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Lansing native Danny Black has been performing as a leprechaun in local and national gigs since 1979. He is a divisive character in the little people community. Some liken him to comedians like Richard Pryor, who held a mirror to stereotypes and turned exploitative into progressive. Others say he is capitalizing off harmful stereotypes that are bringing down the little people community as a whole.
In 2003, “Little People Big World” star Matt Roloff kicked Black out of a Little People of America convention in Boston for selling a shirt that said “Amish Midget Militia.” In 2005, Black made the front page of The Wall Street Journal after regulators investigated Fidelity investor Thomas Bruderman for using company funds to hire Black to entertain at a bachelor party in Miami. The FBI later subpoenaed him to testify as a material witness before a grand jury in Boston.
Black said more than anything he is a businessman. He has performed locally as a clown, doctor, elf and ape. During his prime, Black traveled nationally and had a list of 18 characters for patrons to choose from.
His first gig as a leprechaun was in 1979 for Roller World in Lansing.
“They were real hesitant for fear of offending me even back in the ‘70s. I grabbed some old clothing and dyed it green. Then I went to the drug store and bought green makeup, but didn’t apply it right. Anyway, they loved it.”
Black said he worked the local circuit as a leprechaun at Harper’s, Houlihan’s, Claddagh, Moriarty’s and The Pantry.
“I used to start with a costume beard then thought the costume beard looked like trash. You need a real beard,” Black said.
“Within the last 15 or 20 years, I would grow a beard starting in October and it wouldn’t come off until after St. Patrick’s Day. I used to bleach it a week before so when I dyed it orange, the red would stand out.”
But times have changed for the once popular mainstay leprechaun gig at Irish bars during St. Patrick’s Day. “The peak for the leprechauns was in the late 2000s, then it started coming down, especially in the last two years.”
Black said the question of whether renting a leprechaun is politically correct is driving out leprechaun entertainment.
“I’ve felt a dent. More and more people over the years ask if it is politically correct to do this, ” Black said. “In these times we are living in, it is a fair question. I’d always leave it up to the client if it was appropriate: You know the crowd better than I do.”
According to Black, his website and booking business shortdwarf.com can reach up to 250 little people for talent booking. He can count on 20 entertainers to make any gig.
“This number varies depending on the political correctness of some of these gigs, which has changed in the last five years or so, especially with Donald the orange Cheeto.”
Michelle Kraus, advocacy director for Little People of America, said she respects Black’s choice to work as an entertainer as a career.
“What we take issue with is there are not sufficient opportunities available. If there was a wider range of employment available with little people, there would be more choice,” she added. “What we have to do is do a better job with is profiling little people as being able to be skilled in many different things.”
According to Kraus, the LPA wants to move away from the perception of little people working solely as entertainers.
“It was the yesteryear of the dwarf, midget and little people, and how they were perceived back in the day.”
In response to Kraus’ comment, Black said “I don’t feel it is my taking the role that limits other dwarf talent. I stifle myself from using the phrase ‘little people.’ The only thing that is limiting other dwarfs is their mindset.”
This year, Black is suiting up to perform as the character “Lucky McBuckets” in Chicago as part of a St. Patrick’s Day themed March Madness party. It is his only scheduled gig.
“It is my fourth year for a financial investor’s party. He closes out a bar and rents it out for him. He has me in a basketball jersey with shorts with an Irish leprechaun theme. I’ll have a basketball and people can take pictures of me.”
Though this year has been slow with bookings, some bars wait until the last minute to hire leprechauns, Black said.
“I’m still going to do it and not turn down any other opportunities.”