When did you first start performing?
A. I have had an interest in
sideshow style performance since I was in grade school. I had read
about it and thought it would be neat to see, but I lived in a
small town. Because I grew up in a small town I thought that the
things I read about in books were going on in big cities, like
Spokane or Seattle. A circus with a sideshow did come through
town, but the acts were mostly magic. I remember a vertical blade
box and some other things.
The town I grew up in is Pullman, WA,
which is the home of Washington State University. My father was a
Professor of Botany. Other than the University, the main industry
was wheat farming. The nearest city was Spokane, 80 miles to the
North. Because it was a university town, there would sometimes be
performers brought in by the Student Union. One was Reverend
Chumleigh, who was part of what was then called "New Vaudeville."
I still have vivid memories of him doing a glass-walking act at
the Compton Union Building. Also a group called One Reel
Vaudeville was brought in that did an incredible fire eating
routine. Reverend Chumleigh is still active, and has a
website. One Reel Vaudeville now runs the Bumbershoot
Festival in Seattle, which is probably the biggest entertainment
festival in the Northwest.
I kept an interest in sideshow style
acts, and was determined to learn to eat fire. I had a "how to"
book on the subject, but was not going to even try it without
personal instruction. When the Winachee Youth Circus came to town,
I went out on the lot and started asking if anyone could help me.
I showed them that I had the book and had studied it and already
had the torches made. A couple of them had eaten fire and did it
with my torch and also told me what fuel to use. After I saw them
do it, I ate fire for the first time with their supervision. I was
about 17 at that time.
Eventually I moved to Seattle, as many
young people from all over the Northwest tend to do. I lived a
punk rock lifestyle. Now and then I would street perform with the
fire eating. I put glass-walking into the act and would sometimes
perform with punk rock bands. One memory that stands out is a 1984
New Year's Eve performance at a place called "The Meat Locker."
Henry Rollins had just started doing spoken word performances.
They had him go on before midnight and then I went on after
midnight, so it is almost as if he was opening up for me. I knew
that everyone had come to see him, but it was just kind of funny
that I would be on after him.
Q. The Human Pincushion act has
been around for many, many years, but your act seems to take it a
step further. How did you ever come about your amazing
A. The reason that my
"Pincushion" act is so much more intense is because it has been
around for many,
many years. To do what I do, I went to the act that preceded the
sideshow. I studied the people who do the act in other countries
and cultures. Many times these acts are not done in the context of
entertainment. What I do is sometimes called a "Fakir Act." I have
been studying the fakirs. The word "fakir" and the actions that
the fakirs have become associated with are corrupted and
misunderstood. I put together a lecture/demonstration on the
history of it that I have presented at "new-age" conferences and
When I was young, I knew that there
was a relationship between hypnosis and the fakir acts, so I
studied hypnosis. I use self-hypnosis during my act and it has
been verified that when I do my act, my pulse and blood pressure
go down. I know that there are some people who like to play down
the mind/body connection part of the act, but it is for real.
There are techniques that can be easily taught that lower the
body's reaction to pain and trauma and increase healing. Most
people who come to my show don't care about this. They just want
to see me do shocking stuff. That is why I do the separate
Q. How long have you been
performing as the Torture King/Zamora?
A. I started performing in a
big way in 1991 when the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow came together. I
wrote a detailed version of this in the book Circus of the Scars,
that I co-authored with Jan Gregor, the road manager of the show.
Back then I was being billed as "The Human Cushion" and I kept
pushing for a name change, since I did so many other things.
Eventually I got the name "The Torture King," which is a sideshow
title that describes someone who does a variety of seeming painful
I was having a problem with putting me
on posters as "Tim The Torture King" which sounds pretty stupid.
My view is that these are two different people, like Clark Kent
and Superman. Tim is the guy who runs the business and The Torture
King is the guy on stage. Zamora is the name of a small town in
Northern California. I thought it was an easy to remember name. I
also drop "The Torture King" for events that it is not
appropriate, and become simply Zamora. There is one rumor that I
don't use the name The Torture King anymore. This is just not
true. In the show SHOCK that I perform in Las Vegas that is how I
am billed. I also use that name at Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween
Q. Many people wonder how you
do not hurt yourself, or at least not show any sign of pain when
performing. Can you explain that?
A. I answered a little of this
in part of a previous question, but I will tell you a little more.
There are several factors involved.
One is knowledge of physics and anatomy. I know how to use maximum
force and penetration with minimal damage. Some of this knowledge
comes from techniques used in martial arts.
The other is that I have managed to
change my internal reactions to the trauma. I have changed my
internal feedback loop. Because I change how I react to external
stimuli, this changes external reaction. This is turn "sets" the
body's psychical reaction and it becomes a habit. It is absolutely
proven scientifically that people have the ability to change what
was once considered automatic reactions of the body.
There are some people who would like
to think, for whatever reason, that I make a living "hurting
myself" or some negative word like that. In fact, many times I do
my show every day, and sometimes several times a day. If I were
hurting myself, I would be in the hospital and out of business.
What I do has more to do with healing than anything else.
