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Shaquille O’Neal loves carnivals.
So much, in fact, that the other day while passing through a city in Georgia, he couldn’t resist pulling over when he saw the familiar scene. “I always stop,” he told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday during a Zoom interview. “I was riding through at night and the whole thing was lit up. I said, ‘Ah, carnival.’ I just went by there and bought rides for some kids because it’s fun. That’s the stuff you want to do. I don’t want to pay a lot of money to go to a party and just look at people. I want to dance. I want to listen to music. I want to see other people dance.”
Add in food, A-list music artists, celebrity guests and upwards of 5,000 members of the public and that’s what the NBA legend delivers with his annual Shaq’s Fun House, traditionally held the Friday before the Super Bowl in whatever city the big game happens to be in. This year, that means O’Neal is bringing his massive event to Los Angeles, where he and his crew (this year Shaq’s Fun House is presented by FTX and produced by Medium Rare in partnership with ABG Entertainment) will post up at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall.
Described as a music festival-meets-carnival, Shaq’s Fun House will feature performances by Lil Wayne, Zedd, Diplo and DJ Diesel (Shaq’s spin master alter ego will perform during a set presented by Pepsi Stronger Together); a full carnival and FTX Ferris Wheel; a Wynn Nightlife VIP experience (hosted by brands XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club); and a Taste of Los Angeles featuring vendors Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, Pink’s Hot Dogs, Diddy Riese, Meat District butcher crafted premium burgers, Daring Foods plant-based chicken, Papa John’s pizza and KazuNori: The Original Hand Roll Bar (for VIP guests).
Having cryptocurrency platform FTX on board isn’t the only crypto showing on Feb. 11 as there will be crypto carnival prizing, a 5 percent discount from FTX for VIP tables for guests who pay via crypto with FTX Pay and a one-of-a-kind Big Game Weekend flyaway that offers prospective attendees a chance to win a package to attend Shaq’s Fun House, meet O’Neal, and secure $10,000 in Bitcoin.
The Hollywood Reporter talked to O’Neal about all things Fun House, including the crypto craze, curating the food vendors, his schedule on Super Bowl weekend and why he’s upset about this year’s halftime show performers lineup.
I went to Shaq’s Fun House in Atlanta for Super Bowl LII. Your event is definitely unique on that weekend in that it’s for the public. Why, with your Rolodex, did you decide to do that rather than an exclusive, VIP event like all the rest?
If you happen to get into a party, it’s always, “How much is your suit? Who are you talking to? What is this party really about?” This guy is always talking to that guy and you can’t hear over the music or everybody just feels like they happen to be there. The Super Bowl is already an illustrious event so we thought why not do an illustrious party? You want music? We have it. You don’t feel like listening to music and you’re hungry? Follow my friends over there to the food. You don’t feel like doing that and you have a young girlfriend to impress and you want to win a prize for her? Take her to the carnival section. I want everyone who attends to be able to do all of that. It’s a real experience. Because when I party, that’s what I like to do.
Every time I’m on the road and see a local carnival, I always stop. I stopped for one in Valdosta, Georgia the other day. I was riding through at night and the whole thing was lit up. I said, “Ah, carnival.” I just went by there and bought rides for some kids because it’s fun. That’s the stuff you want to do. I don’t want to pay a lot of money to go to a party and just look at people. I want to dance. I want to listen to music. I want to see other people dance. Shaq’s Fun House is going to be done in my city at the Shrine Auditorium presented by FTX and I know it’s going to be big. This [party] right here will probably be the biggest one.
When you found out the Super Bowl was going to be in Los Angeles, and thus, Shaq’s Fun House was going to be here, what was your first call?
The first call we made [was about location]. Where are we going to do it? Which venue is too small? Too crowded? Not enough exits? Boom. Boom. Boom. What about Shrine Auditorium? Made a call and because of my connections there, it was available. We’re doing an indoor and outdoor event so it’s going to be great. Imagine walking in to Shaq’s Fun House and you have Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n Waffles, Pink’s Hot Dogs, Diddy Riese, Papa John’s, Meat District, Daring Food for all you plant-based chicken eaters, along with carnival rides, a Ferris wheel, games and the chance to interact with circus performers. All right there in one place.
