months ago Matt sent me pictures of his performances with the
Bobby Reynolds Sideshow and several taped interviews he
completed in the late 1990's through 2003. They were conducted
by telephone from his home in St. Louis Mo. Matt loved the
sideshow, the last time I visited with him he longed for the
stage and found it a
great loss when his health no longer aloud him to perform.
Matt was a great person, friend, performer and will be missed by
all that know him. This interview was taken from one of
the tapes he sent me before his passing on April 21st 2005.
monthís feature interview is posted here as a tribute to Matt
for his love of the Sideshow and all heís done "to keep the
Q: What are some of the acts
A: I break cinder blocks over
my head; I nail a nail into my nose or insert a screwdriver up
my nose, I walk on flaming broken glass, lay on a bed of nails
and have somebody drop a bowling ball on my stomach or have
somebody stand on me and other things.
Q: Who do you perform with at
A: Right at this moment I have been performing with the
Bobby Reynolds Sideshow Museum. Recently I have performed with
a band called Switchback, Iíve also done several shows at the
City Museum in Saint Louis MO.
Q: What is it that would
causes a person to want to break a cinder block, over his head or
eat broken glass.
A: What can I say, Iím
sensitive! A lot of the acts I do were handed down to me by the
old time sideshow performers.
Q: What was it the influenced
you to run away and join the Sideshow?
A: I use to tour with the
Ringling Brother Circus as their pie car manager; I would feed
the employeeís on the show. I used that as my in to get to know
some of the old timers in the sideshow business. The sideshow
is a business that is almost gone. A lot of these guys were
more than happy to pass on the secrets of their trade just
because they wanted to keep these acts alive.
Q: Who are some of the people
in the business that had the greatest influence on you?
A: Bobby Reynolds, Walt
Hudson, Doug Higley out on the west coast, I have been very
lucky in that regard.
Q: A lot of the young people
have never had the chance to see a traditional sideshow can you
explain what you mean by a sideshow?
A: You donít have the opportunity to see a sideshow with
a circus today. It use to be when the circus came to town in its
hay day, people would arrive early to see the circus set up in
the morning and it would become an all day events. Today people
donít have the time for that, they get there right before the
show starts. The sideshow moved to the carnival midway but
today has almost disappeared altogether for their midways.
Q: In todayís world then
there isnít any sideshow touring with circuses or carnivals?
A: Bobby has had the last
touring sideshow in the country, touring with a carnival and he
has retired this year.
Q: Is he going to take his
sideshow off the road?
A: No his daughter Marcy will
be taking it on the road for one more year; She is going to be
touring with the James Strates Carnival on the east coast. The
show will be at the North Carolina State Fair and also at the
Q: You said that you were
performing at the Saint Louis Museum?
A: Itís the City Museum of
Saint Louis; I have done a series of performances there and was
lucky enough to get the museum to bring Bobbyís sideshow to the
museum for his last performance.
Q: Where did you set up the
A: It was setup in the
parking lot of the museum. While the show was at the museum I
performed and did about 50 shows over the 17 day it was at the
museum. It was a wonderful experience.
Q: Whatís the most difficult
thing you do?
A: Waking up in the morning,
no itís probably the light bulb eating, is the most difficult
Q: Whatís it like eating
A: You know I want to tell
you something, you can eat chicken until the cows come home
nobody says a word. But eat one stinken light bulb you know
youíve got a reputation.
Q: How does your body handle
the broken glass?
A: With great difficulty! I
highly recommend for anyone out there not to try that trick at
Q: Do you really eat the
light bulb or is it some kind of trick?
A: I actually eat the light
bulb. Iím more than happy to have someone provide the light
bulb so they know itís real. Inevitably half the people in the
audience wonít believe itís real. Even though I turn the light
on, pass it around the audience so they can handle it, I bite
the stem off the bulb and eat it right in front of them so they
can see itís real and about half of them still ask me if itís
made of sugar.
Q: How long does it take to
eat a light bulb?
A: I try to eat it in 2 or 3
minutes, it gets kind of old for the audience if it take longer.
Q: Do you have to chew it up
before you swallow.
A: Yes it is very important
that you chew it up very fine. When I have done TV they only
want you on there for 30 seconds or so, so I only eat a portion
of the light bulb I don't have the time to eat the whole bulb.
I eat enough so they can get the right idea.
Q: Do you drink red wine or
white wine with light bulbs?
A: Actually I prefer Windex
with my light bulbs.
Again after you have eaten the light bulb how does your body
A: That's the fifty thousand
dollar question there! I have a special dietary regiment
that I follow in order for me to eat light bulbs. "Once again I
have to warn people not to try this at home." Generally
when someone tries that kind of stunt, there's been some
refreshing beverages involved. I'm going to get a drink
and eat a light bulb. That's the worst thing in the world, a
very bad combination.
Q: Have you ever been cut
when you have eaten a light bulb?
A: Yes, I've cut myself
eating a light bulb, if fact it was when Reynolds was here in
St. Louis. I did over 50 shows while he was here. He was here
for 17 days. That's more than 2 or 3 shows a day, on a
good weekend day I was doing 6 or 8 shows. I'm eating a light
bulb each time that has a cumulative effect after awhile.
Now what are some of the other acts you do that folks find
Like I said before, I snap a animal trap closed on hand, drop a
bowling ball on my stomach
while I'm laying on a bed of nails. walk on flaming broken
glass, I'm always up for something new.
When you walk on flaming broken glass you must have a lot of
calluses all over your feet or is this just mind over matter?
It's more mind over matter, I really don't do anything to my
feet before I walk on the flaming glass. It's like
anything else you learn the technique and I'm very careful when
I do it and that's pretty much how it is.
