So you want to be a Sword Swallower?

So you want to be a sword swallower, huh? You think you have what it takes. You are ready for a life of SHOCK and AMAZEMENT. Your friends will think you’re cool and you could be THE next big reality star. Sounds pretty great, huh?

Ever since a young girl was shown on television shoving a coat hanger down her throat, I have been getting a few emails a week from individuals asking me to either give advice or teach them the ways of sword swallowing. The crazy thing is, 75%+ are teenage girls who have never even seen a live sword swallower.

As of today, I have never taught anyone the art of sword swallowing. Well, exceptMaybelle on a few occasions, but it didn’t take very long before she decided it wasn’t for her. I guess my reasoning has a lot to do with my other career, body piercing. That’s right. I have been a professional bodypiercer for over 20 years. That being said, I have worked in a tattoo shop for 20 years. That industry lives by a different code than most. People are brought into the business generally through apprenticeship or as a shop grunt, doing whatever is told of them in hopes of getting their foot in the door of a very tight-knit community. Once you brought someone in the industry, you were held responsible by the remainder of the community for their actions. So people were very reluctant to let just anyone in. Of course, times have changed in that industry. However,

Single Sword Swallow, Bahamas, 2014
Single Sword Swallow, Bahamas, 2014

my thought process has not.

I am still able to help someone out who is thinking about the life of a sword swallowing sideshow performer. The first thing I ask is “Are you willing to die for it?” Sword swallowing is one of the most dangerous stunts to perform and even very skilled sword swallowers get hurt and, quite possibly, killed. You must know that going into it.

Also, sword swallowing is just a tool in the toolbox. How do you plan on using that tool? Do you want to be a street performer, stage performer, clown, motivational speaker, or magician? You see, there is a lot more to being an entertainer than just the physical ability to do a stunt. People ask me what the hardest thing I do on stage is, and I always say “talking on the microphone”. Carrying a show is by far the hardest thing I do. If you just get up there and swallow a sword, you are just another episode of Jackass. People have all seen someone do something dangerous for the shock and entertainment of others. Now, what are you going to do to get them to stay around, tip or maybe even hire you for your skill?

So here is my advice. Find out what you want to do and work on that first. See what it feels like to be on stage, book shows, sleep in cars, bomb on stage, get destroyed by a heckler, spend your last dollar to get to a gig and show up to an empty venue, deal with a drunk club owner to get your pay, break down on the side of a road while your fans are awaiting your arrival… I could go on for hours. Then see if it is for you.

It takes a lot more than swallowing swords to be a success. It takes an entire toolbox full of stunts along with the ability to sell it to others. It takes writing a routine (not stealing one on YouTube from another entertainer) and performing it enough to perfect delivery, timing and to make it yours. Once you have done that, then talk to someone about teaching you their craft. Go to one of the few Sideshow Schools in the country and prove you are worthy of walking the path so many great entertainers have paved. Bring something positive to the industry. Don’t be another half-assed performer giving others a bad name. And remember …be humble.

The Balance of Work & Play

As we draw near to the finish of October, Halloween season, I turn reflective.

We’ve gone to the Myrtle Beach “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” to perform 12 shows in 2 days.  Exhausted, but managed to walk on the beach at midnight (while beautiful, I have to say that sand fleas SUCK), tossed some brews and whiskey back at The Bowery, and had one of the silliest evening walks ever.  We even ran into an old friend, Ted, on the beach of all places.

We’ve gone to the Gatlinburg “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” to perform 18 shows in 3 days.  Thrilling and so pumped we had a blast!  Walked alongside the river to the Mysterious Mansion and finally went through this haunt!  Enjoyed a nice dinner at a cabin on a mountain. After 5 years, I finally summoned the courage to ride the Ski-Lift, walked through a beautiful aquarium and marveled at the sharks, and had some interesting mountain pit stops to enjoy the changing color of the leaves.

We’ve gone to Atlanta’s Hot Air Balloon Festival, Owl-o-Ween, to perform 5 shows in 2 days.  Enjoyed the massive crowds and the event was a truly beautiful weekend filled with the Fall Spirit!  Saw many friends enjoying their families and the weather and caught up with fellow entertainers between shows.

