Dwarf tossing is a bar sport where a little person puts on a harness and a bigger, Greco-Roman wrestler type guy grabs said harness and throws the little guy as far as he can. It's usually a competition, much like the shot put, in which the goal is to throw the object (in this case a person) farther than anyone else.
I recently discovered that a friend of a friend, Jared Hess (not the same guy who directed Napoleon Dynamite), was making a documentary on the subject. After a few brief email exchanges I found out that dwarf tossing was criminalized in 1989, and the documentary chronicles the adventures of a dwarf named Dave who claims the law violates his first amendment rights and is determined to legalize tossing in spite of the LPA (Little People of America).
I recently called Jared to talk about chucking little people in bars.
Vice: What exactly is dwarf tossing?
Jared: It’s an event usually held at a pub or a bar. You have a little person who wears a harness and a helmet and, for a charge, someone gets to grab them and see how far they can toss them.
I see. How did dwarf tossing come about? Also, how could it ever have been legal?
Well, it's rumored to have started in Australia, but that isn’t really true. Originally, there was an individual named G. Michael Harris who was the partial owner of a club over in south Florida. He had a local who came in there all the time—a little person. They were looking for a gimmick to bring more people to the bar, so they claimed that they had an Australian dwarf and were going to do Australian dwarf tossing. His name was "Midge," which I thought was funny. Apparently he was an ex-circus dwarf, so he knew how to tumble and everything.
The catalyst for making it illegal was the death of Midge. He was an alcoholic and hit his head at one of the dwarf tossing events and ended up bleeding to death. So the LPA, the Little People of America, took that and said "Listen. Look how dangerous dwarf tossing is. It’s inhumane." Then they teamed up with Jeb Bush and made it illegal.
What’s the focal point of the documentary?
Basically, I’m following this guy, Dave Flood. It’s his story, and he’s trying to regain his fame in Tampa. He was a sort of local celebrity at one point, but he got into [nebulously nefarious things] and now he’s kind of washed up. He’s like the Mickey Rourke of little people. He’s trying to use dwarf tossing to kind of get back into the full front of the media and regain his once celebrity status.
Is Dave an experienced dwarf tosser? Or tossee, I guess…
No, he hasn’t done the event yet. Actually he just put the harness on for the first time in a while to practice. We went out to Polk County, Florida, where his girlfriend’s relatives live, which is pretty much trailer park USA, and he did some practice tosses on a bouncy house.
That’s a hilarious image. In a way, this documentary kind of reminds me of The King of Kong. A semi to major failure who’s out to prove his self-worth again by accomplishing something that everyone else in the world would think is completely outlandish.
Yeah, it’s kind of like The King of Kong, meets The Wrestler, meets Rocky.
So you have workout montages in the film?
Yeah, one of Dave’s close friends is a dwarf wrestler. He and Dave had some training sessions, and he helped him learn how to fall so he wouldn’t hurt himself. Dave’s a lot older now, so he also helped him get a good workout regimen and we have some footage of that. Did I mention that Dave works at a strip club?
Nope. Tell me more.
Yeah, he works at a strip club and makes his living as a DJ introducing amateur night and that kind of thing. As far as the film is concerned, it really goes to show you where Dave found his niche in life.
He really does have a Mickey Rourke from The Wrestler thing going on, doesn’t he? How do the strippers treat him?
Well, to quote Dave, "I don’t know if they’re serious, horny, or dumb, but I get more ass than a tampon."
Good for him.
Yeah, and his girlfriend is an average-sized person, just with fake boobs. It’s funny. When I asked him to go to a doctor to make sure he was healthy enough to do this, he said "OK" and went to see his friend, who is a plastic surgeon.
It's fitting that Dave lives in Florida. That state has a strange history with little people, right?
Yeah, the city of Sweetwater, Florida was actually founded by a group of circus dwarfs from Russia. It's a big circus state. Gibsonton, Florida is notoriously known as the home of Lobster Boy, and was essentially the Ringling Brothers' retirement home. All the sideshow acts kind of make their off-season home there.
Wow, I actually just looked it up on Wikipedia, and apparently the post office there has a counter for dwarfs.
That makes sense. Sometimes I forget that Dave’s small, then I realize that he’s literally no higher than my knee. I mean, he can’t even piss at a regular bathroom. Usually the stalls and urinals are too high, so he has to pee in the drain on the floor. Or pee in the parking lot.
Yeah. He’s kind of a tragic hero. Dwarf tossing isn’t really even a current issue in the LPA. I think it's strange that the LPA put this to rest and feels like they’ve made some strides as far as finding a suitable role in society, but they really haven’t. They still can’t get jobs. I went to a meeting that was entirely about how they can’t get jobs. It’s sad, you know?
Dave says there are two different ways that you can look at being a little person. You can take it seriously and say, "Don’t look at me, I’m no different than you." Or you can say, "Hey! Look at me! These were the cards I was dealt. I’m going to have fun with it and have a happy life." Dave says "This isn’t exploitation. This is capitalization. I chose this lifestyle and I made a nice living for myself."
What do you mean when you say his "lifestyle"?
I think I sent you a picture of him wearing a meat suit right?
Well, for example, they had dogs like eat the meat off him and stuff. They used to have a bit on some radio show called “What Would The Dwarf Do?” People would call in different suggestions and the DJ would choose from the stuff that people submitted, and Dave would do those different things.
So that explains the meat suit. I was wondering what the story was there.
Yeah. There was another time when they put him in a Cobb salad.