How's it sleeping on the bed of nails?
A: It's like everything else
you just have to be careful, everyone understands that it's a
physics trick. You're balancing your weight across a bunch of
difference points that's why it doesn't injure you. I don't
think most folks know that just because it's possible to do the
bed of nails it's not comfortable. It's not the most comfortable
thing in the world to lay on, but you can be injured on there if
make the wrong moves or if not done properly.
When you get up have you ever had perforations or punctures in
I haven't had it, well come to think about it I have been cut by
the nails just on one occasion. Though when you have someone
stand on top of you it really puts weight on yourself and when
you get up off of the bed of nail you can really see some
indentations in your back. That makes it more fun for the
people watching the show.
Now when you break a cider block over your head, is the cinder
block pre-cracked anywhere?
No, No, Not at all, It's just a regular cinder block. I take a
slug hammer and break it over my head or when I'm laying on a
bed of nails I'll have someone from the audience come over and
break it across my chest.
Do you worry about concussions or the impacted on your brain
over may years of doing this?
A: This is a trick that you
have to be very careful about doing. It's like all the tricks I
do, they're really not tricks. That's one of the differences
between the traditional acts, well they're stunts and there's a
technique that you use to do them, they're not a trick. I am
very careful when I do these things anyone that wants to go out
and do these things, well I don't recommend anyone doing them at
all. But if they do the only way to learn them is to do
them one on one with someone that knows this business, it's just
way to dangerous to do any of them in the first place.
Now you're from Saint Louis, do you have a lot of family in that
A: Yes I do, I come from a family of ten.
Is there a lot of pride in your family that you can drive a
screwdriver up your nose?
A: You know some people have
Doctors in their families, I don't know if there's a lot of
pride. But my older brother kind of got me into this.
My older brother Bob gave me a book some years back called Wild
Tigers and Tamed Fleas it was about sideshow and unusual
performing artists. I think he feels some what responsible
for getting me into the business and I don't think he's so wild
about the idea either.
Tell us about how it feels to drive a nail into your nose?
A: I will stick an occasional screwdriver in there also,
It's great for sinus problems.
It' get very close to your brain, doesn't it Matt?
A: I saw an X-ray of someone
else doing it at one time, apparently it gets about and 1/8 of
an inch from your brain stem when you're doing it, so that's
another trick you have to be very careful when doing it.
You have to know what you're doing it's not just something you
want to go out and try just because you've heard that someone
else has done it.
Is there a hole in your face where the nail goes in?
A: No, No it goes into my
nose through the nostril. You really need to see an X-ray
of someone doing it, it doesn't go into the sinus cavity that's
the only thing I can say. I'm going straight back, I'm not
going up into the sinuses.
I can understand if you were making a million dollars why you
would want to break a cinder block on your head or hammer a nail
into your nose. But are you really getting rich doing
No I have a real job, I do this on the side, it was something I
have always been fascinated with as a kid and I would hate to see
it die off, I would like to see it stay alive. So when I
got the opportunity to perform with Bobby Reynolds and do some
of these other shows I jumped at the chance. These are the
things I learned from the pros, I learned how to do this stuff
and hopefully not get hurt. There is a real danger in
doing this stuff, there's a real chance you can get hurt.
What kind of people composed your fan base, do the ladies like
what you do?
A: When I do the hammering
the nail up my nose I have been known to say this at my
performance, When ever I go out on a first date with a young
lady, I want her to know what she's getting herself into so I'll
do that trick for her and you know I have never had a second
There was this program on Television the other day and it
mentioned something about a union for circus and sideshow
performers. It also said something about a Geek, what is
the difference between what an old circus Geek did and what you
A: It depends on how you
define a Geek, but it can be pretty much the same thing, but a
classic Geek is a person that bites the heads off of a chicken
or a snake things like that. Here's a little sideshow
trivia, there's two type of Geeks there's the regular Geek and
then there's the far more valuable Geek, known as the glomming
Geek. The glomming Geek not only bites the heads off of a
chicken or a snake but then he swallows it. I'm not quite ready
to get into that yet.
Do you think that some of these things have gone away because of
political correctness that goes along with what we have in our
society today that wasn't there 70 or a 100 years ago?
Absolutely, especially the displaying of people who have
physical abnormalities. It may be rightly so, back in the
old days people didn't know there were medical reasons for these
conditions and as we have become more sophisticated we know what
these conditions are and a lot of them have been cured.
You don't see as many people with them and that's a good thing.
of stuff that I do, well there was two types of freaks in the
show. There were the ones that were born and the self made
freaks that's more along the lines of what I do.
What is a self made freak?
A: Well it would be like a tattooed person, it is the
people that do the stunts also.
What are you going to be doing in the up coming months.
Well, if your in the St. Louis area you can see me at the City
Museum. I'm also hoping to join the Bobby Reynolds
Sideshow at one of
their North Carolina dates. When ever I get the chance I'm there
I really enjoy working with Bobby Reynolds he is one of the
classiest guys I have ever known in my entire life.
I've heard that Bobby Reynolds wanted you to marry his daughter.
She is a wonderful person and as you get to know these people
they are some of the greatest people in the world. Bobby
Reynolds would give you the shirt off of his back. I
understand that Ward Hall is the same way, but I have never met
him. These guys have really done it all they've had the
freak shows where they go out, the unusual people traveling with
their shows. A lot of them have special needs and Bobby
and Ward have to take care of all there needs. Most of
those folks wouldn't have been able to make a living unless they
worked with these shows.
Q: Last but not least, what is it
you like about sideshow?
A: I really like how the
sideshow is interactive.
You Mr. Hely it's been great knowing you and I wish your friends
and family the best, you will be missed.