I am a sucker for carny and sideshow acts – busking at its greatest!  I love them and as any of you who are faithful readers will know I am jealous of jugglers and want to be one myself (making me the world’s first.. self-loathing-juggler).  I also think I would dig learning how to be a fire-eater.

paolo garbanzoIt can be argued, very effectively, that fire-eating started as part of Hindu, Sadhu and Fakir religious acts to show spiritual attainment.  The devotees would swallow fire to show that they had gotten to the point, spiritually, that they can put flaming items in their mouth and extinguish the flame without any harm to themselves.  Especially for other believers this was an amazing sight and one that filled them with awe for their particular deity (I think if my pastor put a flaming piece of the Lord’s Supper in his mouth I would be in awe as well – best communion EVER).

Though fire-eating was around as an art form as early as the 17th century, sometime in the 1880s, sideshows became a big deal and fire-eating has been a part of the sideshow from that point on.  One of those basic skills that these carnies and sideshow acts learned was fire-eating.  While basic fire-eating was an ‘easy’ skill to learn, advanced techniques like vapor transfers and breathing fire takes hours and hours to do it and years to get good enough to make it look easy. And to do without harming yourself.

I love fire stunts and watching pros do it blows my mind.  I know there is logic to how it is done.  I know that there is basic chemistry and physics involved.  But I don’t know that I am brave enough to actually stick a burning torch in my mouth.  Here are some of my favorite stunts:

  • Vapor Transfers – this is when the fire-eater transfers the flame to a torch with a flame from another torch.
  • Tongue Transfer – Flame to torch from your tongue.
  • The Blow Out – This is the one you see a lot, extinguishing the flame with your mouth.
  • Teething – Holding the lit torch with your teeth.
  • Body Transfer – Transferring the flame to a body part from the torch.
  • Slow Burn – Dragging the lit torch across any part of the body.
  • Fire Breathing – Breathing fire through the use of an accelarent.  I love this piece of business and of all the tricks with fire this is the one I would like to do (again there is a bravery factor that I am lacking).

Fire stunts.  Love them.  Don’t understand them but you see them done all the time.  Lots of performers at the Renaissance Festivals do bits with fire.  One of my personal favs is Paolo Garbanzo.  He loves to play with fire and he is very good at it.  Jayna Lee is another fire-eater at the faires who make this difficult trick look easy.  And of course don’t forget Johnny Phoenix.  Given his name, it would be silly if he didn’t eat fire.  Outside of the Ren Faire circuit, if you dig the Celebrity Apprentice, you got to see another of my favs:  Penn Jillette ate fire on the opening episode of celebrity apprentice a few years ago.  And they won that competition, of course, because fire-eating always beats no-fire-eating.  Go Penn!

If anybody ever wants a very scared apprentice, I will be glad to learn any and or all of these tricks.