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'In the early '90s I had a tongue piercing, before most people knew what they were," says "extreme artist" Scott Nelson. "I would go to bars, take a nail, and nail my tongue to a piece of bar or wood and win money on bets. Nobody knew I already had a hole in my tongue." Nelson, whose stage name is Murrugun, performs sideshow acts, including fire breathing and sword swallowing. On Friday, May 19, he will perform with Technomania Circus at the Center for Amusing Arts in Barrio Logan. The swords Nelson swallows range from 24 to 32 inches, "but it only goes in maybe 22 to 27 inches, depending on what I've eaten," explains Nelson. He usually drinks water prior to inserting the sword. "Mainly, it's a lot of relaxation. Immediately your esophagus wants to clutch [the sword] and push it down, so it is important to relax." Less than two months ago one of Nelson's friends was seriously injured while attempting to swallow a sword in Las Vegas. "The sword wouldn't go down so she tried to push it, and it still wouldn't go down, so she tried to push it again. Then she started talking like she was on helium and went to the hospital. It turned out she had perforated her esophagus in two spots." She had to have major surgery and had an embolism in both of the punctured areas.

Nelson considers himself a mystic because his performances consist mostly of fakir tricks from India that are thousands of years old. One trick is called the "Internal Yogi Flossing." For this Nelson swallows a piece of string and then uses "a pair of hemostats and a scalpel to dig for the string and pull it out" through the front of his body. He says he is able to keep himself from bleeding using self-hypnosis, which involves "meditation and relaxation."

How does one become a sideshow mystic? "I figured out I could do other bizarre things first," Nelson replies. "In 1996, my girlfriend bet me twenty dollars I couldn't take a condom and sniff it through my nose and then [pull it] out my mouth." After winning the bet, Nelson began trying other strange tricks and was soon hired by the late Buddy Blue from the Beat Farmers to perform during their shows.

"I can still taste food, kind of," says Nelson, whose mouth has been filled with dry ice and set on fire. "I'll take red-hot rods that had been on fire and lick 'em with my tongue. After doing it two days in a row last week, there's just a spot that gets dry, like having chapped lips." As part of his performance, Nelson lies on a bed of nails and has four members from the audience stand on top of him. Later in the show, he lies on a rack of "razor-sharp" swords, after which an assistant places a block of concrete atop his chest and breaks it with a sledgehammer.

Bruce Cartier, a.k.a. Dr. Techno, founded the Technomania Circus, a "Blacklight Cabaret and Variety Show," 8 years ago. "I've worked as a registered nurse for 25 years," says Cartier. "I make $50,000 a year and put half of it into the circus." Though Cartier is the circus's owner, he has relied on financial and creative help from partners, including Cela Nash (also a nurse and performer) and Mike Horton, a.k.a. Dr. Hihor. According to the circus's website, Horton is a "fire artist, including flamethrower design, fire instruments, flaming fishing poles, [and] fire hats."

Most of the two-and-a-half-hour show involves the use of black lights. In addition to a "negative strip tease," there will be three black-light vignettes performed by different groups of "black-light artists." Cartier explains the negative strip tease as "a black-light illusion act" in which a man disappears as he removes his clothes. "The point is, when a man strips, nobody wants to see really what's underneath there, they just want to see the man go away," he adds. A black-light dream sequence involves a floating hat, fluorescent palm fronds, dancing "animals," and a tightwire act.

"If you've got something weird and entertaining, we should be able to put you in somewhere," says Cartier. One recent addition to the circus is Kundalini, a "master shape shifter" who transforms from the Egyptian god Anubis (with a jackal's head) into a shaman. "He does all these different costume changes; that's just his thing. He likes to change into different outfits, [and I said] we can find a place in the circus for him."

On some Sunday afternoons the circus hosts a children-friendly show, minus Murrugun's "adults-only" act. "Usually [when I perform] it's 16 and older, because there are kind of disturbing things that I do," says Nelson. -- Barbarella

Technomania Circus

Friday and Saturday through May 27

8 p.m.

Children's Show May 28 at 2 p.m.

Center for Amusing Arts

2438 Commercial Street

Barrio Logan

Cost: $15, $10 children

Info: 619-231-1950 or www.technomaniacircus.com

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