by Stepan Soroka
VANCOUVER – “I do a modification of the machete bed,” Neil E. Dee says when asked about his most dangerous stunt. “Most people use four machetes; I’ve reduced it down to two machetes. Normally I get my assistant to smash some cinder block on my chest while swallowing a sword.” Neil is one of two professional sword swallowers in Vancouver, and there’s only about a dozen in Canada. “It’s a bad idea,” he adds, reflectively. “I’ll probably do it again.”
If you’ve ever had a chance to see Neil E. Dee perform, either solo or with his aptly named Danger Thrill Show, then you know that it’s about more than just wild stunts. Neil is a genuine showman who puts his whole heart into his craft, and it is captivating to watch. In between runs on SBC Restaurant’s miniramp, he talks about the process behind executing a stunt like the one described. “It’s like skateboarding. You work your body up to that intensity so you can’t feel the pain. You just black it out and you keep going and focus on what you need to do.”
A skateboarder and punk rocker at heart, Neil also loves “being weird, always,” and has been performing his circus sideshow for close to 17 years. He also played bass in seminal East Van skate rock band The China Creeps. “We’re all crazy,” he says about the similarities between the sideshow world and punk rock. “It’s exciting entertainment. People doing weird shit with their bodies.”
“Weird shit” is a good way to put it. Neil is known to have members of the audience come on stage and apply money to his body with a staple gun. “Depends who’s got the gun,” he says when asked if the stunt is more intimidating than skating. “Some people like to push really hard and the staple sinks really deep into your skull, so that can be intimidating. But I’ve never been paid for a skateboard trick.” Ultimately, both follow the same mental pathways, according to Neil. “It’s all just fun,” he says.
Fun as it may be for Neil, it remains mind-boggling to witness, and learning skills like sword swallowing is not easy. “It’s an intense process; it nudges your heart forward. When you’re first learning… your heart sort of panics.” Neil explains that it took him years to get comfortable with the craft. “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone,” he says. Duly noted.
Neil E. Dee performs at SBC Restaurant on Friday, March 17 with The Tubuloids, Loose Tooth and SelfistNeil E Dee, SBC, SBC Restaurant