I’m told you personally curate the food vendors …
These are all my favorite restaurants. We called them first and said, “Hey, would you like to be part of what we’re doing?” Roscoe’s Chicken ‘N Waffles. I love Pink’s Hot Dogs. People were so courteous to me when I lived in L.A., they wouldn’t make me stand in line. I would always say, “No, I don’t want to cut people.” “No, Shaq, you go ahead, bro. Good game.” Then, I’d cut in line and get two hot dogs. I was able to call them and have my hot dogs waiting for me. Diddy Riese — ice cream for a dollar. It’s going to be a great event. I actually can’t wait. Hopefully, playing in the game will be the Cowboys versus the Chargers.
I was going to ask you for your Super Bowl picks. Those are your teams?
Yes. That is exactly what I want. I want the Cowboys to be on the other side, and then I would actually like to see an L.A. team get an opportunity on this side.
Let’s talk entertainment. The lineup includes Lil Wayne, Zedd, Diplo, and DJ Diesel will be making an appearance.
Man, I’ll be DJ-ing. I got my son DJ-ing. Look, it’s all about fun and enjoying the weekend. Hopefully, everybody has fun. Let’s just enjoy ourselves. We want to enhance that. That’s all we want to do, is just enhance that. We want Friday to be an opportunity to go out and have a good time. Saturday, you can rest and do all this. Sunday, wake up early and get ready for the game. Then Monday, back to reality.
I read in Men’s Health that you’re intent on getting in the best shape of your life by your next birthday, 50. How will that affect your diet on Super Bowl weekend?
I eat a heavy breakfast, and then the second and third meal of the day will probably be a shake. Fourth meal will be a salad. Fifth meal will be another snack. Then, the sixth meal will be either chicken or fish. I have to drink water all the time — Alkaline88 water all the time. No more soda, no more bread and all that stuff. I got to do cardio once or twice a day.
You look great. This month is starting out with a number of event cancellations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. How are you navigating that in trying to put together Shaq’s Fun House?
We always take special precautions. We will be doing everything with safety in mind. We’ll be doing everything with people in mind. Hopefully, by then, things will calm down. But we’ll have a great team, we’ll have a supportive team, we’ll have a caring team. We really care about the people, so hopefully we can go through with this.
Let’s talk about Super Bowl weekend itself. I assume you’ll be at the big game at SoFi Stadium. Then, what is the rest of your schedule like on a typical Super Bowl weekend?
Well, I got to go see Mr. Jones, Jerry Jones of the Cowboys. We get together with his family and my family. Always got to see the Patriots and Mr. [Robert Kraft]. Then see what’s going on with parties like the Maxim party. Just do normal stuff. Then on Super Bowl day, they have the VIP tent where you get to see all the greatest players. I had the opportunity to be in there last year and saw my main man, Tony Dorsett, and Roger Staubach. It’s amazing that they know who I am. I’m like, “Roger Staubach, you know who I am?” For me, it’s like a kid being in a candy store.
You mentioned FTX as a sponsor of Shaq’s Fun House. I saw you recently raised over $2 million for charity selling NFTs, and you’re involved in the crypto market. Everyone is talking about projections both in 2022 and beyond. What’s your take? Are you bullish on either sector?
I’ve always been a listener. I’ve always been an understander. Dwight Eisenhower said, [“Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.”] So, I’m just sitting back and listening. I hear a lot of, “It’s going to do this. It’s going to do that.” I’m very optimistic, and hopefully, it does well, but I’m aware of it and I’m aware of everything.
Speaking of crypto, there was a strong reaction to the name change of Staples Center to Crypto.com Arena. As someone who celebrated many milestones and accomplished so much at Staples, what’s your feeling?
Well, the name change is fine. I’m sure they paid a lot of money, but Staples Center was built and created by Kobe and myself. So, whoever’s playing there now, when they win, they can have [that name].
Back to Super Bowl Sunday. Your good friend Snoop Dogg will be taking center stage alongside L.A. legends Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar with Mary J. Blige. How do you feel about that lineup?
I’m upset. I’m upset that there’s all that greatness packed into 12 minutes. Because I, at least, want to hear three songs from Dre, and three from Snoop, and three from Mary and three from Kendrick. That’s like an hour performance, but I guess they’re going to have to figure out how to do all that in 12 minutes. But if Dr. Dre’s involved, all that funk and all, in 12 minutes, it’s probably going to be the best Super Bowl halftime show ever.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Information about tickets (starting at $249.99), tables and access can be found here.
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