Two hours of suffering is a tall order to fill -- even for The Family Channel. But that's what we received last Thursday night at Stardust Video & Coffee, when a master of self-abuse known as Zamora the Torture King spent a full 120 minutes mutilating himself for the public's enjoyment.
A rabid audience of freak-o-philes was primed and ready for Zamora's stomach-churning stunts, feats of fearlessness honed in his past outings as a member of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. A thrilled doorman wondered aloud if the daredevil and his crew were "the guys who hang things from their ball sacs."
Not quite. Dressed in basic black, the ponytailed Zamora took his place in front of an old-style painted backdrop to begin his performance with a simple round of fire-eating. He swallowed a lick of flame from one torch, then exhaled it onto another, which was instantly ablaze.
The display was impressive on a state-fair level, but hardly the cringe-inducing fare we had come to see. At first, I worried that his impending participation in July's Great American Circus Parade -- an annual, family-friendly event held in Milwaukee -- signaled a taming of Zamora's repertoire.
Expressing no such disappointment, a Brak-voiced yokel punctuated every cremation-courting stunt with amazed, beyond-obvious remarks like, "He gon' burn his mouth!" For a while, the crowd found almost as much enjoyment in countering his running commentary with Gomer Pyle impressions, and laughing, incredulous cries of "Shut the fuck up!" as in watching Zamora play with pyro.
The kibitzer had barely contained his excitement when the show took its hoped-for turn for the bizarre. Throwing glass bottles into a metal tub and smashing them with a sledgehammer, Zamora then poured the shards onto the stage and walked across them in his bare feet; the reverberating crunches made everyone squeal in horrified delight.
To top it, he laid down with the broken glass under his back and called for a blond volunteer to jump up and down on his stomach, leaving his shoulder blades covered in nasty cuts and scabs that only got worse as the night progressed. Or should that be "degenerated?"
Smells like freak spirit
From my vantage point at the back of the room, I was already stunned enough to consider the $5 cover money well spent. But word soon arrived that the real torture was taking place down front. When Zamora took off his jacket, I learned, his bodily odor had been so severe that those closest to him instinctively took a few steps back. (Oh, those carny folks and their catch-as-catch-can personal habits!)
Still shirtless, Zamora produced a meat cleaver and proceeded to chop spring onions on his own chest. A refugee from the pit pronounced the onions "a relief."
Every circus kingpin needs a lady sidekick, so the floor was turned over to Danyelle Stampe, a dominatrix who goes by the name Slymenstra Hymen when she appears with the shock-rock parody outfit GWAR. Decked out in a pink wig and white facial makeup, Stampe brandished a whip that she used to break balloons with sickening cracks. Rubber duly conquered, she turned her attention to the crowd, snapping the whip dangerously close to their faces.
"Damn ceiling fan," she muttered, temporarily becoming tangled in the rafters.
The act's second half was definitely not for the queasy. Zamora reclined on a bed of nails, then had two corpulent audience members walk across a wooden board placed on his chest."If you see me drop this mike and close my eyes, I've just passed out," he warned.
Consciousness somehow retained, he stood and helped himself to a "light snack" of more glass (this time from shattered light bulbs), which he munched with disgusting eagerness. A glass of water cleansed his palate so that he could swallow a length of string, which he retrieved by pulling out a scalpel and cutting himself open just above the stomach. Reaching into the wound, he found the strand and tugged it slowly into the open, moving it back and forth. His bathing rituals may have been suspect, but at least he didn't forget to floss.
The pièce de résistance was a trick that had once, Zamora told us, made a TV cameraman faint. Slicing a watermelon in two with his own odor? Nope, puncturing his flesh with silver skewers -- and not a tender earlobe either, but an entire forearm, which he pierced from one side to the other, right through the muscle tissue. "Push!" the onlookers chanted as the foreign object disappeared, then reappeared from within the limb. A second spike was inserted into Zamora's bicep, and a third into his mouth, entering just beneath his tongue to pop out of the fleshy area behind his chin. The three silver needles in place, he looked like Tommy after a visit to the Acid Queen, or Courtney Love at any time since 1992.
Hoots, hollers and stamping feet denoted the Torture King's ultimate triumph. After hosting countless open-mike poets and folk musicians, Stardust had at last presented a performance that none of us could have duplicated in our own homes.
Or perhaps one of us could have. I had invited an acupuncturist along to offer a professional opinion. But she left before the first, innocuous fireball was blown, pleading squeamishness. Too bad; she could have picked up a few pointers.