For One Man, The Sword Is Mightier Than The Pen Tony Gangi, aka The Amazing Human Head, is an aspiring sideshow performer from Massachusetts. He gave up a career in publishing to impale himself in a variety of ways, but couldn't have pursued the sideshow arts — including sword swallowing — without support from his loving and still squeamish wife, Suzanne.
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For One Man, The Sword Is Mightier Than The Pen

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For One Man, The Sword Is Mightier Than The Pen

For One Man, The Sword Is Mightier Than The Pen

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, something of a love story - about Suzanne Gangi and her husband, the "Amazing Human Head." The head's real name is Tony. Andrea Shea visited the Gangis, to find out why Tony gave up a successful career in publishing to impale himself in a sideshow act.

ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: From outside, the Gangis' home in Beverly, Massachusetts, looks pretty typical. Inside, too - minus the array of deathly devices laid out on their dining room table. They're the reason why the phrase "don't try this at home" exists. Seriously, don't try this at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOUSETRAP SNAPPING SHUT)

TONY GANGI: Ah.

SHEA: That's a mousetrap, snapping shut on Tony Gangi's tongue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIMAL TRAP SNAPPING SHUT)

T. GANGI: Ow.

SHEA: That's an animal trap, crunching his hand.

T. GANGI: The tough part is, always, getting it off.

SHEA: And then Gangi pulls out what looks like a tiny sword. Onstage, he invites some unsuspecting audience member to insert this 6-inch nail into his nose. In the biz, this act is known as "The Human Blockhead." To demonstrate, Gangi enlists his squeamish wife, Suzanne. He tips back his head, gingerly slips the implement in; then, she removes it.

SUZANNE GANGI: Noooo - aaw!

T. GANGI: And that is "The Human Blockhead."

(GROANING, LAUGHTER)

SHEA: Now, have you ever pulled that out of his nose before?

S. GANGI: No, I have never had the privilege of actually being the one to pull it out of his nose. I usually...

SHEA: After all these years?

S. GANGI: No, I usually avert my eyes, and look somewhere else.

SHEA: She's been doing that since 2006. That's when Tony said he wanted to give up a career in book publishing, to attend the Coney Island Sideshow School. He was dying to learn how to slip sharp objects safely into his nasal passages. But Tony had to convince his wife to let him leave a stable job, to do dangerous things to himself.

S. GANGI: There were a number of years where he was, you know, working in - career that really wore him down. And as a spouse, you can see it - because he wasn't able to do what he wanted. And you know, you don't want them to be that miserable.

SHEA: So Suzanne agreed to support Tony, and their son, while her sideshow husband fulfilled his dreams. She's even accepted Tony's growing desire to swallow real swords - but made him promise one thing, and it's a familiar mantra around the couple's home:

T. GANGI: Well, at least I'm not going to be eating glass...

S. GANGI: Yeah.

T. GANGI: ...and that seems to put her mind at ease.

S. GANGI: Yeah.

SHEA: That said, Suzanne often stays home when Tony performs in his own show. He calls it Lydia's Carnival Sideshow, inspired by the 1939 song "Lydia the Tattooed Lady."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LYDIA, THE TATTOOED LADY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Oh, Lydia, oh Lydia; say, have you met Lydia, Lydia the tattooed lady?

SHEA: There's an escape artist, a spoon-bender and Gangi's own, human blockhead routine - the kinds of acts audiences would have seen attached to traveling circuses during Victorian times. They've also performed in small venues, at conventions, and wherever Gangi can get a gig. He's also written a book about the sideshow arts. And while plenty of his peers strive to gross out their audiences, Gangi's needs are tamer.

T. GANGI: I enjoy a good gasp.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LYDIA, THE TATTOOED LADY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Come along and see Buffalo Bill with his lasso, just a little classic by Mendel, Picasso...

SHEA: For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea in Boston.

CORNISH: Tony Gangi will celebrate World Sword Swallowers' Day next Saturday with a group of his peers in Times Square in New York City. To see Andrea's pictures of Tony and Suzanne, visit npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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