4 Horrifying Things I Learned Drunk At Work As A Stunt Man
There's a reason you don't see many elderly stunt performers, and it's not that they all eventually get sent to a lovely farm upstate where they can jump all the buses they want. We wanted to get inside the head of someone who attempts dramatic suicides for a living, so we talked to Cayle Beauchamp, a motorbike / jet ski stunt performer from Australia. We guess Australia, the official continent of Murder, wasn't dangerous enough for Cayle. Here's what he told us:
You Get To Do Awesome, Wildly Unsafe Stuff
During one show, I was supposed to do a jet ski jump while wearing a suit with petrol-soaked patches on the back. The plan was for the pyrotechnic guys to shoot a fireball from the ramp right after I took off, thus lighting the petrol to give the illusion that I'd jumped through an explosion. Obviously, you don't want to actually jump through an explosion. That would be terrible. I speak from experience on that, because someone fucked up and lit the ramp fireball before I went through it. My arms were burned, my eyebrows were gone, and my lungs felt like I had inhaled fire. Which was probably because I had just inhaled fire.
"The bad news is that you knocked two years off your life expectancy.
The good news is that you are the father of dragons."
Another time, I was supposed to ride off the stage after a motorcycle stunt so the tech guys could set off an effect that would dump thousands of gallons of water on the arena. And of course on that day, my bike refused to start right as the floodgates opened. I nearly shat myself and furiously kick-started the bike until it fired up. I barely managed to outrun the water-wall of death before it could swallow me up.
I was one xenomorph away from a James Cameron hat trick.
So what would have happened if I didn't make it? What's the protocol in that scenario? Easy: You die. Really hard. And it does happen ...
Stunt Work Is Staggeringly Gruesome
The audience mostly just wants to see daredevils perform, but there'll always be people who come to our shows hoping that something will go horribly wrong. Personally, I don't see why anyone would ever get excited over death, but maybe that's because death loses some of its mystique after you're forced to swim in a pool of shredded human soup.
Warning: It's already too late for a warning.
Some years back, I was participating in a jet ski stunt show in China. One day, a worker fell into the pool pump, and it tore his body into tiny pieces before scattering them all over the water. The really horrifying part came after that, when management scooped most of the goo out and told me to get in the pool, because the Audi wasn't going to pay for itself (although they phrased it as: "the show must go on").
It made me sick to my stomach, but I was young and needed the money, so I got in the water and did my job. Which, as a reminder, was jumping a jet ski into a giant homeopathic solution of a coworker's remains.
On census forms, I now have to say I'm part Asian.
Later, at the same place, a buddy of mine performed a 75-foot motorcycle jump that ended with him landing wrong, doing a reverse-wheelie, and catapulting into the stands. He was able to stand up and walk away from the crash on his own, but as I approached him, I noticed that his jersey was ripped and his stomach was falling out of a giant gaping wound across his torso. The accident had torn his abdomen open.
I told him that he was okay but he shouldn't look down yet, hoping that he didn't have any followup questions to that weird demand. I then took my shirt off and used it to plug the hole in his stomach, stopping his guts from slipping out onto my shoes. (I didn't want him to feel bad later; stuntman footwear is expensive.) As I applied pressure to the stomach, we loaded him onto a spinal board, flagged down a car, and rushed him to the hospital, where the doctors managed to save his life.
"But we lost the stuntman shirt. I'm sorry. We did all we could."
At this point, you might be wondering: two accidents at the same venue? Is this a problem with being a daredevil or a problem with performing in China?
There's good news and bad news. The good news is that you're very observant. The bad news is: It's both.
The Best-Paying Gigs Are The Ones Most Likely To Kill You
Stunts will always have their risks, but there are a few things you can do to convince a daredevil to perform. Strict safety regulations are a good start, as are emergency protocols, and maybe an on-site doctor. Or, if you don't want to bother with that noise, just start throwing money at the performer until they won't be able to see the dangers of the job due to the huge dollar signs in their eyes.
That's pretty much what happened to me when I accepted that job in China.
"Huge yuan signs," technically, but same deal.
A lot of rookie daredevils end up taking jobs in Asia or the United Arab Emirates because the money those places are willing to spend is insane. I'm not only talking about the pay; their stunt shows often have huge production budgets and beautiful, detailed sets. The catch is that basically none of that money goes into making sure you don't die.
One time, they hired a hot girl with zero experience to ride alongside us on a jet ski. It went about as well as you would expect, with her almost drowning several times. During rehearsal for another job, I was told to hang upside-down in a half-body harness 80 feet above a concrete floor. I had already done it once before realizing that the guy who put my harness on had forgotten to tighten the main strap, which could have given out at any time.
Plus, the helmet left something to be desired.
The performers were also supposed to undergo breathalyzer tests twice a week, but we failed those so often that the company simply stopped administering them and let us perform while drunk off our asses. I know, I know -- drunkenly ramping a motorcycle through a flaming tunnel sounds like a blast ... in Grand Theft Auto. But the main problem with reality is that it doesn't have any save points.
The Job Will Seriously Mess You Up
My job involves jumping bikes and pushing the limits on my jet ski, but over time, even those things start to become mind-numbingly tedious. I'm guessing that's a common problem in dangerous professions that mainly attract showoffs. Do the same risky thing often enough, and soon you'll start playing fast and loose with your own safety because you've "done this a million times." Or maybe you start to experiment with new routines to find that familiar thrill of putting your life on the line. It might result in a badass new stunt, but most often it ends in an accident and serious injury, like my recent Le Fort III fracture that knocked out seven of my teeth.
I could eat only soup, but I didn't want any, for some reason.
But one of the worst injuries I ever suffered on the job was an ear infection. Yes, you read that right. It happened after I did a jet ski show in a pool of (what turned out to be) heavily polluted water. It got into my ear, which later became so infected that my eardrum burst. The good news was that it made it harder to hear myself as I screamed in pain for the next few days.
I'm 90-percent sure an earworm was eating my brain.
But that's okay; I'll happily deal with the pain and the danger. Because sometimes, after a show, the audience members will come down to meet us. So far, five of them have told me something like, "That was great. I only have a week to live and that was the best thing I've ever seen." Other times, a parent will bring a terminally ill child with them and say, "He absolutely loved your show; he has terminal cancer and only has six months left to live."
We all want to feel that what we do has a purpose, and while I know that my job isn't actually "important," it makes those people happy -- if only for a brief moment. To me, that makes it something worth doing.
Cayle Beauchamp Is A Professional Jet Ski Freestyle Competitor/performer. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz Is A Cracked Columnist, Interviewer, And Editor. Contact Him At firstname.lastname@example.org.
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