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.

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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.

Zamora, The Torture King

The first time Captain saw Zamora perform live was back in the 90’s.  During the infamous Lollapalooza Tour.  It was inspiration incarnate.  Fast forward to 1999.  Spartanburg, SC.  The Torture King and Slymenstra Hymen were touring with their “Girly Freak Show” and Captain (well, Chris Steele way back then) was afforded the opportunity of a lifetime.  He was given the microphone and proceeded to dominate the audience.  At the time, it was not sideshow he was delivering, but body suspension.  Should you be interested in reading how he evolved into the entertainer he is today, scroll on down and read that blog.  But I digress.

As the last 15 years have passed, we have had numerous opportunities to share the stage with Zamora.  Not only performing alongside him, but watching him at many independent appearances.  He is always captivating and I am enthralled watching him manipulate the audience’s emotions and fears.  The first time I recall seeing him live was at the Masquerade with the incredible touring sideshow, Hellzapoppin Revue.  I was blown away at his delivery and his charismatic personality.

Zamora 2 lo res

Of course, we would see him multiple times in the media over the years, be it in print or on television, astounding folks with his “mind over matter” mentality.  You may have seen him on Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, on the Discovery Channel, or perhaps on Stan Lee’s “Superhumans” as  the Pain-Proof Man.   We would again see him perform at the infamous Clermont Lounge in Atlanta.  That evening, we invited the entire touring cast to our place for showers, laundry washing and some off-the-bus-relaxation time.  It was then I got to know the more personal side of Tim Cridland.  If I admired him as an entertainer before, my admiration grew enormously that evening.

As time progressed, we would share the stage again at The Five Spot in Atlanta.  This was just a few years back, and then he decided to up and move overseas. So, it was much to my delight that Captain forwarded an email to me from Tim, about a month ago, letting us know he was traveling back to the US and would like to partner up for a show.  It happens to be that we deliver our full “Southern Fried Sideshow” on the first Thursday of every month at the Laughing Skull Lounge, Atlanta’s premier comedy club.  It worked out for us that he will be our featured guest performer for our March 6th show.

It’s funny, how years can span between different events in your life, and you never know how friendships will evolve.  I suppose that’s to be said with anything really, health, family ties, jobs, etc. I guess it’s the fan girl in me that prompted this blog.  I once only admired Zamora from a far, and now I have the privilege of sharing a stage with him.  Dream big and make it happen.

World Sword Swallower’s Day

Each year, on the last Saturday of February, sword swallowers from around the world gather at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! locations to participate in this momentous event. The “simultaneous” swallow at 2:22PM on 2/22/14 promises to deliver some astounding sword swallow attempts and amazing physical feats!

Captain Stab-Tuggo, of Captain & Maybelle, will be appearing at the Gatlinburg, TN Ripley’s, alongside fellow sword swallower, Travis Fessler, of the duo Pickled Bros. Sideshow. This is Captain’s 5th year participating in this historical event and his 2nd year in Gatlinburg. WWSD has taken us to St. Augustine, FL and Orlando, FL in years past.

WWSD 2013, in Orlando, FL, Captain became a World Record Holder for “Weighted Sword Swallowing”, lifting an incredible 84 lbs attached to a sword that he swallowed! What does he have in store for 2014?

See y’all in Gatlinburg!

Poll #1

It’s always interesting to us how the stunts we perform affect people so differently. We see every emotional reaction there is… and then some. Chime in and let us know which stunt really gets you green!

World Record Achievement

When Captain was a young boy, growing up in small town Georgia and running the hills of South Carolina, he was much like any other kid. He’ll tell you that as a child, he felt “different”. He always wanted to push limits, overcome boundaries and all too often tested his folks’ patience. He never settled for a simple “No” for an answer. If he was told something couldn’t be done, he set out to prove that it could be.

A universal infatuation most kids share is one with world records. Looking through books and seeing all the weird, unusual, mind-boggling and even death-defying feats accomplished by average people is inspiring. Captain was 8 years old when he made a commitment to himself that one day, he, too would hold a world record. He didn’t know then that he would grow up to be a Sword Swallower and entertainer. He certainly didn’t know that he would risk his life to accomplish a reality that was just a childhood dream. Yet, he did.

Captain has been swallowing swords for 8 years. While he started with a single sword, he soon began testing his physical limitations, really seeing what he was capable of. After sustaining a serious injury, he questioned if this was the path he should continue on. Perhaps it was more of a fleeting thought. He not only added more swords to his repertoire, he decided to add weight.

This is where it came together for Captain. Sword Swallowing set him a part from millions of other individuals. The extent of his sword swallowing skills and mastery of multiples put him in a league that very few people are in. Weighted Sword Swallowing would be the world record he would attempt.

After much research, prop development and body conditioning, he set the date and decided that he would make his attempt in conjunction with another major event, World Sword Swallower’s Day 2013. This event is held at different Ripley’s Believe It or Not! locations around the world on the last Saturday of February, every year. Having participated in this event annually, he would try to work in a new stunt or personal accomplishment each year. 2013 proved to be a life changing event.

Captain swallowed a 17″ sword blade, which had 84 lbs of weights attached, and held it for 5 seconds. This shattered the previous record of 69 lbs. That afternoon, in Orlando, FL, with his family cheering him on, he accomplished a dream he’d had for more than 32 years.  Follow this link to see the official documentation:

http://www.recordholdersrepublic.co.uk/recordholdersdetails.asp?id=1119

He didn’t know what it would be. He just knew he was going to be a World Record Holder. See, kids? Dreams do come true. It takes determination, dedication and perseverance. And sometimes, a lot of risk. Thinking outside the box helped Captain achieve something that set him apart from every single other person in the world. He certainly is one-of-a-kind.

Weighted Sword Swallow

Weighted Sword Swallow

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. 

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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.