him a pillow party were losing power to the people who thought he was a hoot. The times, they were a changin'.
Why He's a Success:
Because he was more rock star than most of his contemporaries.
Just so we're clear: Tiny Tim was musically talented. The fact that he found fame for a musical expression that didn't square with the mainstream doesn't change that. If anything, it shows the worth of his act. Shoot, he can hit a note better than Sonny Bono when he duets with himself on "I Got You Babe."
But making music is not what made him famous. Tim's national success was because you could either laugh with him or at him. But what a sad world for you if it was the latter, because his act was always supposed to be funny. It was weird, and he owned that weirdness like he paid cash for it and asked for a receipt.
Today he would probably have 2 million Twitter followers and a few minor news blurbs for biting Andy Dick. But back then, in the era of three TV channels? It was amazing that he even made it to the screen.
But he did, and that is why the man is a success. Oh, you think he was just a novelty act? You're entitled to your opinion, and feel free to validate it by impressing the Beatles enough that they request your talents for a Christmas bootleg.
Sure, he was tortured by his sexuality, but that's the era's fault, not his. He lived on a diet "of raw potatoes, beer, and jars of tomato sauce." The only diet more rock star than that is uncut heroin and Madonna's pussy.
Plus, he died like a boss. After suffering a heart attack, doctors told him to stop performing for his cardial integrity. Now, surely playing the uke and singing in the upper register is an activity that even heart attack victims can handle, but dagnabbit if he didn't decide to leave this world in the same high-pitched squeal he entered with. Two months later, he suffered a second heart attack onstage, this one terminal.
He told Death where and when to show up if it thought it was up to the task.
See? Rock star. If Dio had done that, they'd still be burning Swedish churches to the ground in his name.
#1. Empress Theodora Seduces a Goose
I will relate her biography as told by Procopius in The Secret History, but you should only trust it as far as you do any work that claims its subjects were possessed by demons. I'm not saying Theodora definitely didn't fly around as a disembodied head, but in my voluminous experience, prostitutes seldom go on to greater things after decapitation. You have to take Procopius' accounts as the moralizing lectures they are.
But at least we finally get to hear how a powerful old man thinks women should conduct their sexuality.
In sixth century Byzantium, the difference between gangs, sports hooligans, and political parties was this: There wasn't one. The two main factions were the Greens and the Blues, so called because of their chariot teams' uniforms. Theodora was born to a Green called Acacius the Bearkeeper. Tame was his name, and tame was his game, but taming bears was not nearly enough practice to raise a daughter like Theodora.
Acacius died in Theodora's youth (from astonishingly non-ursine causes), and mom sent her three beautiful daughters out, first to beg from wealthy men, then to bed them. Theodora rose from the bump-and-run ranks of porne (brothel worker) to the much more enjoyable life of a hetaera (high-class escort). Hetaerae were trained as pleasant companions. Some recited poetry, some played musical instruments, some danced. Theodora's talent was fucking.
She then ordered the entire patrician class to put its olive oil down. Olive oil is for closers.
But sex was not her performing art. She found herself in the company of people even more loathsome than prostitutes: actors. Theodora eventually joined her paramours and/or customers on the stage. She had a natural talent for comedy, since in order to have stage fright, one must be able to blush.
What really made her name was when she got her own act. Leda and the Swan was a dance re-enactment of that time Zeus turned into a bird to impregnate a queen.
Still, laying a couple eggs was probably preferable to passing a 9-pound human.
Now, only a lunatic would try to have sex with a swan onstage. You have to use a trained goose. Or a whole gaggle, really. Theodora had slaves sprinkle barley "into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat."
A calyx is the outermost petals or leaves of a flower, which would mea-
Think how much time she saved on depilatory grooming.
Even though she was one yeast infection away from brewing her own beer, she owned her sometimes freaky-deaky sexuality, and wasn't ashamed of it. Which is admirable, when you're not talking about goose cunnilingus.
Theodora's gaze reminded the audience they were complicit in the act. Even Byzantine Rome took notice of the lady who let geese go down on her, but she stopped performing thereaft- OH MY GOD, THAT WAS HER SWAN SONG!
Why She's a Success:
She parlayed her infamy into a gig as a governor's mistress, then retired from that concubine life to get herself noticed by future emperor Justinian I. He wasn't even crowned before he got his uncle, Emperor Justin, to change the laws against nobility marrying actors and sex workers.
But not until they begged the lord's forgiveness for being actors.
Theodora went from orphan beggar to empress, all because she had the foresight to turn an orgasm into a completely unrelated career. Without doing much else besides being everywhere you look and producing a clothing line, she convinced the most powerful man in the empire that he needed her the way y'all need Jesus.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.
What cinches her success is that she was a better ruler in the clutch than Justinian (and he was, by all accounts, a really capable emperor). He was groomed for it his entire life and had plenty of practice by the time he married his 20-years-younger mistress. Theodora wasn't prepped at all. She didn't need to be, because she was born to boss status. After all, her dad trained bears.
She presided over the court craftily, even staging mock arguments with her husband so that both the Blues and the Greens thought they had someone looking out for their interests.
When Justinian got sick, the two parties banded together to revolt and proclaim their own emperor. It was the time of the Nika Riots, and hoo boy! They did not go well. Half the city was destroyed, and Justinian looked to escape by ship. His wife stood the ground for both of them, insisting it was better to die royalty than live as any of the other stuff she'd been. Actual badass quote:
This hourglass doesn't run backward.
Preferring to face an angry mob of thousands over his wife, Justinian dispatched a eunuch named Narses into the middle of the uprising's stronghold, who plied the Blues with gold while reminding them they'd sided with those filthy Greens.
The Blues marched out, imperial forces marched in, and 30,000 dead rioters later, the revolt was over. (But bear in mind Procopius also claims Justinian killed a trillion people in his reign, so those casualty numbers are probably no more reliable than a Pentagon expense report.) They also killed the aspiring new emperor, who swore he never wanted the gig, because Theodora doesn't tolerate any competitors.
The rest of their reign was pretty great. Constantinople flourished while Theodora enacted a pile of great laws protecting women. She died in middle age, and the emperor bawled for her.
Can you blame him? Men, you may think you're in love with a woman. But you're not, really. Not until you're so scared you'll abdicate your throne, but still kill 30,001 men to avoid disappointing her.
The terrible future
I beg you to step away from this madness before it's too late.
Brendan interviewed a real talent and star in the making when he asked singer/songwriter Jillette Johnson out. And he heartily enjoyed the Petomane reference in Jacopo della Quercia's damn fine book, The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocketwatch Conspiracy.
Related Reading: Brendan wrote about more royal, demonic, Byzantine forbidden love in 5 Movie Monsters Ripped from the Pages of History Books and will always be there to whisper to Kanye, "Remember, thou art mortal."