Jenn O’Cide is a Las Vegas native who eats glass, breathes fire, and belly dances with the best of them. She’s as tall as a skyscraper, covered in tattoos and piercings and also happens to be one of the most charismatic, colourful, funny, and engaging human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Not surprisingly, she has a talent for captivating audiences. I spoke with Jenn O’Cide recently about sideshow life, what grosses her out and her stint on America’s Got Talent.
“How would you describe what you do to someone who doesn’t know anything about Jenn O’Cide?”, I ask.
“I call myself a ‘professional weirdo,'” she says, “because that’s much easier than explaining that I do perform fire and freakshow stunts, do tour managing and live audio, and run a talent agency. I specialize in the bizarre!”
“I read that when you were 14 you became interested in Side Show performance. What was it that thrilled you and made you want to become involved at such a young age?”
“I started working concerts when I was 12 as an intern, and when I saw a sideshow at 14, I was fascinated. I HAD to know how to do the same things, how to make the impossible possible, how to maintain mind over matter, and how to floor the audience. I bugged them to teach me, and that’s where I started this madness.”
“What does your family think of what you do? Are they supportive?”
“My family loves what I do, because they know how happy it makes me. It took awhile, but they realized, after 20-something years, that it’s not a phase.”
“What grosses you out? What scares you?”
“Snakes. Oh gawd snakes. Terrified. Phobic. Even writing about them I’ve had to drink a case of whiskey to make it to the end of this sentence. Gah!”
“Tell me about pain. Is it something you tolerate or you do enjoy it? How do you get through it? Have you suffered any injuries from breathing fire, eating broken glass, or having your back skin suspended from hooks? I heard you have broken your back twice, was this work related?”
“Pain is an experience that CAN control you, if you let it. I don’t enjoy pain, but I enjoy going through a process in order to come out the other side. I broke my back twice in car accidents when I was in my teens, and for awhile I couldn’t handle any additional, intentional pain. I’ve dealt with daily pain since I was 16, and am intimately familiar with all types of pain: intentional and unintentional. Now that those injuries are as healed as they’re going to get, I’m able to tolerate unintentional pain again, so I’m getting back into suspension and body modification in general.
“I’ve had two injuries from fire eating and breathing: one was unavoidable when a kid broke free from his parents and grabbed me, saying, ‘Lady, lady! Don’t hurt yourself!’ His parents taught him not to play with fire, but didn’t hold onto him while fire was being played with. I inhaled a bunch of fuel while swallowing to avoid inhaling the fire: yay chemical pneumonia! Inevitable, I suppose. Another accident was completely my fault… during a time elapsed fire breathing shoot I had to hold still while the camera did it’s thing, and when my friend handed me my torches, I didn’t check to see that the excess fuel was shaken off. I brought the torches above my face, staying still so the camera could catch it, and fuel dripped onto my face, resulting in a minor facial burn.”
“You were on America’s Got Talent! What was that like? What is the process like for getting on the show? How did your performance go?”
“When I was performing with SwingShift SideShow, America’s Got Talent contacted us about appearing on the show. We honestly thought they’d just use the footage of us as a bit of ‘Look at the crrrRrrRaazy people that try out for this show,’ but instead they passed us into the first round of the contest. Unfortunately, the contracts were too prohibitive for us, so we removed ourselves from the contest. The show contacted us again to be on their “Wild Card” episode, where the judges bring back their favorite performers (Howie Mandel apparently wanted to see more of our silliness). In the show, we allude to Kelvikta the Blade doing her signature act of Thai LadyPartsDarts, but obviously (and unfortunately!) she couldn’t do that on national TV. It was an interesting experience, and we definitely had a blast!”
“Name some of the most interesting performers you have shared a stage with.”
“This feels like such a cop out, but honestly, everyone I’ve shared a stage with has been interesting, in one way or another. I’ve learned from everyone I’ve worked with: some good habits, some atrocious! From sideshow to fire to belly dance to music to outrageous rock groups, there’s a billion stories buried there.”
“Your also a live sound engineer, can you name any bands that you have done sound for? Any tours you’ve been on?”
“I’ve done sound at most of the all-ages venues in Las Vegas since the 1990s, so I got to mix some incredible bands that were quite personally influential. Once I went on Theroux doing sound and tour management, I worked with quite a spectrum of personalities. Some of my favorite tours were with Hate Dept., Zeke, ohGr, Left Spine Down and Skinny Puppy: all outrageously cool people. And Jakalope, of course!”
“If you were to write a book about your life, what would be the title?”
“Going In Dry? Don’t You Dare Try This At Home And Steal My Gigs? Caution: Radioactive Material? I Swear That Really Happened? Hold My Beer and Watch This? You’re Going To Lift WHAT With Your WHAT? I could do this all day!”