The Pickled Brothers Travis Fessler
By Noah (AKA Jolly Pumpkin)
Travis Fessler of The Pickled Brothers Sideshow is one of the best known sideshow performers in the country. He’s been featured on numerous TV programs and him and his crew have beaten several world records. This interview is about the history, future and everything freaky concerning The Pickled Brothers Sideshow.
What different acts do you perform during your sideshow routine?
Fire-eating, sword swallowing, bed of nails, whip cracking, humanblockhead, mental floss, animal traps, insectivore, and other feats ofpain resistance, skill and stupidity.
What TV shows have you been featured on showcasing your freakish talents?
The Tonight Show, Jerry Springer, MTV’s “DJ And the Fro”, DiscoveryChannel’s “You Swallowed What”, and upcoming for Animal Planet’s “Weird, Freaky and True” and CMT’s “Country Fried Home Movies”. Erik has also been featured on Italy’s version of the Guinness World Records show, and the Bob and Tom Radio show.
Explain what typical acts a Pickled Brothers Sideshow features?
A typical 30 minute show will see fire-eating, sword swallowing, juggling, and a bed of nails.
How did you first get involved in the sideshow business?
In the 90s, I was a REALLY bad kid’s party magician. I knew a lot oftricks, but I was so bad that kids would bust me on them. I wanted tokeep performing, so I decided to learn how to do “real” stuff. I learned to eat fire, and it kind of snowballed from there.
How do you practice some of the death defying acts that are part of the
I learned to do most of the stuff I do in my basement. It’s quiet andisolated, so it was a good practice space. Plus Susan didn’t like to hear me gagging and puking when I was learning to swallow a sword.
What are some of the world records you and your brother Erik have beaten?
Currently we have broken the records for most cockroaches in the mouth(me with 11) and Erik has broken the record for upside-down juggling twice (currently at 5 minutes). We’re working on some more for upcoming shows.
When did you first realize that you were able to breathe fire, lie on a bedof nails and do unimaginable things that few people would ever try?
You’re not just “able” to do that. That’s like asking a plumber whenhe first realized he was able to fix pipes. It takes practice and determination to learn.
How did Erik practice for his upside down juggling record breaking attempt?
He built a trapeze-like rig in his yard and strung it up between 2trees. Before that, he’d go to playgrounds and hang from jungle gyms there, but it’s hard to concentrate when kids are climbing over you.
What haunts have you performed at and what have been people’s reactions to
We’ve performed at the USS Nightmare in 2006 and 2007, and MayhemMansion/Terror on the Lakes in 2008. People always seem to love the show. Even though it’s not “scary” the same way that the haunts are,it still fits in great with the Halloween theme.
Have you ever had any close calls when performing some of your risky acts?
I have a few scars from the bed of nails. Once I stood up andaccidentally put all my weight on one nail with my wrist. I have a puncture-wound scar from that.
What is your favorite act to perform and why?
Fire is probably still my favorite. It was the first one I learned,and it draws a lot of attention.
What are people’s favorite act to see and why?
People LOVE to see the bed of nails. I think because someone always jumps on my groin, which is instant comedy.
What was it like working at USS Nightmare in Newport, KY?
Working at the USS Nightmare was a lot of fun, but also a big challenge. The USS Nightmare is one of the biggest and most recognized haunts in the region. So there were big crowds, and a lot of people saw us, but because we were a separate attraction, people didn’t always know we were there coming in.
So every night I had to perform a 4-6 hour long sales pitch to people in line buying tickets so that they would buy tickets to my show too. I think if we had been in moreof the marketing materials that maybe we would have had more ticket sales, and I could have concentrated more on the show.
What was it like working at Mayhem Mansion in Morning View, KY?
We were part of the show at Mayhem Mansion. Everyone who came got tosee us perform after they went through the haunt. That was a lot less stressful, and allowed us to really focus on making the show enjoyable for everyone. I didn’t have to run out after every stunt and take over on a bally stage.
What does the future hold for the Pickled Brothers Sideshow?
We have big plans for more world records, bigger stunts, and new comedy every year. We’re still talking with some haunts for the 2010 season, so any haunt owners or managers that would like to add a great show to your haunt, and have a world record attempt on-site, get a hold of me!