The Human Cannonball Family Act David "Cannonball" Smith, Sr., and David "The Bullet" Smith, Jr., talk with Madeleine Brand about their careers as human cannonballs. Both men earn a living -- and tour the world -- by getting shot out of 35-foot-long cannon 150 feet through the air.

The Human Cannonball Family Act

The Human Cannonball Family Act

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David "Cannonball" Smith, Sr., and David "The Bullet" Smith, Jr., talk with Madeleine Brand about their careers as human cannonballs. Both men earn a living — and tour the world — by getting shot out of 35-foot-long cannon 150 feet through the air.


Here's a unique father and son business. David Smith, Sr. and David Smith, Jr. are both human cannonballs. Smith, Sr. is known as Cannonball, his son as The Bullet, and they're pretty busy these days, as it's county fair season. But they've taken some time to join me now from Franklin, Tennessee, that's south of Nashville, where they're working at the Williamson County Fair. And right now I'm speaking to David Smith, Jr. Hi, David.

Mr. DAVID SMITH, JR. (Human Cannonball): Hi, how are you?

BRAND: Fine, thank you. Well how are you?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: Oh, I'm doing pretty good. I've had a little rougher week than usual.

BRAND: What happened?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: I hurt my back as I was being blasted out the cannon last Saturday, which is cause for a family reunion around here, you know?

BRAND: Right, because your dad came in to fill in for you, I understand.

Mr. SMITH, JR.: Yeah, that's right, give me a little break and hopefully let my back heal, as we have got very little time between any of our engagements nowadays.

BRAND: How many engagements do you have?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: I don't know, a couple of hundred cannon shots to do between now and November.

BRAND: Okay, so describe what it's like. What's it like to be in a cannon?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: The cannon that I have is about 35 feet long. You know, it shoots us over the top of rides, you know. My father set a Guinness world record a couple years ago of 201 feet over the top of two Ferris wheels in one shot.

BRAND: Over Ferris wheels?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: Yeah, two of them.

BRAND: And where do you land?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: In netting that we erect and is made to catch us, you know.

BRAND: How did you get in to this?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: My dad hurt his back about 10 years ago, and there was a message from him, said, Son, I'm in Madison, Wisconsin. I need you here on Wednesday, which was two days away. You're going to be in the show, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: So just describe the whole process of what you do. You climb into the cannon, and then what happens?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: You kind of get to take one last look, then you climb down inside and prepare yourself for a blast that sends you from zero to about 50 miles an hour in one-fifth of a second. You've got four seconds between when that cannon fires and when you're going to land, and a lot has to happen in that four seconds, you know.

BRAND: So what happens?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: You've got to recognize the way that you came out the cannon and correct your flight a little bit and do a somersault before you come crashing into the net. The whole thing's pretty wild and thrilling, especially for the cannonball, I think.

BRAND: Do you love it?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: I do love it.

BRAND: Well, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. SMITH, JR.: Oh, thank you.

BRAND: And can we talk to your dad?

Mr. SMITH, JR.: Oh yeah. He's right here waiting.

BRAND: Okay, thanks.

Mr. DAVID SMITH, SR. (Human Cannonball): Hi, how are you?

BRAND: Hi, I'm fine. How are you?

Mr. SMITH, SR.: Real good.

BRAND: You are David Cannonball Smith.

Mr. SMITH, SR.: Uh-huh.

BRAND: How did you become a human cannonball?

Mr. SMITH, SR.: I was a schoolteacher, and I got a chance to go in and catch on the flying trapeze, and about five years into that, I built my first cannon.

BRAND: So you thought, I want to be a human cannonball, no more teaching?

Mr. SMITH, SR.: Yeah. I wanted to get back into something where I could maintain myself physically.

BRAND: But why a cannonball? It's a unique...

Mr. SMITH, SR.: I was a catcher on the flying trapeze, you know what I mean? You hang by my knees, and I catch people. And if you caught them by their earlobe and saved the day, he did a good job, the flyer. But if he was 20 feet away and there's no way to catch him at all, he made that mistake, you're a bum. There wasn't any individualism there.

BRAND: Do you feel like you're flying when you're doing this?

Mr. SMITH, SR.: Yeah. Once you're out of the gun, you're just in the air for a while. Imagination works, you know. You're a bird, you know, you kind of just enjoy it.

BRAND: What does your wife think?

Mr. SMITH, SR.: She doesn't mind me doing it.

BRAND: She's not scared?

Mr. SMITH, SR.: No, no. She was a cannonball herself for a while.

BRAND: Oh. It is a family thing.

Mr. SMITH, SR.: Uh-huh.

BRAND: And how many other cannonballs are there?

Mr. SMITH, SR.: There's quite a few out there. I don't know all of them. We have one cannon in Australia and one in either France or England. David just got back from Amman not long ago. He got his gun back and everything. I don't know how he did that, but he did it.

BRAND: Wow. You don't want to be mistaken for, you know, the real thing when you're over there, right.

Mr. SMITH, SR.: Yeah. It seemed kind of crazy to me, but that's kids.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: All right, well, thank you very much.

Mr. SMITH, SR.: All right.

BRAND: That's David Cannonball Smith, and we spoke earlier with his son, David The Bullet Smith, both human cannonballs from Missouri.

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