Who is the Space Cowboy?
Sideshow celebrity, The Space Cowboy is a truly unique artist from Byron Bay Australia. A natural performer, he started presenting his unusual skills at the local markets at the age of eight, now he has shocked and amazed audiences in 40+ countries at festivals, events and in sold out venues around the world and made numerous television appearances that have earned him his fame.
The Space Cowboy is a highly skilled and diverse performer who currently holds over 40 Guinness World Records, the most records ever held by an Australian! He has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival sixteen years in a row, proven unbeatable at ‘The Street Performance World Championships’ winning 2006, 2007 and on his return in 2011, presented numerous shows in the Sydney Opera house, toured with famous rock bands and shocked motorcycle dare-devils in mega arena stunt shows.
One of the most innovative Sword Swallowers alive today, he performs an ever expanding list of sideshow stunts as well as elite circus skill including his world champion dangerous 3m unicycle finale.
The Space Cowboy is a living phenomena guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on those who witness his incredible acts. Following in the footsteps of legends such as Houdini his death defying displays are history in the making.
Check out The Space Cowboy’s official YouTube Channel, Facebook, Twitter page:
Interview for the ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ Book:
Why did you start sword swallowing?
I have been performing street shows since I was
8 years old, and as a teenager I began to get tired of the same old traditional circus
skills, I wanted to do something more bizarre, more unique and more extreme. Sword
swallowing just seemed like the most adventurous skill that I could learn, but I don’t
think I quite realized how dangerous my new career choice would be.
Was it hard to learn?
Yes, it is very hard to learn. I guess I am lucky that I started
to force hoses and other objects down my throat at an early age. You need to learn to
control muscles that are usually involuntary and this can take many years. I started
training for sword swallowing when I was 16 years old.
In the beginning I swallowed a piece of string with a small piece of food tied to the
end. I then moved on to forcing hoses down my throat to train the muscles of my
esophagus. Every time a person swallows we have circular muscles that retract in our
throat. You need to control these muscles so that when you swallow with a blade down
your esophagus these muscles stay open and do not slice on the blade.
Doesn’t it hurt?
No, it doesn’t hurt, but it is very uncomfortable. Having a foreign
object in your throat instantly makes you gag and vomit, and this is just the
first obstacle that you need to overcome in order to swallow a sword. I am constantly
pushing myself to make the impossible possible, and in order to do this I need to make
the pain I experience obsolete. If you want something enough, pain is no longer an issue.
Have you ever had an accident?
I was born with an internal deformation of my
digestive system that enables me to swallow a sword deeper than any other sword
swallower that has ever lived. When I first started swallowing the long sword I was
20 years old, and in a moment of distraction I sliced my stomach lining in a
performance. Backstage I started vomiting blood and was rushed to hospital. To the
doctor’s amazement I swallowed an endoscope with no anesthetic! I was prescribed
serious drugs to stop any infection. It was a lucky escape. It was 10 years before I
would attempt this swallow again.
Do you train a lot?
On days that I am not performing I do need to keep my internal
muscles finely tuned, so I use meditation and internal isolation techniques to stay
sword-swallowing fit. In my business any mistake is potentially a deadly one!
What are your future ambitions?
I love pushing the boundaries of what people think is
possible. I regularly perform what is considered by many to be impossible, in the hope that just by seeing these extreme acts people may consider the endless possibilities of what they can achieve.
For freaks’ sake…
By Mark Dapin. February 06, 2014 (For The Sydney Morning Herald)
Forget the bearded lady and the tattooed man – these sideshow stalwarts are seriously weird.
Byron bay’s Chayne Hultgren, aka Space Cowboy, the greatest sword-swallower who’s ever lived, is just an everyday unicycle-riding, body-modified chainsaw-juggler who lifts weights with hooks hanging from his eye-sockets, and has some seriously weird friends. Chief among them is US-born Erik Sprague, aka the Lizardman, whom Space Cowboy calls simply “Lizard”. The Lizardman has had his teeth filed down to fangs, his tongue slit in two, and his entire body shaved and tattooed head to foot with green scales, in an effort to be more like a lizard. He still doesn’t look much like a lizard, but he does look like a lizard man.
Lizardman also has subdermal implants where his eyebrows used to be to create reptilian horned ridges, while Space Cowboy has plastic tubes sewn under the skin of his chest, creating rails from which to hang hooks to do the heavy lifting when his eye sockets get tired. Space Cowboy’s implants were fitted by Samppa Von Cyborg of Finland, whose wife, Aneta, is a human pincushion. Von Cyborg pricks her with needles and daubs portraits of rock stars in her blood.
I meet Space Cowboy at his touring Sideshow Wonderland tent at the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. Sideshow Wonderland travels the world and is freakishly popular. Lizardman comes to Australia specifically for the Wonderland performances. Families of folkies line up outside the marquee for hours, seduced by painted promises of an audience with Space Cowboy, Lizardman and pain-proof Zoe L’Amore, aka Zoe Ellis, who is Space Cowboy’s girlfriend and the mother of his child.