Some people like to think that I like
pain. When I get accused of this I say "I don't like pain. I find
it painful. I do everything I can to avoid it. That is what I am
showing you; a very dramatic demonstration of avoiding
Q. What do you currently perform for stunts in your regular
A. Right now the only "regular"
show I have is the SHOCK show in Las Vegas. It is kind of a
twisted cabaret show. I only do about 20 minutes in the show, but
I do all of my most shocking feats. I am doing the deep-skewers,
eating a light-bulb, the "Bizarre Yogi Internal Floss" where I cut
myself right under my chest and pull a string out from inside me,
and the bed of nails with 4 people standing on me.
I also have a once a month show in San
Francisco at the Climate Theater on every 2nd '"hump day"
(Wednesday). I have done shows from 15 minutes to 2 hours in
length. What I do depends on the circumstances. I just did some
shows in Dallas that I was flown out for. When I do a show like
that, I have to put all of my stage and personal stuff in 2 bags.
I gave them an hour long show. When I drive out to a place I can
bring more and different gear.
One thing that I used to do but
probably won't be doing much anymore is a red-hot metal walk. I
had a blacksmith build a small propane forge. I would heat a metal
strip to red-hot and then bend it into a "U" shape with my bare
foot. I ran it off a big tank of propane and a hairdryer. After
the tragedy in Rhode Island I doubt I will be able to do that
again, at least inside. I am surprised that I got away with it for
so long. I toured with it for years.
Another thing that I rarely do is
getting a big stick broken over my back. This is a Kung-Fu stunt
ultra-dangerous. There are only a few people that I trust to swing
the stick at me. When I was first learning this I cracked my ribs
twice. It is one of those stunts that is really difficult and
dangerous but does not get a very strong reaction. When I toured
with my "Torture Tech" Jeff McCormick we did it every night.
Q. Are there any stunts you
would like to see yourself doing in the near future?
A. One thing that I have said
that I would like to do is the sword through the body stunt that
was performed by Mirn Dajo in Switzerland in the late 1940s. He
would have someone run him completely through with a sharpened
fencing style sword. It would go all the way through the center of
the body at various places. He was studied extensively by doctors
and was 100% for real. I have recently made contact with the
grandson of the guy who pushed the sword through Dajo. He informs
me that he is still alive at 90 years of age and has just
completed a book on Dajo. I plan to travel to Europe to meet with
Q. Have you ever been contested
for the name Torture King?
A. I suppose there are people
who might want to do that. I have heard that there have been
people who have used that name. The fact is it is an old sideshow
title, but I pretty much resurrected it. When I started using it,
no one else was.
As for anyone else recently using that
name, have you heard of them in more than passing terms? I am
doing the acts and touring and getting people to shows and now
have a show in Las Vegas. There is more to having a title than
just calling yourself something. You have to prove yourself with
not just the acts that you do, but on the business end as well.
In general, I am against competition
of sideshow type acts. This is how people get hurt or even killed.
This has been the case in the past with sword swallowing. The
closest I have been to a competition was the "Battle of the
Sideshows" in Winnipeg, Canada. I was on a tour of Canada going
east to west. Jim Rose was touring west to east. We ended up
meeting in the middle and playing the same club on the same
weekend. I put out challenges to Rose and his troupe. Rose would
have no part of it and went on long tirades when the media asked
him about it. The local press came and reviewed both shows. They
declared my show the winner, or I wouldn't be telling you about
Q. Where do you see the
business of sideshow going in the future?
A. The sideshow acts will
always be around, where they are presented is always changing.
When I started performing in a serious
way, the innovation was taking the sideshow to the rock club
circuit. At that time many people, especially younger people had
almost no awareness of the acts. Nowadays you can see sideshow
acts on TV almost any day of the week. Sideshow will once again
become a part of normal life. The trend seems to be the permanent
theater show. Todd Robbins has Carnival Knowledge in NYC and the
Bindlestiffs have had a theater there as well. I am working in the
SHOCK show in Las Vegas. Look for more shows like these in other
cities. Understand that these shows are opening up new territory.
Ask anyone who is involved in producing one. It's a lot of hard
work. Hopefully it will be easier in the future.
Q. Do you think the sideshow
will ever have a home again in circuses or on carnival midways?
A. I think that they could, but
something in society would have to change to make this viable. I
think that some people hang on to a romantic idea of what circus
or carnival life is like. There are many wonderful carnivals and
circuses out there, but they are a shadow of what they used to be.
I have great respect for the people who continue these traditions,
but they will tell you they have had to change much to accommodate
modern society, particularly in the marketing aspect. The key to
success is change, and although I would like to see the sideshows
at circuses and carnivals, I am not fixated on the concept.
Q. Would you say that
performing in Las Vegas has changed you in any way?
A. Well, only to the extent
that I now wear a sequined cape and hang out with Paris Hilton....
But seriously, about the only way that Vegas has changed me is the
fact that I am now in a semi-permanent place. I had been an almost
full-time nomad for about a decade.
The most difficult thing about the
show is marketing it. Techniques that worked with a touring show
will not work in Vegas. Even things that would work in another
city will not work here, as everyone is from out of town. You have
to somehow get their attention before they come to town. It is a
Q. Are there any types of acts
that you do for the historical or the religious purposes as
opposed to performing them for the public?
A. Although some of the things
I do have been used in a spiritual context, when people come to a
show they want to be entertained, so that is what I give them. If
people are interested in other aspects of the act, I talk to them
about it after the show. I use techniques that I learned from
Sufis in the acts, but people never see unless they already have
knowledge of Sufism.
Interview By Ses Carny
For more information on Tim
Cridland visit his website at: