Swallowing Swords and Juggling Fire with the Pickled Brothers

Drew Stoga


We wanted to start your week with something a little out of the ordinary so we are posting our exclusive chat with Travis Fessler of The Pickled Brothers Sideshow (Florence, KY).

The Pickled Brothers are a fire-eating, sword-swallowing, kinfe-juggling circus team whose everyday life is full of death deifying stunts. Their everyday work routine is probably just a little different than yours. So without further ado, step right up and enjoy our interview with Travis:

Please tell us a little about your act. The Pickled Brothers Sideshow is a comedy circus sideshow act based in Northern Kentucky near Cincinnati, Ohio. It consists of my brother Erik Kloeker, my wife, Susan Fessler, and myself, Travis Fessler. We do fire-eating, sword swallowing, bed of nails, juggling, human blockhead, bullwhip cracking and targeting and lots of other stunts. We formed in 2002 after I spent a few years doing magic and fire-eating for parties, and street performing. Even though the last names are different, Erik and I are actually half-brothers. Between us we've broken 6 world records, and have performed in most US states, and 3 other countries. We have won awards for best comedy act, best renaissance festival act, and GigMasters' "Rising Star" award.

How long has it taken you to fully hone your act? Who said we were fully honed? Some of the stunts took upwards of 2 years of training before I was ready to put them in the act. The comedy and patter is always a challenge and is always evolving. Our first renaissance faire was in 2003 and if you watch our show at the Highland Renaissance Festival this year, you might not even think it was the same act or the same people. We try to change at least one stunt or routine every year.

How did you get started? And do you have any advice for anyone looking to learn fire-eating, sword swallowing, etc.? I learned fire-eating the way that no one ever should, by talking to people, reading books and then teaching myself. This resulted in it taking me MUCH longer to learn than it should.  These days, my brother, wife and I teach a class on eating fire and can have people doing most of the techniques in an afternoon. Anyone looking to learn should find someone who is already doing it and ask if they give lessons. Beware, though, there are a lot of amateurs who think they know what they are doing, but can get you hurt. If someone is using gasoline as an accelerant, don't walk away, run. Sword swallowing is a bit different. A slip with fire will get you a 1st or 2nd degree burn (or 3rd if you do something REALLY foolish). A slip with the sword is a guaranteed trip to the hospital. After someone showed me the technique for sword swallowing, I spent the next 2 years practicing until I could do it. There was a lot of gagging and worse during that time. I don't teach sword swallowing for the simple reason that even with the right technique, you might never be able to do it if you aren't dedicated enough to practice twice a day, every day.

Swallowing Fire

What sorts of events are you typically booked for? What types of events work best for your act? It's hard to say what we're typically booked for, because it varies greatly. We've done renaissance faires, street festivals, small birthday parties, giant holiday bashes, corporate celebrations, nightclubs, sporting events, wedding receptions, conventions, and we were even hired to entertain in a bowling alley.

What is the strangest gig you have ever done? The bowling alley was definitely a little different. It was a New Year's Eve party and we were there to keep people waiting for lanes to open up. Other than that, "strange" is relative. Every gig is a little different.

Anything else people should know about you and The Pickled Brothers Sideshow? If you're looking for comedy and danger, you've found it! Our act can be tailored to any event! Find us on GigMasters and book us today!