Brad Leuchte/THE GATEPOST
By Scott Calzolaio
The modern American family – mother an accountant, father a police o6cer and son a world-class sword swallowing, fire-eating, glass stomper.
Though most sideshow acts consist of many people with one talent each, entertainer and comedian Will Rotten is a one man show, and has taken on the challenge of learning all the sideshow trades at once.
His circus act has gained recognition by “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” and he has multiple records in the “Guinness Book of World Records.” He was also once featured on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Before he began his act in DPAC on Tuesday, he said, “I promise you will walk out of here with a lot more questions than when you walked in.”
He said, “And now, a stunt more dangerous than hooking up on Tinder.”
For his first act, his props were simple – a bucket full of broken glass and “a little bit of belief,” he said.
He emptied out the bucket, saying, “It’s times like this that I know I didn’t listen to my high school guidance counselor close enough.”
The barefoot Rotten jumped up onto the heap of broken wine bottles and the audience listened as the glass crunched under his weight, breaking into smaller and sharper pieces.
“You hear it snapping and popping?” he asked. “It’s like Rice Krispies, or better, Shredded Feet.”
After stomping around and hopping on the glass, he sat down to show the audience that there was no blood not even a scratch.
Some students got to see the action closer than others. Carrie Ray, a junior, was pulled on stage and asked if she knew the lengths that a man would go in order to impress a woman. Rotten elaborated by explaining that Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear and gave it to his lovely lady as an act of passion.
With a crazed look in his eye, Rotten took a six-inch solid steel nail and used a hammer to tap it into the back of his sinuses.
“Watch out, if I sneeze, I might kill someone,” he said, while he ran around the audience to show everyone his nostrils up close.
“My mother told me to get my head checked out, so I did,” he said, holding an x-ray of his skull with a nail in it. “I’ve been hammering a nail in my head since I was 22.”
After prying it out of his nose with the back side of the hammer, Rotten nailed it into a small piece of wood and affectionately presented the trophy to Ray, whom he called his “beloved assistant.”
“This is what Van Gogh’s girlfriend felt like,” he said to her.
The experience proved to be “interesting” for Ray, but mostly she said it was “weird” and “just gross.”
Rotten is most proud of his sword swallowing abilities, as he is one of the last sword swallowers in the entertainment industry. He learned the art of eating fire when he was just 14, and was already doing fire eating shows when he was 16. Sword swallowing, on the other hand, took 10 years for him to learn, and another few years after that to learn what carnie’s call “the drop” – the final and sudden three inch plunge the sword makes into his stomach.
“I can’t let you touch it because I know where it’s been,” he said about his sword, “But I can assure you that it’s real, even though I know there are skeptics out there.”
Holding the blade with a handkerchief, he went around the audience and asked members to grab the handle and bend it to test that it was solid, not a collapsible one.
“I’m going to take this sword,” he said. “I’m going to place it into the back of my throat, and, if the alignment is just right, it will slip into my esophagus, nudge my heart, go between my lungs and drop three inches into my belly. All for your entertainment pleasure!”
He did as promised, and then did it again, with what Matthew Nagle, a senior, described best as “the squiggle blade.”
“That was definitely the most impressive part to me,” said Nagle.
Rotten also dragged audience member Jordan Palmer, a freshman, on stage to pretend to cut his index finger off with a Native American bravery and loyalty testing finger guillotine.
“He’s a professional,” said Palmer, “So I tried to keep calm, but my legs were definitely shaking.”
Obviously no appendages were lost, but, strangely, eyelids were penetrated.
He finished his routine with an act that he was debuting for the first time on stage.
It included balancing a metal bowl full of water, dangling from his eyelids with fishing hooks, while wearing a vintage elephant training jacket that he said has not seen the lights of the stage in 15 years.
This was intended to be a strange ending to a more than strange performance, and it was met with a standing ovation, that was suggested to be given by Rotten himself.