Occasionally I’m compelled to write about strange encounters, many of which occurred before I started blogging. This is one of those stories.
The unofficial rule of attending comedy shows is that you don’t sit in the front row unless you want to become part of the show. This also applies to other shows where the performer is likely to rely on involuntary audience participation.
As we know, there is an exception to every rule.
When I sat down to watch an outdoor stage show at the Auckland Royal Easter Show, I chose a seat at an innocuous picnic table towards the back of the crowd. The objective of the show was unclear but I figured it was family-friendly due to the jumble of children sitting on the grass directly before the stage. Potential volunteers, I thought. I’m safe.
Wrong. They were a vicious peanut gallery, but I wasn’t to discover that until later.
The man on stage launched into a fast-talking comedy routine. He climbed down from the stage and roamed the audience with his prop, a cut-out hand on a six-foot pole. When he reached my table he paused for the briefest of seconds.
“Here, hold this for me.”
In a flash he was back on the stage. I sat, holding this hand-on-a-stick and wondering what was coming next. (I know. It’s SO OBVIOUS but at the time I was along for the ride.)
“Do I have any volunteers?” he said, scanning the crowd.
“ME. MEEEEEEE,” screamed every single kid in the front row. A sea of tiny hands jabbed the air, desperate to be chosen.
“Ah! The lady in the back with her hand up. Come on down!”
My eyes traveled up the pole to the hand. Yep. He meant me. Everyone laughed as I approached the stage, except the jealous children who clearly wished to see me fail.
Within seconds I was holding a flaming stick.
“Go on,” he said. “Eat it!”
“EEEAAATT IITTTT” roared the children. “BOOOOO.”
“Well if you’re not going to eat it, I will.” He dropped down onto his knee. “Go on, put it in my mouth.”
I balked at first but went for it. He closed his mouth to extinguish the flames and the crowd went wild.
“Hang on,” he said, revving up a chainsaw. “Don’t go anywhere just yet.”
For an awkward minute I stood to the side of the stage while he juggled chainsaws. In retrospect this seems fairly unsafe but I suppose that’s why he didn’t ask me to assist.
He did ask me to help with the sword, though.
First, to prove it was sharp, he cut things. I don’t remember what – a pumpkin, maybe? A watermelon? Whatever it was, it left no doubt that the sword was real.
“I’m going to swallow this sword. Afterwards, I’ll need you to pull it out. Can you do that?”
Before I could protest the sword was hilt-deep down his throat. He turned to me and slowly bent from the waist, arms extended.
“DOOOO IITTTT” the children screamed. “PULL IT OUT.”
“DO IT FAST” said one kid.
It was becoming increasingly clear why I had been chosen over them. I grasped the handle and held tight, visions of sliced internal organs dancing in my head.
The man extended his arms and held up his pointer fingers, indicating that I should hold steady. I realized that I wasn’t going to be pulling; rather, he was going to back off of the sword.
The process was excruciating; a number of tiny steps and calculated swallows as he negotiated the sword through his esophagus. Finally, it was out. He took the sword, grasped my hand, and we bowed.
Despite themselves, the children burst into applause.