Flaming Idiots bring humor, physical feats to Matrix

Published June 1, 2003 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    You may have watched performers haul people out of the audience and onto a stage and thought, “They set that up ahead of time.”

    I assure you, no one called me and asked if a bunch of Flaming Idiots could throw knives around my daughter, Heather. But after winning a growling competition against two other girls in the Matrix:Midland audience Saturday night, up she went.

    Pyro and Gyro asked whether their plastic juggling clubs scared her and she said no, hitting one. “That’s why we’re not going to use these,” they said, as Walter trotted onto the stage with the nine knives. They asked about siblings and she replied she had a brother; they pronounced her expendable.

    She survived, but during intermission there was some debate about the “machetes,” as she called them. “They were actually pretty far,” her father said. “No,” she insisted.

    The evening held more contests and victors/victims. To choose a gentleman for a strait-jacket stunt, there were three phases of competition — manliness, artistic nature and intelligence. One audience member was tested on his flexing, ballet moves and recitation of Shakespeare. “To be or not, not to be,” he offered with some neighborly prompting.

    Several rows up and across the auditorium, another man was ordered to beat his chest like Tarzan, pose like Rodin’s “Thinker” and recite a different line. In response to the taunt that the only Shakespeare he knew likely had been used, he offered an accented reading of a line not in the Shakespeare Top 10, to the audience’s delight.

    The humor was all over the map. “Jacob the whip cracker” — Gyro — said he took that name because his hat “looked more Amish than gaucho.” References ranging from Kierkegaard to Tony Robbins to the macarena were sprinkled throughout.

    Then there were the sheer physical marvels. Swami Walter swallowed a four-foot balloon, shaking his right leg to make a little more room. He pronounced a couple of sentences of alleged wisdom, then was wheeled off stage. “I want to know what happened to that balloon,” my husband said.

    Sarah Horness wanted to know how Gyro’s feet smelled. Invited onstage to take a bite of a bologna sandwich he would make with his feet, she asked for the shoe he removed and sniffed it. A dunk in antibacterial soap followed, then the actual crafting, including the unwrapping of a cheese slice and the squirting of a mustard happy face, and she watched with interest. But when he dunked his foot into the pickle jar, her hands flew to her face.

    But come the moment of truth, she plucked the olived toothpick out of the sandwich, lifted the sandwich and took that bite.

Published at ourmidland.com:

    With an evening full of such Idiocy, not all of it fit into the newspaper. So here’s more:

    • Before the show proper began, an Idiotic-sounding voice had a few things to tell the audience. “Announcement No. 2: No matter how many lives depend on it, please turn off that cell phone.”

    • When the house went dark, the Flaming Idiots came on stage, each juggling one club. Then one would juggle all three while the other two danced behind him. They traded off being the one who juggled all three — then a club fell. They left the stage in shame and the lights came up.

    This happened again. The third time, there was a sign of the cross accompanying the attempt, which finally was deemed successful. Later the audience would be told that when a juggler drops a club, an angel gets its wings.

    • Dropping a knife, however, is not so good. Only six notes into the knife throwing, Pyro dropped one, and the audience was told the agreement was that the girl helping would kick whoever dropped a knife in the shins. Heather promptly cooperated.

    Another drop, another kick, this one looking from row Q like a solid blow. Pyro responded by sharpening his knife.

    The music was an interesting choice: the “Charlie Brown” theme interspersed with shower music from “Psycho.”

    • One of the few tricks people actually could try at home was coin catching. The Idiot Olympics featured this event, with color commentary from a former coin-catching champion. Pyro as Spanky Carmichael stretched out his right arm, placed a coin on the back of his hand, flipped it off and caught it. Much celebratory dancing followed.

    I tried it — the coin-catching part — and one isn’t hard. Try more than one, and do it the Idiot way: catching one at a time.

    Six nearly defeated Spanky, who pulled both hamstrings on his first attempt. Eventually, following what another Idiot called “the first spontaneous chanting of Spanky I’ve ever heard,” the third try was the charm.

    • The sandwich making was a hit from the outset. After Gyro washed his feet, “paying particular attention to the problem areas,” he had to dry them, and the tearing and using of paper towels brought admiring applause.

    He waggled the bologna in Horness’ face, then carefully peeled off the rind. The cheese wrapper was tossed in the wastebasket a leg’s length away.

    He approved of her condiment choices, saying, “Mustard’s got a strong flavor that drowns out a lot of other flavors.”

    • A lot of trash talk went into the selection of candidates to compete for the privilege of coming up on stage for more Idiocy.

    “This guy’s so tough he’s got a tattoo of Garth Brooks and Dennis Rodman slow dancing at the Republican National Convention,” one Idiot proclaimed.

    As with the growling girls, the audience had to choose with applause; Walter was the judge. “Well, it was tough, because everyone voted twice,” he said. “Welcome to the Philippines.”

    • After donning the strait jacket — “Let me get my tie on the outside, makes it look more like a sports jacket,” Gyro said — he instructed victor/victim Eldon in the fastening, including a strap that goes between the legs and behind so the jacket can’t simply slip overhead. “How tight? Well, all the way to the last hole, just don’t make your own.”

    The Flaming Idiots had demonstrated to Eldon that he could fall backward and trust them to catch him. Then they put on strait jackets, had him fasten the three together at the wrists and asked him to put on a blindfold.

    Variations on this escape have been done for decades, they explained, including an artist hanging upside down. The Idiots abandoned that version, they said, because children beat them until candy came out.

    Instead, they had the audience count backward from 25. At zero, they said, Eldon was to fall backward from his position and they would catch him. It looked pretty bleak for the 5 seconds that one Idiot was being dragged around the stage by another, his head trapped in his jacket.

    • Swami Walter was wheeled onto stage on a dolly in the lotus position, in which freak show barker Gyro claimed he had been born, much to the chagrin of Swami Mommy.

    What were Swami Walter’s words of alleged wisdom? “The universe is within you. That is why your pants no longer fit.”

    How do you talk with a 4-foot balloon in your gullet?

    • People who volunteer to be on stage often don’t fully know what they’re in for.

    The Flaming Idiots proved themselves to be expert jugglers on several occasions. Pyro and Gyro swapped clubs and Walter stepped between them, and as he turned his head the clubs kept moving his ample and fluffy hair.

    And as if three men juggling three clubs each and tossing them to one another weren’t enough, they added the twist of doing it while switching positions.

    Still, when the final victor/victim agreed to let Gyro stand on his shoulders while juggling lit torches, he didn’t know that Pyro and Walter would be tossing torches in front of and behind him at the same time. When these performers say, “OK, stand right there,” you’d be wise not to breathe too hard.

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