‘Flaming Idiots’ take the stage on Saturday

Published May 29, 2003 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    How could you not want to see someone called the Flaming Idiots?

    This is one Matrix:Midland act that truly is unique — unless there’s someone else out there making sandwiches with his feet.

    “I say, well, I think you could do it, too. You just don’t choose to do it,” said Rob Williams, one of three self-proclaimed Flaming Idiots.

    “I wish I could say I’d broken both my arms in a skiing accident,” he added, but the stunt came out of an improv show with a group of friends. There has been some fine-tuning along the way, such as when he appeared on the Guinness World Records show.

    “It was their idea to add in the pickle jar and now I don’t know how I did it without the pickle jar,” he said.

    The whole icky process — spreading the condiments, unwrapping the cheese slice, cutting the sandwich with a dangerously large knife — leads up to the moment when an audience member who has been sitting on stage the whole time is privileged to taste the results.

    “It puts the whole audience just on the edge of screaming and throwing their programs down and falling into the aisle,” Williams said. “If the woman doesn’t take a bite of the sandwich, there’s no payoff.”

    TV shows such as “Jackass” and “Fear Factor” haven’t raised — lowered? — the bar for the troupe. The sandwich routine is about as close as the Flaming Idiots come, he said. “We try to be smarter with it.”

    So if you really want, you can marvel at the application of Bernoulli’s principle in the leaf blower ballet. “It makes some people wonder how it happens, because it doesn’t quite look possible,” Williams said. Then there are the little girls who just marvel at the sparkly things moving about the stage, or their daddies who admire yet another use for power tools.

    Not everyone is so thrilled.

    “The stagehands just hate us,” Williams admitted.

    That would be because of the confetti — a pound and a half shot out of a leaf blower at 200 mph. Weeks later, some actor will be treading the boards in an alcoholic death scene and slip on a tiny piece of confetti, Williams joked.

    In Midland, they probably will perform a 15-minute first act, pause for intermission then have a 45-minute second act.

    “It’s pretty physically demanding,” Williams said. “The training is the doing. We never went to clown college or anything.”

    In the troupe, he goes by Gyro. That’s ji-ro, like in gyroscope, not yee-ro as in sandwich. His counterparts are Pyro and Walter.

    Pyro wasn’t the fire-eating one. That was Gyro, who was, in a true demonstration of flaming idiocy, entirely self-taught.

    “I had the bare bones of it down,” he explained. “You just have to keep your head back and don’t inhale.”

    A couple of years of working Renaissance fairs and the like led him to the belief there must be an easier way to make a living, so now eating — sandwiches, fire, whatever — is out for him.

    “We juggle fire now, but we don’t eat it or breathe it,” Williams said. “Now for us the hardest part is getting fire marshals to say, ‘OK, I trust you.'”

    The Flaming Idiots perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Midland Center for the Arts auditorium. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 children, and available by calling 631-8250 or (800) 523-7649, or online at mcfta.org. To see a sandwich-making slide show and more, go to flamingidiots.com.

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