I suppose what resonates with me after this reflection is the balance between work and play.  We bust our tails traveling for shows.  So much goes into packing props, costumes and ourselves.  Then there’s the household to mind while we’re gone.  The hound goes to the kennel, the children have destinations, lock this, unplug that, leave those lights on.  It can be overwhelming.  But, we do it all together.  People often ask how it is that we don’t kill each other, always together.  The answer is simply… goals.  We have the same goals.  We want to enjoy this life we have. So, we do.

The show is a reward.  I relish eliciting laughter from folks.  Captain prefers to shock the audience.  We both draw different experiences at the end of the day.  But, always remember to work and play.

Captain in “Catching Fire”


That’s right! He’s the guy that’s fire breathing in “Catching Fire”, sequel to the blockbuster movie “Hunger Games”!

How does one land such a HOT role? Well, it certainly helps to be a talented (and pretty easy on the eyes) professional Fire Breather!

In July 2012, Captain Stab-Tuggo went on an audition for a movie. He knew it was for a “big film”, but, never having been a huge movie fan, he was fairly in the dark about the book-to-movie franchise of “Hunger Games”. Heck, I can barely get him to sit through a complete movie in one evening. He averages about 4 movies a year. Seriously.

He goes to the audition and performs up against about another dozen or so fire breathers. “We’ll call you, don’t call us” were the parting words he received and, to be honest, it pretty much left our minds at that point.

More than a month later, he receives a message that he landed the role. He actually filmed the footage you see in the movie back in September 2012. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes hoopla and interesting stories to be told, but contracts forbid the sharing of those details.

Over the course of 3 nights, Captain used more than 2 gallons of fuel and blew over 500 FIRE BALLS!!! And it was well worth it! The crew loved it! We were unable to reveal that he was in the movie; we weren’t even really sure he would be included in the trailer.

As luck (perhaps) would have it, the trailer was to be released during the MTV Movie Awards 2013, on April 14th. Just so happens to be my birthday, and (this is when I learned if you use your birthday wish for someone else, it simply must come true) when I blew out all 35 of my birthday candles, I wished he would be in the trailer.

Later that evening, about 11PM, our phones and email started sizzling (we don’t have cable and were not watching said awards show). We quickly found out that he was indeed featured in the trailer! Awesome! There was a whole lotta celebrating that night (it was the birthday/amazing news one/two punch). Once the trailer was released, we were finally able to let our friends and family know to watch the film!

Now you know! And now… watch the trailer!


Evolution of Captain & Maybelle

Believe it or not, we didn’t just become sideshow entertainers overnight.  It’s true.  If we had a penny for every time we were asked “How do you do that?!” or “What’s the trick?” we would be hog happy!  The answer is always the same, “Years of practice” and “Everything you see is real, there are no tricks”.  Some believe and some will always remain skeptical.  But isn’t that what sideshow is partly about?  Making folks believe what they are seeing, right before their own eyes!  That, my friends, is what compels us to move forward daily, creating new stunts, adapting old stunts to reflect the wonders of society today, and pushing our own physical limits to see what we are truly capable of. 


Captain Stab-Tuggo performed on stage, for the first time, a million years ago.  Alright.  Not quite a million years ago, more like, 13-14 years ago.  And he wasn’t Captain Stab-Tuggo.  He was simply Chris Steele. 

Dating back to 1997, Chris had an interest in human body suspension.  Throughout his life, he was always one to push limits, and this physical challenge was quite enticing to him.  He spent years researching, familiarizing himself with the process and privately suspending a small group of individuals.  This was in the very early movement of body suspension in the southeast and the majority of the public was squeamish and even repulsed by the process of placing hooks in people to suspend them in the air. Once confident in his skills, he approached a club in Spartanburg, SC for the opportunity to perform body suspensions at a show.  Ground Zero not only invited him to do so, they put him on a headlining act, The Torture King and Slymenstra Hymen’s Girly Freak Show.  That night, Chris took to the microphone on stage for the first time (well, if you don’t count that Talent Show in 3rd grade when he sang “Looking for Love”) and proved to be a natural at keeping the crowd engaged and excited, as well as smack talking hundreds of folks.  It was also this night that his passion for sideshow was ignited. 

