John "Circ" Kennedy Kane joined the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus one week after graduating from Bishop Timon High School in 1979. He was Kanen the Human Volcano, a fire eater in the freak show, and proud of it.
Today at age 50, Kane has worked his way through many circuses here and in Canada performing as ringmaster, clown, magician and concessionaire. But this year marks the seventh and final year the South Buffalo resident will be playing Kandy Kane, the world's largest elf, at the Hamburg Fairgrounds' Festival of Lights.
Next holiday season, Kane will exchange his elf shoes for a top hat and move into the national spotlight as ringmaster of the Big Apple Circus. Though he sees it as the chance of a lifetime, he'll miss the elf character he created.
Kane is not your ordinary elf. For one, he stands 5 feet 11, weighs 250 pounds and possesses a big old bellow of a voice that belts out joke after joke in a patter that appeals to people of all ages.
"I've seen performers lose an audience because they're being too politically correct, so I always prided myself on entertaining the adults and kids at the same time," he said. "I'm an elf with attitude."
He concedes, "Some people don't get the joke, and they wanted me to be nicer to the kids. They're just not getting the show. Santa works me too hard."
Kane is also a one-man show.
"I do everything -- lights, sound. I run backstage and get the props," Kane said. "My costume is real nice -- plush green and the white fur. Because of my clowning, I know guys who make clown shoes. They also make elf shoes. The guy who made the shoes I'm using now did the Grinch's for Broadway. It's a good look."
Kane has developed his elf style over the years, wearing less and less clown makeup but retaining his Rudolph red nose. "They wanted less clown, so it's just me with the red nose," he explained.
Kane -- who also worked the Chinese acrobats summer show at the fairgrounds -- had intended to audition for Santa Claus at the Fairgrounds Festival of Lights, until he saw another hopeful with a real snow-white beard.
"So I changed to an elf who does magic," he recalled. "I came up with the world's largest elf when I was sitting in the waiting room."
One of six children in an Irish Catholic family, Kane, for as long as he can remember, has been called Circ (short for Circus Man), a nickname he received from his older brother.
"As a kid I had Hillery Playground behind me, Butler Park in front of me, but I was always in the basement playing circus. My family would say: 'You need friends. Why don't you invite your friends in to see these shows?' So many people have been in my basement."
Kane has so many memories of his basement shows that he wrote a one-act comedy, "My Life in the Basement," a tribute to his mom and dad. Kane's sister is Bonnie Kane Lockwood, the former Buffalo Council member who works for Congressman Brian Higgins. His nephew is Patrick Kane, who plays for the Chicago Blackhawks.
"My Life in the Basement" debuted at Buffalo's Alleyway Theatre in September 2010. It has also been performed at the Irish Center, and will take the stage upstairs at 9 p.m. Jan. 28 in the Blackthorn Restaurant. Tickets are $20, available at the Blackthorn, 2134 Seneca St.
The Fairgrounds Festival of Lights is closed today and Christmas Day; it will be open 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through next Friday. Car admission: $12.