Matt Hely


Several 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.


This monthís feature interview is posted here as a tribute to Matt for his love of the Sideshow and all heís done "to keep the candle burning".


Q: What are some of the acts you do?


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 this time?

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 Dixie Classic.


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 Sideshow?


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 thing.


Q: Whatís it like eating light bulbs?


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 home.


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. 


Q: Again after you have eaten the light bulb how does your body handle it?

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.


Q: Now what are some of the other acts you do that folks find shocking?


A: 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.


Q: 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?


A: 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.


Q: 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. 


Q: When you get up have you ever had perforations or punctures in your back?


A: 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.


Q: Now when you break a cider block over your head, is the cinder block pre-cracked anywhere?


A: 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. 


Q: 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. 


Q: Now you're from Saint Louis, do you have a lot of family in that area?

A: Yes I do, I come from a family of ten.


Q: 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.


Q: 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.


Q: 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. 


Q: 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.


Q: 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 this?

A: 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. 


Q: 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 date.


Q: 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 do?

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.


Q: 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?


A: 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.

The type 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. 


Q: What is a self made freak?

A: Well it would be like a tattooed person, it is the people that do the stunts also.


Q: What are you going to be doing in the up coming months.


A: 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.


Q: I've heard that Bobby Reynolds wanted you to marry his daughter.


A: 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.


Thank You Mr. Hely it's been great knowing you and I wish your friends and family the best, you will be missed.



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