Woodford founder Bill Hauritz says the “huge queues are constant, throughout the whole festival. Space Cowboy’s a special character, an artist. He isn’t parody, he’s the real thing.” There are many other vaudeville-style performers and burlesque artists at the festival but, says Hauritz, “Space Cowboy is unique.”
At first, I assume Space Cowboy is the living embodiment of a tradition that died in Australia decades ago, but I soon realise I’m wrong. A tatty spectre of sideshow alley – all chipped clowns’ heads and cheap shooting galleries – still tours the country shows with the fairground rides and fairy floss, but there are no freaks and oddities left for the showmen to spruik. There’s nothing much that’s strange anymore. Nobody would pay to see tattooed men with elongated earlobes standing in a tent when you can spot them every day walking down the street. As for bearded ladies – or bearded men in dresses – you only need to know which clubs to visit. But a space cowboy and a lizard man, that’s something special.
Space Cowboy learnt the freakshow trade from John Kamikaze, a human pincushion based in Scotland. Every night before he goes on stage, Kamikaze spends hours putting on his “costume” – 350 hatpins and hypodermic needles pushed through his skin. When Space Cowboy was a 17-year-old street performer, busking through Europe with his Norwegian friend Captain Frodo the Incredible Rubber Man, they found Kamikaze doing a show with Power Tool the Penile Phenomenon, whom Space Cowboy describes as “a dwarf with a very long, um, member, who lifted weights and dragged girls along the stage”.
Also in the troupe was a hermaphrodite, Pinky Pinky, who played the piano accordion, and Pinhead, a man with microcephaly, which had given him a small and unusually shaped head and who “played the clarinet quite badly”. Kamikaze already had a sword swallower, Miss Behave, but Space Cowboy and Captain Frodo joined his band and “ended up running away with the freakshow, basically”, says Space Cowboy.
Captain Frodo the Incredible Rubber Man is a dislocationist, born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an elastification of the joints that permits him to pop almost every joint out of its socket and squeeze his whole body through the head of a tennis racket. “He turns his deformity into his art,” says Space Cowboy. Space Cowboy and Captain Frodo loved the dark and warped Kamikazes, but wanted to take a different act to Australia, something fresher and more positive. So when they left John Kamikaze, they formed the Happy Sideshow, which kept the same extreme stunts and twisted stories, but presented them with a big, blissful Byron Bay smile.
They performed with Shep Huntley, the Man with the Iron Skin, and Tigerlil, the Princess of Powertools. Their four-person show lasted about eight years and travelled the world, including three seasons at the Sydney Opera House.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Space Cowboy was born Chayne Hultgren in Byron Bay in 1978. His father is a former gymnast who ran a large local business, Cape Byron Imports, and his mother is a painter. Two of his sisters are trapeze artists and run a circus school and a dance school on the same street as the warehouse where Space Cowboy keeps one of his other touring tents, his Mutant Barnyard. In the Mutant Barnyard is a two-headed cow, an albino kangaroo, Siamese twin chickens, a double-bodied duckling, several double-faced pigs, and rows of jars filled with eight-legged kittens, six-legged puppy dogs and the like. Space Cowboy often takes the Mutant Barnyard – or, at least, some of its deadstock – on tour with him.
At the age of eight, Space Cowboy learnt to ride his sister’s unicycle. He pedalled down to the markets at Byron and “people started throwing money at me”, he says, “and that put me on to keep doing it and learn new tricks”. He began as a juggler and graduated to sword-swallowing, and holds 10 Guinness World Records, including most swords swallowed simultaneously (18), most swords swallowed underwater (three) and the heaviest weight pulled by the eye-sockets (411.65 kilograms). He’s pretty and clever and polite, and the size of his smile somehow dwarfs his mohawk, modifications and tattoos, so Space Cowboy was always a popular street performer.
The Gold Coast City Council put him up in a unit in Surfers Paradise when he was 13 years old. “They gave a flat to all street performers who would agree to do one show a day on weekends,” he says. After the scheme was abolished, he lost the flat and says the council “made it really difficult to even get a permit. I auditioned for the Brisbane Mall to do a show, and they said they weren’t interested in my style of show, and the next year I went to the Dublin Street Performance World Championships and won the title.”
From Surfers Paradise, he travelled to Europe with Captain Frodo, then returned home to found the now defunct Happy Sideshow. He still returns to Europe every summer to perform, travelling with a bag of whips, swords, hooks, eye hooks and “ropes that aren’t used for normal rope things”. A Customs officer searching his luggage would have firm grounds to suspect he was a serial killer.
“I’ve actually swallowed a sword for Customs at Brisbane Airport,” he says. “They wanted to confiscate the swords but I said, ‘No, no, no, I swallow them.’ They went, ‘No way! Okay, show us.’ So I started wiping down the sword and they said, ‘No, wait here’, and went and got a bunch of other Customs people and they all came and watched me swallow the sword.”
