Performers no crazier than this, even in Las Vegas


The most insane entertainment I have ever seen in Las Vegas happened at the Riviera this weekend. Do you understand what I'm saying? Since 2000, I've witnessed sanctioned orgies, aerial contortionists, bloody fights on stage and famous people tripping on drugs. But on Friday and Saturday, one event was even crazier than all that.

At a tattoo festival, a troupe of "sideshow" performers drilled nails into their heads, ate glass, twisted skewers through their arms, shot darts out of nonmouth orifices and swallowed swords.

One guy had a concrete block placed against his scrotum while other performers smashed the concrete with a hammer. Two performers bit down on apples, blindfolded themselves and used a chain saw to cut the apples out of their mouths.

But the most dangerous part came from a guy named Enigma, a dude whose whole body is tattooed in blue jigsaw pieces. That guy picked up an orange neon tube as long as his torso and as wide as a cigar, and he shoved it in his gullet, all the way down into him. Then he bowed.

You could see the neon's electric cord stretching from his mouth, across the stage, into an electric socket in the wall.

After Friday night's show, I asked him how easy it would be for that neon to break inside him. Answer: Pinch your arm moderately. That's how much pressure it would take for the neon rod to shatter and possibly kill him with bleeding-to-death, electrocution or infection.

'FINALLY, A SHOW WORTHY OF VEGAS'

This stage act is called Electric Acid Theatre. This weekend's troupe was a collection of three sideshows from around the country. Several performers are from a Las Vegas sideshow called Swing Shift SideShow, which includes Andrew S. and Kelvikta the Blade.

The other day, Swing Shift was invited to a UNLV sociology class on deviant behavior, where Kelvikta was hung from the ceiling by wires through hooks placed in her back.

You may have seen Andrew and Kelvikta at a corporate cocktail party if you go to those things. When hired as walk-around entertainment, he places a skewer through her arm. He then twists that same long skewer through his own arm. Next, he puts olives on the skewer. They mingle, and people pluck olives off the skewer that binds them together.

Kelvikta has also performed for Comedy Central, playing what is called "vagina darts." She launches darts across the stage to pop balloons.

This weekend, crowds sat in giant clumps to watch these acts at the Sin City Ink Fest. The ringmaster was the blue guy, Enigma, who used to eat grasshoppers in Seattle's Jim Rose Circus. He has horns implanted under his scalp to make him look like the devil. This weekend, he issued boasts as big as, "Finally, a show worthy of Vegas!"

Only a few people turned their heads or left during certain parts. Most people cheered and ogled happily. It was, after all, immensely entertaining.

'DID THAT HURT?'

Swing Shift SideShow has booked work around the Strip, but corporate Vegas can handle only so much nonconformist behavior, so it's not a snap to get steady gigs.

Andrew once shoved a screwdriver in his nose, hit a nerve and sneezed uncontrollably for 10 minutes. Since then, he has studied the anatomical nature of nasal passages to stop that from happening again.

How did he get this way?

Andrew is 28, a licensed massage therapist. He grew up in Hawaii. Because his dad was an anthropologist, he met a lot of interesting people from around the world, which inspired him to delve into Eastern and other ancient practices.

He taught himself sword swallowing at 17, learned to control his blood pressure and to do circular breathing along the lines of Lamaze. He also uses distraction techniques to get through painful performances.

If viewers "freak out," that's cool, and if they cheer, that's "awesome." But what sideshows like the most is when "people come up and ask more intelligent questions beyond, 'Did that hurt?'"

Well, does it hurt?

"If I'm paying attention to it, it hurts," he says, "but there's a difference between voluntary pain and involuntary pain."

He laughs at my question, "Do you have a death wish?"

"The most dangerous part of the show is driving to the gig. People will hurt themselves more often and in deadly ways playing high school football. Parents put young children on ATVs. That's ridiculous. What we do looks insane or crazy to you guys, but we've practiced, and we know what we're doing."

Andrew has injured himself a few times while swallowing swords. A friend of his just barely escaped death after scraping a sword against his throat and puncturing a 2-inch hole next to his spine.

"He finished the show and went to the hospital," Andrew says. "A month later, he was back to sword swallowing."

'AND THEN I'M HANGING ON HOOKS'

Andrew is envious of Kelvikta because she doesn't meditate away the pain. She welcomes it. When she is suspended by hooks, she achieves multiple sexual peaks, she says.

"When I get suspended or bloodletted," she says, "it's highly sexual and erotic and, yeah, it's pretty amazing when I get to unleash."

She laughs at my question: "Were you a 'cutter' when you were a teenager?"

"No," she says. "I danced classical ballet from 5 to 12."

Kelvikta was born and raised in Vegas. She studied belly dancing, art and music. She met Andrew five years ago and was floored by his performance.

"I was, like, 'Wow. This is awesome and new,'" she says. "And then I'm hanging on hooks. ... We've been together ever since."

