Travis Fessler, and his adventures with Jerry Springer

“Weird shit happens to me.” This is kind of a mantra I’ve had for a while. If told piecemeal, my life sounds like something a mental patient would make up. So I thought I’d try to write a fairly complete synopsis of the time Erik and I were on “Jerry Springer Uncensored: Cat Fightin’ Cuties”. This show was a pay-per-view with a Roman theme.  I’m not sure how “Cat Fightin’ Cuties” fits with a Roman theme.


I will warn you, this is long, as it goes over things that happened on and off the show over the 3 days between the producers first contacting me, to the plane ride home. There’s also some descriptions of some NSFW “adult” activities. But if you keep reading, there are pictures towards the end.
In early 2008, I got an e-mail from a producer at the Jerry Springer Show. They were looking for a sword swallower to come on and swallow a sword in a toga during one of their themed pay per views. Honestly, I think they were looking for a woman who was willing to go topless, but most of my female sword swallowing friends had turned them down. Being a guy, and an out of shape one at that, there was less chance I’d be asked to do nudity.
We e-mailed back and forth a few times, and eventually they wanted both my brother Erik and I to come on the show. Erik had recently turned 18, and that’s all the qualification they needed. We both scanned our IDs and e-mailed them to the producer. We worked out a price, and because of the high cost of flying out of the Cincinnati airport, I agreed to fly out of Lexington if they paid a little extra for gas and parking.
I drove to Lexington, and when I got to the gate, couldn’t find my ID. I remembered scanning my license for them, and realized it must still be on the scanner. I didn’t have time to return home before the flight, so I talked to the ticket agent to see what I could do. In 2008, you could still sign a statement swearing you were who you said you were, and fly. So that was taken care of. I was subject to extra security screening, which is still not as much as you have to go through today with an ID. I’m also told that you absolutely can’t fly without an ID today.
We got to Chicago without much further incident, and the show sent a car to take us to the hotel, then to the studio. This was the same studio that was used for Oprah, the Steve Wilkos Show, and some court show that I can’t remember. Judge Mathis maybe?  They had us fill out some paperwork, and wanted to make copies of our IDs. I pointed out that I didn’t have my ID, and it shouldn’t matter anyway because I had sent them a scan of it. The producer said she needed some form of ID. I still had my photo ID from the Highland Renaissance Festival in Eminence, KY from the year before, and said, “I have this, it’s kind of a work ID.”  That seemed to be enough for them, even though it was just my picture, and my name on a plastic card that was made in a trailer.
We talked a little about what our role on the show was to be. They were going to put us in togas, and in the middle of the show, Jerry was going to announce that we were “Sword Swallowing Gladiators,” and we were going to come out and swallow swords. Since that takes all of 10 seconds, we also were going to do an interview talking about the show, then Erik was going to juggle knives while swallowing a sword, and I was going to let one of Jerry’s “Roman Goddesses” (stripper) pull the sword out of my throat, then hit a flower the “goddess” was holding with a whip, while swallowing a sword.
On the ride to the studio from the hotel the next day, one of the “Roman Goddesses” and her mother shared the car with us. I thought it was a little strange that a stripper had brought her mother to a gig. They were both nice enough, though, and it was a pretty pleasant ride over.
When we got there, we were shown to a “dressing room”. We shared it with a couple folks that did a puppet show, and owned a club in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. They were part of the pay-per-view that was filming before ours. Another production assistant brought in a pizza and some sodas. I said we had just eaten, but he left them anyway.
After a little while, we were taken to another room because there was more paperwork to fill out. We sat in another dressing room with one of the show’s lawyers, and several of the strippers who would be a part of the pay-per-view. It was to go over waivers we would sign saying that we wouldn’t sue the show, we only got a one-time payment, etc. They also had extra waivers for Erik and I saying that the show wasn’t responsible if we injured ourselves. The strippers were pretty interested in why we had to sign this, so I told them what we were there for. One asked, “How do you swallow swords?”
Being the smart-ass I am, I said, “Very carefully, or I could hurt myself!”
This wasn’t what she was looking for. She got angry, and made a remark that it wasn’t what she was asking. I said that there was no easy explanation, but that didn’t calm her down. The lawyer, however, thought it was hilarious.
