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Circus career for long-time ringmaster more than pursuit of happiness

Johnathan Lee Iverson sheds light on traveling with the Ringling Bros. and his view on the purpose of life.
Ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, performing in Grand Rapids.

Ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, performing in Grand Rapids. /Lucas Rose

"We're doing a disservice to ourselves with this new religion of happy," says Johnathan Lee Iverson, face and ringmaster of the Ringling Bros. Circus. He performs with animals and acrobats for thousands of viewers while wearing bedazzled top hats and tuxes. He puts on a show that aims to bring people joy, yet he himself has values that look past this happiness. 

"You hear people say the purpose of life is to be happy, which is stupid. It's not. I say, the purpose of life is to give to the business of doing what you're supposed to be doing," says Iverson. That's what he is fulfilling in his circus life, getting to the business of who he is. He's a ringmaster, singer and performer. While performing almost 411 shows a year and traveling on a train year round, he also manages to be a husband and father. Iverson performs all over the country while keeping his family close. His two kids and wife, also a performer in the circus, travel with him. 

"We work together; we play together; we live together," says Iverson. The circus eliminates the difficult choice that many other showbizz professions demand: do what you love, or be with the ones you love. This is one of the reasons Iverson claims to have the 'best job in showbiz.' Traveling with the Ringling Bros. allows Iverson to keep his family strong. 

"The thing that makes the circus special is we understand relationships and that's what life is," says Iverson, "It evolves around relationships."

"I understand the great fortune of being able to do what it is I love," says Iverson. He also acknowledges the downfalls of his lifestyle. He says circus life to be a 'singers nightmare' because of the ever-changing climates and arenas that come along with the traveling. The circus constantly demands adjustments out of its crew. Adaptations have to be made for the show to run smoothly. 

"You figure out ways to overcome a lot of those challenges," says Iverson, "It's amazing the adjustments you can make as a human being." 

A circus ringmaster works alongside wild animals, such as elephants and tigers. Yet this ringmaster says it's the human beings that are fascinating. Life in the circus is hectic, as one would imagine. But surprisingly, it's not the animals that make it hectic. It is the people, the balancing and managing of the relationships within the circus.

"The animals are the most predictable thing here. It's the two-legged animals that you have to worry about," says Iverson.

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