Tuesday, July 05, 2016
With a fork in his tongue and corkscrew in his head, Erik Sprague loves being a lizard, he tells Ellie O’Byrne
TO BE a freak is to embrace what makes you different; I celebrate difference in people.” Erik Sprague is explaining his decision, over 20 years ago, to turn himself into a green-scaled, fork-tongued ‘Lizardman’.
Sprague’s body modifications took years and involved over 700 hours of tattooing for his full-body tattoo of green scales, as well as a surgically bifurcated tongue, filed teeth and subdermal implants in his eyebrows. But since his transformation, he’s built a career on his reptilian skin, touring as a freak-show performer specialising in sideshow acts like suspending weights from his body piercings, sword swallowing and — why not? — pushing a giant corkscrew through his head.
Sprague didn’t follow the path that many extreme body modifiers take, getting one tattoo or piercing and then becoming hooked. “I went from being completely blank to discovering those things as a medium and wanting to use them as an artist,” he says. “But I did spend nearly four years thinking about it before I started.”
“There’s no real easy way to explain why I did it,” he says. “I can simply say because I wanted to, but I understand why that’s difficult for people because it’s hard for them to grasp doing something like this. But I say, if it doesn’t hurt anyone else then just respect the choice.”
“It does play into my personal egomania because artists spend a long time trying to create a powerful symbol but when you do what I’ve done you become a powerful symbol. I am essentially a mythological creature that exists in cultures around the world: I am a reptilian humanoid.”
The Lizardman hatched and spent his early years in rural upstate New York, and his teenage interest in the world of the side-show, with its dank canvas caverns full of oddities, freaks and wonders, coincided with a renaissance of the freak show, but with a more modern and politically correct emphasis on self-styled freaks as opposed to what he calls “natural- born freaks”.
Even as Sprague was teaching himself sword-swallowing, the infamous Jim Rose Circus was being conceived in Seattle and the mid-nineties yen for all things freakish was beginning, supported by acts like KoRn, Nine Inch Nails and later, Marilyn Manson. In the late nineties, the Lizardman joined the Jim Rose Circus for three years of touring, but he says that he and Rose had “ideological differences” and the working relationship didn’t last.
Having turned himself into the permanent centre of attention, are there ever days where he’d prefer not to be stared and pointed at?
“Sure, I’ve got days where I go, ‘maybe today is a good day to stay at home and reorder the bookshelf’. We all have off days.”
Now, at 44, Sprague lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife — who he met backstage while on tour with Jim Rose — and their pet ferrets.
“Meghan and I firmly endorse people going backstage to be groupies because who knows, it might work out,” he says. “But before she came along, I like to think I did alright. I don’t want to boast too much, but a split tongue can be a heck of a draw.”
Sprague currently has the Guinness world record for the heaviest weight lifted and spun with pierced ears for suspending a 16kg beer keg from his ear piercings and spinning in 360-degree circles.
He says his stunts don’t hurt. “On the street performance circuit we love that old trope, ‘don’t try this at home, folks’. When I do my show, I always wonder what the chances are that the audience have a giant corkscrew at home in the first place, before they even get to trying to stick it through their face.”