Kelvikta has a joyous, smile-filled personality, on stage and off. She knows exactly what's appealing about sideshow life:

"Sparkly, shiny things. Danger. Excitement. It's an exciting time to perform, meet new people, do crazy new things, and just roll with it, create art and do amazing things to blow people's minds," she says.

To the contrary, Enigma thinks of his life as "beyond angst," a "career of angst," and he believes they are on the verge of something big if Electric Acid Theatre could get financial and managerial support.

"It's a gold mine waiting for everything to line up," Enigma says, but then he quantifies money as a means, not an end:

"Some people make art to make more money to make more art to make more money," he says. "Other people make more money to make more money to make more money."

"We are artists. We do not have a choice," Enigma says. "We did not choose this. It is why you are."

Jelly Boy, the clown-faced guy who gets concrete blocks smashed against his scrotum, is even more insistent that sideshow acts have been around forever, but were doomed by the hyper-commercialization of art and TV.

"It used to be, every circus had a sideshow," Jelly Boy says. "Now there isn't too much of a venue for that, but that sucks."

DEFYING DEATH

The other day, Dr. Fred Preston invited the local Swing Shift SideShow to perform for his class on the sociology of deviant behavior. This was Swing Shift's third yearly visit to his class.

Once again, Preston -- who consulted doctors about the sideshows and warned the students about the content -- challenged his students to ponder perceptions of deviance and to wonder whether these were dangerous acts or merely manipulations of the human body and physics.

They watched one sideshow guy lie on a bed of sharp spikes.

"So he's lying on his back on the bed of nails, suspended, and asks me to step up on him," Preston says. "And I'm a pretty big guy, I'm like at 245 (pounds), 250, and that was a difficult thing for me to do.

"And he got up. He did not bleed. He did not have punctures. You could see indentations on his back, which may not be dangerous but is physics."

What Preston finds interesting is the way people who are perceived to be deviants justify their behaviors to other people. This is called "stigma neutralization."

"The most encompassing thing they do is say they are part of a long tradition of performance, and at the core is mind over matter," he says.

"They say, 'I can see why you say I deserve to be stigmatized, but that's not really what we're doing,'" Preston says.

Preston wouldn't want his daughter performing in these sideshows, although he declares, "There's nothing that deserves to be stigmatized there."

He's not sure he buys the notion that it's not death-defying.

"I would like to see the actuary tables on it."

But from the viewpoint of Enigma, any suffering is the price of art. I asked him why he had blue puzzle pieces painstakingly tattooed on his body. Because, he said, they represent the back of a jigsaw puzzle, which means the front pieces of the puzzle are facing inward. In other words:

"The art's on the inside."

Doug Elfman's column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

The most insane entertainment I have ever seen in Las Vegas happened at the Riviera this weekend. Do you understand what I'm saying? Since 2000, I've witnessed sanctioned orgies, aerial contortionists, bloody fights on stage and famous people tripping on drugs. But on Friday and Saturday, one event was even crazier than all that.

At a tattoo festival, a troupe of "sideshow" performers drilled nails into their heads, ate glass, twisted skewers through their arms, shot darts out of non-mouth orifices and swallowed swords.

One guy had a concrete block placed against his scrotum while other performers smashed the concrete with a hammer. Two performers bit down on apples, blindfolded themselves and used a chain saw to cut the apples out of their mouths.

But the most dangerous part came from a guy named Enigma, a dude whose whole body is tattooed in blue jigsaw pieces. That guy picked up an orange neon tube as long as his torso and as wide as a cigar, and he shoved it in his gullet, all the way down into him. Then he bowed.

You could see the neon's electric cord stretching from his mouth, across the stage, into an electric socket in the wall.

After Friday night's show, I asked him how easy it would be for that neon to break inside him. Answer: Pinch your arm moderately. That's how much pressure it would take for the neon rod to shatter and possibly kill him with bleeding-to-death, electrocution or infection.

'Finally, A Show Worthy Of Vegas'

This stage act is called Electric Acid Theatre. This weekend's troupe was a collection of three sideshows from around the country. Several performers are from a Las Vegas sideshow called Swing Shift SideShow, which includes Andrew S. and Kelvikta the Blade.

The other day, Swing Shift was invited to a UNLV sociology class on deviant behavior, where Kelvikta was hung from the ceiling by wires through hooks placed in her back.

You may have seen Andrew and Kelvikta at a corporate cocktail party if you go to those things. When hired as walk-around entertainment, he places a skewer through her arm. He then twists that same long skewer through his own arm. Next, he puts olives on the skewer. They mingle, and people pluck olives off the skewer that binds them together.

Kelvikta has also performed for Comedy Central, playing what is called "vagina darts." She launches darts across the stage to pop balloons.

This weekend, crowds sat in giant clumps to watch these acts at the Sin City Ink Fest. The ringmaster was the blue guy, Enigma, who used to eat grasshoppers in Seattle's Jim Rose Circus. He has horns implanted under his scalp to make him look like the devil. This weekend, he issued boasts as big as, "Finally, a show worthy of Vegas!"

Only a few people turned their heads or left during certain parts. Most people cheered and ogled happily. It was, after all, immensely entertaining.

