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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

“Bizarrist” Harley Newman brings death-defying, stomach-churning stunts to Bryan Jr.

After a brief stint as a therapist, Harley Newman knew that if he didn’t return to the circus – his first true love – he would be the one needing his head examined. Of course, if you were among the lucky few who witnessed him lovingly stop electric fans with his tongue, swallow swords and lay on steel spikes March 20 in Bryan Jr. Auditorium, it would seem that a good sit-down at the shrink might be the first thing in order for this man. So when Newman, who goes by the stage name “The Bizarrist,” told the crowd “I need help” after inserting two giant deep-sea fishing lures into his lower eyelids, it was hard to tell whether he was confessing his insanity or simply asking for a volunteer.

The latter turned out to be true and, sure enough, someone from the crowd started filling a cup dangling from his fishhook eyelid rig, causing his skin to droop down his face.

“Some people ask me, ‘Harley, why do you do it?'” Newman said with a crazed grin after removing the hooks, “And my answer is always the same – to see the look on your face!”

While it’s tempting to dismiss Newman’s act as the play of a raving lunatic, the amount of courage, discipline and artistry that goes into it is hard to ignore. In one of the crowning performances of the night, Newman muscled his way out of a straitjacket while riding a unicycle around the stage.

When asked whether he got an adrenaline rush out of the various death defying stunts in his catalogue, he said that he “didn’t have the time.”

“When your body releases adrenaline, it means you’re scared,” Newman said, “But that’s not part of the deal for me – I have to maintain focus and control to the fullest degree when I’m doing this stuff.”

In the nearly 30 years that Newman performed and perfected his act, he claims that every one of his stunts went wrong at least once. When you consider the plethora of seemingly suicidal stunts in his repertoire, it’s hard not to wince.

“I still have the phantom pain of where the spike once went in,” Newman said of the last act of the night in which he balanced on his tailbone on a nine inch steel spike. Luckily the stunt was a success, at least this time.

But pain has not come without recognition for Newman. With two world records, one for the minimum number of nails in a bed of nails (four nine inch spikes), and one for the most weight applied to a person while lying on a bed of nails (over 1,700 lbs), Newman is considered a true innovator of the art of escape and sideshow acts in general. He has also been featured with Penn and Teller, appeared in multiple films, on Comedy Central, and in a recent documentary called “American Carny.”

He also once prompted Geraldo Rivera to exclaim, “No, no! Oh, my God. No!”

All accolades and superhuman abilities aside, Newman remained genuine and approachable after the performance, inviting students to try out his bed of nails and check out his props.

“Just think,” he said, “you all could be doing this someday too! It’s important to realize that the human body is capable of a lot more than we give it credit for.

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