Circus acts amaze us because they show us familiar things (people or animals, these days, pretty much exclusively people) doing extraordinary things. When a human accomplishes what a monkey can do naturally, we find it amazing, when a monkey accomplishes some intelligence task we only attribute to humans, we find that amazing. We find it impressive that a lion does not bite off the head of the man who has stuck his head inside because the lion is a wild animal and difficult to train.

In an intergalactic Circus, there will be acts from all over the galaxy, with many different and exotic alien lifeforms.


People from individual planets do not travel off world very much (and most never get off world their entire lives) They know of, but are not familiar with most of the alien species in the circus. They have never had direct, personal contact or have made acquaintance with any of them, or their kinds.

They know of other aliens mostly via third parties e.g. television. But there isn't much about them. The level of unfamiliarity equals 18th-19th Century Europe first encountering pygmy peoples.


Given this, how can lifeforms of one kind experience and understand, viscerally, feats of another species/ alien?

Are that acts that can always amaze throughout the galaxy, despite possibly huge differences in alien physiology?

Won't it be so that what may be impressive when seen done by humans could be absolutely mundane when observed being done by another species? (e.g. human trapeze artist vs mokey trapeze artist...) So, apart from the circus being a 'zoo' of exotic lifeforms, how would it impress and awe?


Assume all aliens the circus will perform to have evolved on an Earth-like planet. Also that the performers will have to perform on actual Earth, to humans, at some point with limited life-support systems. They are limited by the laws of physics, most likely breathe oxygen, they are mortal, and they can understand (maybe even empathise) with human emotions.

  • $\begingroup$ This sounds broad and opinion-based. Is there any way you can narrow it down? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I think this would be more like a zoo. $\endgroup$
    – o0'.
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see how we can provide any balanced feedback given each species involved would have a different physiology and psychology. We might be able to answer this if you limited the question to a few certain species and provided a glimpse of their society. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ Are the aliens considered among the spectators or the circus acts? Or both. Or ....? $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ I was hoping for answers like how some acts would always be impressive, like defying gravity (because gravity will most likely be present wherever life evolves)... I'm not looking for answers relating to particular species... The answer by vile niemi hits the nail... Basically designing the show with the species gap in mind. Maybe I could rephrase the question ? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 20:32

3 Answers 3


If interstellar travel is rare, the typical pattern would be for the circus to travel to a world and then tour the particular world for several years (or months or even decades, it depends on the relative cost of travel). In such a scenario, the circus acts would be planned specifically to match the tastes of the audience at the particular world.

So the acts will be impressive since they were designed to be so. The species gap does not matter since professional performers will have taken it to account before first setting foot to the planet. It is the showmanship and presentation that makes the show in any case, not the physical abilities of the performers.

Showmanship and good presentation should be fairly universal among sentient species similar enough to appreciate circus in the first place. Once that is adapted to match the local culture, most acts should be compatible with wide variety of audiences. Obviously every audience will have some acts that will really be huge hit and some that will simply not work. It is useless to speculate if some might have universal appeal, since that is entirely dependent on level of similarity between the cultures in the setting.


This question made me think about Madagascar 3, in which one of the characters says something along the lines of, "yes, it's impossible, that's why people loved it."

Have the performers do things that don't make much sense. For example, I don't need to be too familiar with this alien blob to know that flying wouldn't be one if its talents.

Round alien blob without wings

So if I put it in a cannon and make it fly, it would surprise and amaze even people who haven't seen one before.

An alien in the circus might also be impressive simply because people haven't seen them much before. If the circus includes a creature that can juggle its three heads, even if that is perfectly normal for it, it will impress many people just because they have never seen anything like it before.


Awesome stuff is common knowledge

Thousands of earth species are all but unknown to most, but the interesting ones (note subjectivity) are usually recognized. You have probably heard of a porcupine, skunk, lion, rattlesnake, funnel spider and plenty of other dangerous or unique animals, but how many have you actually seen in person. In the same way, knowledge of the strange alien ooglyboogly species will become common due to their unique blinding bioluminescence. The mighty strength of the notafillername is something all remember and fear.

Amazing accross the universe

Not exactly though. Before the final approach of the target planet, careful research is done (basic audience focusing) regarding what exactly impresses the planet's largest species. Some planets won't even be considered in the circus's route because its culture is such a tough crowd.

Now as for humans...

Being ourselves humans, we set the tone of "average" to ourselves. Other beings would be so drastically different that some mundane actions of ours are amazing in perspective. Just as monkeys are more naturally athletic than humans, humans may be more dexterous, resilient, or intelligent than most other species.


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