“Hey, Rube!” is a slang phrase most commonly used in the United States by circus and traveling carnival workers (“carnies“), with origins in the middle 19th century. It is a rallying call, or a cry for help, used by carnies in a fight with outsiders.
In the early days of circuses in America (c. 1800–1860), it was very common for carnies to get into fights with the locals as they traveled from town to town. Circuses were rowdy, loud, and often lewd affairs, where country people could gather, blow off steam, and voice political views. Mark Twain’s classic description of a circus and other shows in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn provides illustration. It was a rare show that did not include at least some violence, and this often involved the members of the circus.
When a carnie was attacked or in trouble, he would yell “Hey, Rube!” and all carnies in earshot would rush to his aid. Circus pioneer and legendary clown Dan Rice called it “a terrible cry, as no other expression in the language does, that a fierce deadly fight is on, that men who are far away from home must band together in a struggle that means life or death to them.”
‘Hey, Rube!’ remains the safety phrase used by modern theatrical performers to alert security of a violent audience member, especially in environments where entertainers face large numbers of drunken patrons. (Wikipedia)
I remember this from growing up. It was the cry of the circus people, calling all their friends and co-workers to come join the battle. It was the circus and carnival people against the rest of the world. I think there are at least two movies and who knows how many books using this as their name. The circuses are almost all gone now. The realization of the cruelties against animals and sometimes humans in carnivals and circuses eventually doomed them. It makes me sad because I loved the flyers — the trapeze artists — and the high-wire people. I loved the glitter and the tents and that scent of strange creatures.
After I realized the ugly underpinnings of these shows, I couldn’t attend them any more. Neither — apparently — could a lot of other people, hence the closing.
Nonetheless, I think I’m allowed to miss the excitement of the circus, the something unique and special that an arriving circus brought to town. And then, we can all watch a nice, cleaned-up version of the story in “The Greatest Show On Earth.”