Jul 13, 2021
The co-founder and artistic director of Coney Island USA, the arts nonprofit behind the Mermaid Parade, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, and the Coney Island Museum and Burlesque at the Beach, Dick Zigun is also the self-appointed, non-elected Coney Island mayor for life.
He traces his path from Bridgeport to Coney Island by way of Yale Drama School, where he studied playwriting under David Mamet and Charles Ludlam in the class of ’78. After a brief stint in LA, he landed in New York, not on Broadway but among the freaks, weirdos, barkers, performance artists and burlesque along the boardwalk. You know, the fun people.
“I wanted to make popular culture. Everything I knew was wrong. People did not appreciate the irony of performance art. People did not want to pay even a few dollars to go into a theater and hear world music. They turned out to like drag performances and freaks quite a bit,” he told Brooklyn Magazine in January. “I wanted to pay the rent and that’s what people wanted.”
Zigun can tell you in great detail how Coney Island has changed since the early 1980s (back in the day, he partied with Lou Reed and sparred with Fred Trump) and how it had already changed several times over in the preceding 100 years. While 2020 was hard on him and his beloved boardwalk, you can catch him smiling outside today: His beloved Mermaid Parade is returning to the boardwalk in September. If you see him there, buy him a Nathan’s hot dog.