Q: If you’re at a party and people ask you what you do, what do you say?
A: I typically say I’m a trapeze artist. But really I’m a fire-eater, an acrobat, and a whip cracker. I’m a comedian that has skills that give an audience an excuse to hang out with me.
Q: How did you learn to eat fire?
A: I was working in a bar in Canada. I saw a female performer who was doing a fire act. I went up to her and asked if she’d show me how to do it and she said, “You can NEVER learn how to do this.” And so I decided I would learn how to do it and be better than her.
Six months later I was at a renaissance festival playing around backstage, trying to eat fire and a friend who was already a fire-eater saw me and said he said he’d show me some things.
Nobody wants to teach you when you don’t know what you’re doing. There are so few fire-eater jobs out there that nobody wants to teach you.
Q: Do you teach people?
A: I do sometimes teach people. I’ve done a college seminar for theater majors…the reason people hesitate to teach is that you’re responsible for the person’s safety from the time they start until a year and a half later when they really know what they’re doing. You don’t want it to be your fault if something happens to them.
Q: So how do you go from casually messing around to putting fire in your mouth?
A: I was doing an audition in Chicago and I said I’m a fire-eater. That was the first time I ate fire on stage in front of an audience.
Q: How does it work?
A: You put it in your mouth and when you close your mouth around it, the fire goes out.
Q: Really? I didn’t realize you actually put the fire in your mouth.
A: Yeah. The fire runs out of oxygen and then it goes out, usually before it burns you.
I do burn my eyelashes and nose hairs if there’s wind. It happens just often enough that I have jokes for it.
Q: So you’re not scared to do this?
A: I’m not afraid. I’ve done it probably 5000 times. I don’t fear it.
I’ve been doing it for eighteen years now. To be honest getting burned isn’t the bad part. I frequently burn my tongue and I get blisters on my tongue or lips. But I’m more concerned about getting cancer from the fuel. I have a friend who has been eating fire ten years longer than me and he has insurance and regular checkups and he’s ok, so I think I have another ten years at least.
Q: You don’t have insurance?
A: I don’t. I’m one of the millions of Americans without health insurance.
Q: Have you ever had any more serious injuries?
A: At a club I blew a fireball and an a/c vent kicked on and blew the fireball on me. It burned parts of my hair and my costume. When that happens, you panic and try to brush the fire off. But people there were smart enough to shove me down and roll me. They took me to a charity hospital and doped me up with morphine.
I got lucky—I don’t have any scars on my face and the one on my chest is in the shape of a chain because I was wearing an outfit with chains on it.
Q: After that, how soon did you go back to eating fire?
A: I did another show a week later, including the trick I got nailed on. My other alternative was waiting tables, and I didn’t want to carry trays or be nice to people.
Q: You mentioned you know how to crack a bull whip. How did you learn that?
A: When I was 15 I had a crush on a bullwhip artist. I moved on from the guy but now I’m one of the ten best in the world, and one of the top three women. I got to work the Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull release party.
Q: How did you get interested in all this?
A: I’ve always loved the circus. Every year my grandmother would take me to the circus for my birthday.
Now I’m the director of an eleven-person company and we perform all over the world. Last year I went to Dubai, Singapore, Barcelona, London, we were on a Canadian reality show where we won a quarter million dollars. The goal is to be the Avis to Cirque de Soleil’s Hertz.
I just got back from a tour of the Balkans, where we did two to five shows per day, forty-five days in a row. I ate fire most days but we couldn’t find our regular fuel and ended up with some nasty stuff.
Q: What’s it like putting fuel in your mouth all the time?
A: You get dehydrated and headachey, and you burp fuel for several hours afterward. It’s nothing some water and gum won’t fix, but it doesn’t taste good.
Q: No wonder you worry about getting sick.
A: I do worry about the carcinogenic effects. I use camping fuel because I like it better than lighter fuel or lamp oil. But when I can’t find camping fuel I have to use other kinds. And the factory can put anything in there—whatever’s cheap that week, like paint thinner. So you’ll see me in Wal-Mart sniffing the cans of fuel to see which ones don’t smell like paint thinner…
Q: How is the pay?
A: Well, I own a house, have a savings account, a Roth IRA. I’ve been in the house less than two weeks this past year, and they haven’t been consecutive, but I do own one.
I’m committed to street performing—to entertaining people regardless of their ability to pay. And about one third of what we do is corporate events.
Q: Do you think you’ll be doing this for a long time?
A: I really love it, so yes. I know performers in their 60s and when I get there I’ll switch my shtick to be the lovable old lady. I think the 80-year-old lady with a bull whip is going to be great.