“Pain proof” is a classic sideshow term for acts and performers that demonstrate excruciating feats of mind over matter. Examples of pain proof acts include bed of nails, human pincushion, blade ladder, human dartboard, and glass walking. The idea is to convince the audience that the performer is impervious to pain or alternatively that the act is painful but the performer has the strength to endure their extreme predicament.
Medical studies have shown that people experience pain from the same stimulus differently both in terms of recognizing pain (one’s “pain threshold”) and tolerating pain (one’s “pain tolerance”). Perhaps I am wired to have a higher pain tolerance, but for me “Pain Proof” isn’t about not feeling pain, it’s about knowing pain:
“This is supposed to feel this way, so everything is going right”.
“This hurts, but I have not met my peak pain tolerance yet”.
“This is not the worst pain I have ever experienced; I know I can go on”.
“This hurts, but I will survive, so no whining”.
“This hurts, but people can see my face, so I still have to smile”.
Pain is a useful tool for assessing my safety during performances. If I couldn’t feel pain, I wouldn’t know if something was seriously wrong or if I was reaching a critical point. The inability to feel pain would also be a sign of a larger medical issue at play such as damage to the nervous system.
Sometimes people ask me if I get off on my pain proof acts– if they are sexually pleasurable experience for me. They’re not. This is 100% for your entertainment. The day I retire from performing is the day I stop laying on the bed of nails and stop piercing myself. Having said that, since these acts are for your entertainment, feel free to indulge that idea if it does something for you. If you indulge, also explore the corners of your mind that make it a thing for you. If you are the kind of person who watches my pain proof acts and asks, “Why are you doing this”, again, it’s all for you. Ask yourself why you want to watch and haven’t instead turned away.
I remember the first time I saw a flesh hook suspension. It was grotesque, but the image floated around in my mind for days becoming increasingly intriguing. As a performer, I want to create similarly visceral experiences for people as an opportunity to escape the mundane, to question what is possible, and to explore their own minds.
That said, these exercises in pain are not completely altruistic. The screams and gasps of my audience members make me cackle like a witch (on the inside). They have also had the unintended side effect of self-cultivation. Every time I push the boundaries of my pain tolerance through building upon these acts, I am building my mental fortitude. Through the experience of pain, I am typically able to stay focused and composed even under duress.
Special thanks to Fenyxfire (Canada) for teaching me about hand piercings and Eric Ross of Hellzapoppin for teaching me bicep piercings and for further assisting me with hand piercings.