In New York in 2011, he was arrested for putting on an impromptu sword-swallowing show outside the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum. The police charged him with disorderly conduct, locked him in a cell for 22 hours with “junkies, sexual offenders and four break-dancers” and warned him loudly, “Don’t tell these guys you swallow!”
Hultgren became an archivist of sideshow history, a collector of clippings and trappings and bizarre ephemera. He researched the acts that followed the agricultural shows in years gone by, figured out how they did their tricks, learnt to replicate them and taught others, “because he wants to see it happening again”, says Betty Brawn aka Charmaine Childs, the Strong Lady in Space Cowboy’s Sideshow Wonderland.
Central Queensland-born Betty Brawn used to be the base in a double-acrobatics act, lifting other people in the air, but she wanted to create a solo show. “I started to think about what I could do on my own,” she says, “and, er, all I could do was lift.”
Space Cowboy took her beyond that, passing on to her the traditional strongman stunts of book tearing and bar bending, although her finale, in which she lifts two adults males on a pole, is an original act, and she may be the only woman in the world to make money from snapping chopsticks in her cleavage.
Space Cowboy also helped develop the act of Goliath, the world’s strongest dwarf, aka Jeremy Hallam from Melbourne. “We’ve always got small people at our venue,” says Space Cowboy. “If they don’t have an act, we put them out the front or put them in the ticket box or something, because we like the look.” He found a photo of Goliath online. He was “this really buff small guy on a bar, pouring tequila down a girl’s throat”, he says. “It was actually a newspaper article about irresponsible service of alcohol.” The picture was a legacy of Goliath’s early career as a novelty-shots server in bar-room promotions. The licensing authorities put a stop to it, but Space Cowboy relaunched Goliath as a strongman. Goliath’s friends are all “six foot, or something like that, anyway” – and he’s been training for 15 years to keep up with them in the gym.
Goliath has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. His torso is normal sized but his arms and legs are short, so he stands only 127 centimetres tall. Stripped to the waist, he has a startlingly well-developed, ripped and shredded torso, with amazing triceps. “From when I was four, I was always lifting myself up on benches to reach things,” he says.
Goliath has just returned from Japan, where he has been appearing as Elmo’s friend in a Sesame Street show. He came home via the World Dwarf Games in Michigan, where he won three gold medals for Australia in the 100 metres, 200 metres and powerlifting. Space Cowboy sometimes incorporates Goliath into his own show, using him as his assistant in chainsaw juggling and sword swallowing. Goliath has held apples in his mouth for Space Cowboy to slice in two with his flying saw and is a big hit with the children at Woodford.
“They become like my best friends,” Goliath says. “They want to be friends with an adult who’s the size of me. [They] say, ‘Yeah, I guess it would be really good being small. You’d be good at hide and seek and you could hide from your parents and stuff.’ ”
We’re waiting back-tent in the camp at Woodford for Sideshow Wonderland to start. The Lizardman arrives a little late, drinking from a coconut through a straw. “When he’s not working, he just sits down on the couch and watches TV, a lazy lizard,” says Space Cowboy.
There’s something initially slightly unnerving about sitting next to a lizard man. It’s like meeting one of the aliens from the TV science- fiction show V. He’s been modifying himself for 20 of his 43 years. The tattooing alone took 700 hours, but it’s his bifurcated tongue that’s most compelling. He sticks it out, and moves both halves simultaneously, then in different directions, in and out, up and down and side to side.
“To me, the strangest reaction is no reaction,” he says. “The people that are weird to me are the ones that don’t react at all, because then I think, ‘Wow, what is your life like that a green guy can walk by and it’s no big deal?’ ”
The Lizardman is a human dartboard, a fire-eater, a sword-swallower and a human blockhead, but tonight his act is largely an extended stand-up routine about cunnilingus.
Space Cowboy emcees, and begins the show by swallowing a balloon, then swallowing a sword to burst it. When he drags weights along with his eye-sockets, it’s excruciating and impossible to watch. The crowd whoops and screams, because it shouldn’t be possible. At most stages in his act, Space Cowboy’s head should fall off.
The Lizardman invades the audience, brandishing a crossbow. He stands near the back of the crowd and shoots an arrow at Space Cowboy, which Space Cowboy catches in his hand. It really is a crossbow. It really is an arrow. It really is fired by the Lizardman and Space Cowboy really does catch it. There’s nothing up his sleeve because he isn’t wearing sleeves.
And that’s the thing: in the old days, most of the sideshows were cleverly spruiked con tricks. Bill Hauritz remembers queuing to see the Headless Boy when he was young. The painting on the outside of the tent showed a person sitting up in bed without a head, and tubes of oxygen and nutrients going into his neck. Inside the tent, the air was infused with the smell of ether, and the body rested in a coffin. “At the end of the queue,” says Hauritz, “when you looked into the coffin, all you saw was a kid with his head through a hole in this cheap chipboard.”