'Did That Hurt?'

Swing Shift SideShow has booked work around the Strip, but corporate Vegas can handle only so much nonconformist behavior, so it's not a snap to get steady gigs.

Andrew once shoved a screwdriver in his nose, hit a nerve and sneezed uncontrollably for 10 minutes. Since then, he has studied the anatomical nature of nasal passages to stop that from happening again.

How did he get this way?

Andrew is 28, a licensed massage therapist. He grew up in Hawaii. Because his dad was an anthropologist, he met a lot of interesting people from around the world, which inspired him to delve into Eastern and other ancient practices.

He taught himself sword swallowing at 17, learned to control his blood pressure and to do circular breathing along the lines of Lamaze. He also uses distraction techniques to get through painful performances.

If viewers "freak out," that's cool, and if they cheer, that's "awesome." But what sideshows like the most is when "people come up and ask more intelligent questions beyond, 'Did that hurt?'"

Well, does it hurt?

"If I'm paying attention to it, it hurts," he says, "but there's a difference between voluntary pain and involuntary pain."

He laughs at my question, "Do you have a death wish?"

"The most dangerous part of the show is driving to the gig. People will hurt themselves more often and in deadly ways playing high school football. Parents put young children on ATVs. That's ridiculous. What we do looks insane or crazy to you guys, but we've practiced, and we know what we're doing."

Andrew has injured himself a few times while swallowing swords. A friend of his just barely escaped death after scraping a sword against his throat and puncturing a 2-inch hole next to his spine.

"He finished the show and went to the hospital," Andrew says. "A month later, he was back to sword swallowing."

'And Then I'm Hanging On Hooks'

Andrew is envious of Kelvikta because she doesn't meditate away the pain. She welcomes it. When she is suspended by hooks, she achieves multiple sexual peaks, she says.

"When I get suspended or bloodletted," she says, "it's highly sexual and erotic and, yeah, it's pretty amazing when I get to unleash."

She laughs at my question: "Were you a 'cutter' when you were a teenager?"

"No," she says. "I danced classical ballet from 5 to 12."

Kelvikta was born and raised in Vegas. She studied belly dancing, art and music. She met Andrew five years ago and was floored by his performance.

"I was, like, 'Wow. This is awesome and new,'" she says. "And then I'm hanging on hooks. ... We've been together ever since."

Kelvikta has a joyous, smile-filled personality, on stage and off. She knows exactly what's appealing about sideshow life:

"Sparkly, shiny things. Danger. Excitement. It's an exciting time to perform, meet new people, do crazy new things, and just roll with it, create art and do amazing things to blow people's minds," she says.

To the contrary, Enigma thinks of his life as "beyond angst," a "career of angst," and he believes they are on the verge of something big if Electric Acid Theatre could get financial and managerial support.

"It's a gold mine waiting for everything to line up," Enigma says, but then he quantifies money as a means, not an end:

"Some people make art to make more money to make more art to make more money," he says. "Other people make more money to make more money to make more money."

"We are artists. We do not have a choice," Enigma says. "We did not choose this. It is why you are."

Jelly Boy, the clown-faced guy who gets concrete blocks smashed against his scrotum, is even more insistent that sideshow acts have been around forever, but were doomed by the hyper-commercialization of art and TV.

"It used to be, every circus had a sideshow," Jelly Boy says. "Now there isn't too much of a venue for that, but that sucks."

Defying Death

The other day, Dr. Fred Preston invited the local Swing Shift SideShow to perform for his class on the sociology of deviant behavior. This was Swing Shift's third yearly visit to his class.

Once again, Preston -- who consulted doctors about the sideshows and warned the students about the content -- challenged his students to ponder perceptions of deviance and to wonder whether these were dangerous acts or merely manipulations of the human body and physics.

They watched one sideshow guy lie on a bed of sharp spikes.

"So he's lying on his back on the bed of nails, suspended, and asks me to step up on him," Preston says. "And I'm a pretty big guy, I'm like at 245 (pounds), 250, and that was a difficult thing for me to do.

"And he got up. He did not bleed. He did not have punctures. You could see indentations on his back, which may not be dangerous but is physics."

What Preston finds interesting is the way people who are perceived to be deviants justify their behaviors to other people. This is called "stigma neutralization."

"The most encompassing thing they do is say they are part of a long tradition of performance, and at the core is mind over matter," he says.

"They say, 'I can see why you say I deserve to be stigmatized, but that's not really what we're doing,'" Preston says.

Preston wouldn't want his daughter performing in these sideshows, although he declares, "There's nothing that deserves to be stigmatized there."

He's not sure he buys the notion that it's not death-defying.

"I would like to see the actuary tables on it."

But from the viewpoint of Enigma, any suffering is the price of art. I asked him why he had blue puzzle pieces painstakingly tattooed on his body. Because, he said, they represent the back of a jigsaw puzzle, which means the front pieces of the puzzle are facing inward. In other words:

"The art's on the inside."

Doug Elfman's column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

 

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