Todd Ray is a collector of both unusual animals and unusual friends -- and he's turned that into an even more unusual career.
Ray owns the Venice Beach Freakshow, and it's not just one of America's most celebrated, never-end sideshows. It's a family business. His daughter, Asia, is the youngest female sword swallower in the world.
Some of those people include 7-foot-8 George Bell, the second tallest man in America; Amazing Ali, a 3-feet, 5-inch woman; and Larry "Wolf Boy" Gomez, an entertainer who's face is carpeted with bushy hair, much like a mythical werewolf.
Now, Ray and his band of self-proclaimed freaks are hoping to be invited into other homes in America via "Freakshow," a reality show debuting Feb. 14 on AMC that focuses on the day-to-day life of him, his family, his friends and pets like Pancho and Lefty, his two-headed, six-legged bearded dragon, and Pinky, a two-legged chihuahua he rescued before she was euthanized.
He sees the show as part of a greater mission: To eradicate the conformity that he believes is killing individuality.
"We need this more than ever," he told The Huffington Post while waiting for a plane in Chicago. "There's been a cultural shift. People are more the same than ever and something is trying to group us together. But none of us are the same and we just celebrate it.
Ray's love of the unusual started at a young age, when he attended a circus sideshow and met a sideshow performer named Otis Jordan, who was known as the "Human Cigarette Factory."
"He had ossified limbs that were like stone, but he was able to make perfect cigarettes from a can of Prince Albert without using limbs, just his shoulders, lips and tongue," Ray told HuffPost in December. "I saw him at a sideshow when I was a kid when I was trying to be a magician and told him I didn't think I'd ever become as dextrous as him.
"He looked at me and said, 'Look at what I did with no arms. Now look at you. You should be able to do anything."
CAST OF 'FREAKSHOW' (Story continues below)
Ray has passed that belief on to his son, Phoenix, and daughter, Asia, who, despite being accepted to the prestigious Berklee School of Music, has decided to pursue a career path that includes fire eating, sword swallowing and sitting on a bed of nails at the Freakshow.
"I worked hard in high school to get into a good college, but I've fallen in love with performing," she told HuffPost. "It inspires me. I can't not do it. I'm pushing myself to go further."
In one of the episodes, Asia learns how to swallow a coat hanger from close family friend, Morgue, who tells her to stop when she feels it touch a certain muscle. "It's basically your a**hole," he explained.
Proud as she is of being an accomplished sword swallower before she is able to drink legally in a bar makes Asia Ray proud, but not as much as her fire eating.
"There's a lot of breath control and learning to being comfortable with the flames," she said. "You mostly just have to have the guts."
Helping people have "the guts" to be themselves is one reason why Morgue is excited about "Freakshow."
His act includes sticking hooks, power tools, needles and billiard balls through different areas of his face and body, but believes the most challenging thing he -- and the other cast members have faced -- is having the guts to be their true selves.
"I grew up in Montana and people weren't exposed to stuff like this," he told HuffPost. "People need to have their minds opened and then they will feel more comfortable with themselves."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Asia Ray was the youngest female sword swallower in America. She is actually the youngest female sword swallower in the world.