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Penn’s Fire Eating Speech

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I found this article online when I first started eating fire seven years ago. It had a huge influence on me and I think you’ll feel the same way once you read it. Penn is an amazing orator, try to imagine him actually performing this as you read it, I still get shivers.

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[The stage is dark. Penn speaks to the audience.]
Everything that Teller and I do in this show comes from a love that we share of the American Sideshow.

[Penn lights a candle. He is seated on a stool.]

Now, the real name for the freak show is the Ten-in-One Show, and it’s called the Ten-in-One Show because you get ten acts under one tent for one admission price.

When I was a kid I used to go the Franklin County Fair– That’s where the carnival came in my hometown. And that fair would be in town about ten days every year, and every one of those ten days, I’d go to the fair, and every day at the fair, I’d end up at the Ten-in-One Show. And I loved the freak show. I loved it because you’d pay your seventy-five cents and you were allowed to go into a tent with people who were entirely different from you, and then you could just stare at them.

And I loved the freaks, but I especially loved the self-made freaks, the fire-eater, the sword-swallower, the tattooed people, because they had made an extra decision to be there. I can remember standing in that tent watching the fire-eater and I swear my whole life was there; it meant everything to me.

And my friends would go with me to the Ten-in-One, but my friends were different, ’cause they took the whole show as some sort of weird challenge, and all through this fire-eater’s perfect act, my friends would be talking. And they’d be saying stuff like, “Oh, I know how he does that, Penn, he just coats his mouth with something.” They would try to convince me there was sort of something you could just smear in your mouth, then go suck on a soldering iron, and it wasn’t going to hurt you.

And it’s not just kids — it’s also adults– and it’s usually a man, and it’s most often a man who’s with some woman he’s trying desperately, and often pathetically, to impress. And I’ll hear this guy who just thinks he’s got to pretend to know everything, you know? So he’s saying stuff like, “Oh, don’t worry about him honey, he’s just using cold fire.” Yeah. [He laughs]

Or needles. Now the reason that Teller and I are working together today, is about thirteen years ago I saw Teller on stage in Jersey, alone and silently eating those needles. When I watched him up on that stage I got that same feeling in my guts that I used to get watching the fire-eater as a kid, and I knew we had to work together, and we have been ever since.

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