We went back to the dressing room. The other performers had left, so it was just Erik and I. Our segment producer came in and fitted us for our togas. They were just sheets of fabric. They also got us all-white underwear to wear with them. To this day, I like to tell people that Jerry Springer bought me special underwear.
Our producer fits me for my “Toga” (not shown, my “special underwear”)
After she left, we had about another 45 minutes to wait. About every ten minutes, a production assistant stopped by with more pizza and soda, so the stack was getting pretty high. Finally, our producer came to take us backstage and do the interview portion of our appearance. We got to see the beginning of the show. The dancers were split into “Roman Goddesses” and “Roman Bathhouse Girls”. They all came out in togas, which were removed right away.
We went over an outline of what we would say. We agreed to certain talking points, but were given pretty much free reign. I got to mention the name of the show, which was great, because a lot of TV shows don’t want me to say that I’m a circus performer. They would rather the audience think that I’m just some computer guy from Kentucky that happens to swallow swords and crack whips.
We did the interview in two takes. The whole time, there was a totally nude dancer behind us with one of Erik’s juggling knives. We were supposed to pretend we didn’t know she was there. This resulted in some hilarity in the final product since Erik is concentrating really hard on not turning around and looking at her.
While waiting backstage, we got to watch the rest of the show, and see the producers prep the other guests. There were three segments with guests that were love triangles. Two of them were two women and a man, and one was 3 women. The on-stage fights were fake for the most part. There was some nugget of truth to the stories of the stories of, “I’m sleeping with this woman on the side,” but most of them were laughing together backstage. During the fights, one of the women in the lesbian love triangle apparently was really hit, and was very angry about it.  Also, one man had an undershirt on, and the producers made him take it off, so if his shirt got ripped off on stage, he’d be bare-chested.
It was finally time for us to go on. Jerry introduced us, said we had “incredible talent,” and we did our thing. I kind of stammered over a line about how the whip would be a creative way for Jerry to punish his dancing girls, but it still came out alright.
Our triumphant entrance (not shown: about 20 naked strippers)
We went backstage, and sat with some EMTs the show had standing by and watched the rest of the taping.  The most memorable thing was right after we left the stage, the stripper who rode over with us in the cab started making out with the pole dancer that pulled the sword out of my throat, and held the flower for me. They got so into it, that they started having oral sex with each other. That did not make the final cut of the “uncensored” pay-per-view. We were going to get to meet Jerry, because I had grown up watching him anchor the local news, but he went right into another pay-per-view taping, and we had to get to the airport to catch our flight home. Erik had already missed one day of school, and couldn’t miss another. We were paid in traveler’s checks. I had no problem with this, they spend just like real money, but I found it incredibly odd that they would pay us that way.  I guess no one wants to take a check from Jerry Springer.
We went back to the dressing room, and packed up our belongings, I grabbed a soda to drink on the way to the airport, and we headed down to catch our cab.
Once at the airport, I had to explain once again about the missing ID. They had me sign the forms, and consent to “extra screening”.  I went through security, and put my backpack with my laptop on the x-ray belt. Once I got through, there was a TSA officer holding it up and asking, “Sir, is this your bag?” I told him it was, and he reached in and pulled out the soda I had forgotten that I put in there. “What is this?” He asked.
“I forgot that was in there, it’s just a soda,” I said.
“You can’t bring this through here,” he informed me.
“It’s no big deal, just throw it away, I just forgot it was there,” I responded.
“I can’t do that, sir. I’ve called my supervisor. Can you step out of line?”
Not wanting to cause any waves since I was already flying without my ID, I stepped aside. A supervisor arrived, and questioned me about the soda. I told him it was just a Diet Pepsi. Yes, I knew I couldn’t take it through. It could be thrown away, or he could drink it. I had no attachment to it. He rubbed some sort of powder on it to show that it wasn’t an explosive, and threw it into a bag that he then tied off and took away. Another TSA screener came to give me a pat-down, and wand scan. I found it incredibly amusing that flying without an ID was less of a security risk than trying to smuggle in 12 ounces of diet soda. They eventually decided I wasn’t a terrorist, and let me go to my gate.
I want to say how great Susan was for all of this. Not a lot of wives would be perfectly fine with their husbands heading out to Chicago to be on TV with a couple dozen nude women. It just goes to show what 11 years (at the time) of a trusting marriage can do.
Flourish 3


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