Chris had always displayed a love of incredible circus acts and death defying stunts.  While he forged a path as the founder of Psychotic Suspensions, based out of Atlanta, GA, he was consumed with another thought.  That of sword swallowing.  As the years passed, he again researched the process and art of swallowing a sword.  There is not much to go on.  See, sword swallowers are a unique group of individuals, and they do not readily share their skills.  Why would they?  It is a proven deadly stunt.  Most sword swallowers are self taught.  Time passed, and before even attempting it, he ordered his first sword.  A Starfire Short Sword 30″ in length with a 24″ blade.  Upon arrival, he immediately began training his body to accommodate the straight blade.  Months later, as he was practicing, he severely injured himself and put the sword away. 

As an entire year passed, he was met with some life changes.  We bought our first home and welcomed our youngest daughter, Ava.  But, the call of the sword was too overwhelming.  After time had eased the memory of the pain he endured, he once again brought the sword out and this time, THIS TIME he perfected his skill.  Within a few months, he registered with SSAI (Sword Swallowers Association International) and began adding classic sideshow stunts to build a repertoire as the basis for a stage show.  He developed the name Captain Stab-Tuggo as an homage to individuals he looked up to for years (Captain Don Leslie and Mr. Lifto) and as a nod to his industry, body piercing (Stab).  I was supportive and his biggest fan.  But we realized after we booked our first public gig that we wanted to deliver something fresh.  There were several one man sideshow acts traveling the country.  What he needed was a sidekick.  And that’s where I come in. 

He’d called me Maybelle for years.  I do indeed have a “real” name, but even my folks call me Maybelle, so that other name is fading slowly.  There are a few people that address me by my Christian name, and I must say, I do love it.  It rings odd in my ears now, though.  And so it became Captain Stab-Tuggo (and Madame Maybelle).  He would perform solo many times, and when opportunity allowed, I would jump on a gig with him, but it wasn’t a regular occurrence. 

After performing publicly for about 3 years, a great opportunity came up.  “America’s Got Talent” approached him about auditioning for Season 6.  We didn’t feel that we were ready for national television and decided not to pursue it.  They were incessant.  He auditioned in NC, and was advanced through to the live auditions in Atlanta.  It was then that they asked if he had a partner.  So we choreographed a routine and nailed it.  Once we were advanced through to the Vegas rounds, the producers asked if we would be alright with the act going by  “Captain & Maybelle” rather than “Captain Stab-Tuggo & Madame Maybelle” (too long for the TV bylines apparently (ha!).  We actually liked it immensely and have never looked back.

There you have it.  How one man’s thoughts became a reality through determination and evolution.  He goes for shock, I go for laughs!  We have a live stage show that lasts more than an hour, with a myriad of classic sideshow stunts that are reflective of our humor and twisted delivery.  We are edgy, classy, and a little bit trashy.  We are southern fried. 

We’re PUMPED for THIS Friday night!

Captain's personal best!
Captain’s personal best!

For the past few months we’ve been working gigs with one of our personal favorite bands; The Six Shot Revival.  Let me tell you, we KILL it those nights.  Not only are we all doing what we want to do on that stage, we all enjoy the other entertainment, too!  THIS Friday, January 18th, at Ground Zero in Spartanburg, SC, Captain & Maybelle will be hosting a night of music and more with The Six Shot Revival, Shotgun Disciple and Red Seriph.

We have a sweet lineup and sideshow stunts to keep everyone going!  At this club, the first club in the country that let the Captain (aka Chris Steele) take a microphone in front of a crowd, we ALWAYS throw down like we’re at home!  Limits WILL get pushed.  The music WILL get loud.  And the night WILL be memorable for everyone there.

Friday, January 18, 2013  Ground Zero  Spartanburg, SC

Be there!

Welcome to our new site!

Thanks for stopping by and checking out our new home site!  We are excited to share this with y’all!  You can access our most current calendar of upcoming events, the latest merchandise we’re offering at our store, some of the newest and most exciting photos from recent performances (as well as some classic shots), and keep up with us on Twitter and Facebook.  Check it out, stay tuned for more updates and don’t forget to share, tweet, and spread the word!  Remember- We are only here because you’re out there!

Captain & Maybelle