Okay, first, let’s get a few things straight. I am afraid of heights. I have never been on a roller coaster. I don’t climb ladders- and the one time I did, the ladder shook so much from my shakes, that the guy holding it told me to: “Get down off of there before you fall.” In the Army we had to do the “Slide for Life”, which (for Civilians) is now called a “Zip Line”. Zip lines come with harnesses, helmets, and safety nets…we just had a wooden wall covered with old tires. If you didn’t let go of the “crank” you were holding onto with both hands when you got over the lake, well, you bumped into that wall, then fell into the water. I screamed the whole way down. They told me later that I had let go the moment I saw the lake. And they thought I was a goner!
I lucked out though, because I did hit the lake, but only in about four feet of water. Had I let go a second earlier, well, I wouldn’t be here to tell this story. I would be laying among the boulders at the edge of the lake.
When I went up to the top of the Empire State Building, I stood by the wall and watched everyone else peer over the edge. Over in Europe, in Amsterdam, they have this rotating room at the top of a pinnacle. You pay a fee, and go sit in it. It rises up about fifty feet from the top of a 150 foot skyscraper. You sit on seats and look out the plexiglass window. I went because my wife and friends told me I could just stare straight ahead and see the marvelous view. What my wife, and none of my friends, knew- is that when it started to revolve, the floor dropped away. It turns out even the floor was plexiglass, and you could see straight down. I got so scared everyone was either laughing at me, or comforting me. I stared straight ahead trying not to panic. Once we were down on the ground, I took a few hours of good natured ribbing.
I tell you all this because it will show how insane I must have been to accept the challenge I got in Orlando.
I was doing a show in Orlando down on International Drive. I was a Comedian, and had a good show that night. It was one of those magical nights when the Audience and the Comedian are on the same page. The Opening Act, did a killer ten minute show, the Middle Act got an Encore…so I stepped into a pool of positive energy when I hit stage. It was the kind of show that keeps you in the business - and helps you forget how many times you bombed on stage. I died so many times you could have changed my name to Lazarus. But not that night. That night it felt like an audience of close friends or old high school buddies with a lot in common. So I got comfortable. Too comfortable.
A heckler, but a good natured one, with perfect timing and respect- those are rare indeed by the way- asked me if I had ever bungee jumped? Turns out, he had bungeed from a myriad of places around the world, bridges, cranes, cliffs…and he said they had a 300 foot crane just a few blocks from the Club, why don’t I go bungee jump for everyone?
Well, I went on a tangent (which I was known for) about being afraid of heights and my overwhelming fear. I had them rolling at my description of the slide for life in the Army. People were wiping tears from their eyes, or spitting out beer by the end of that bit. Well the heckler guy said:
“What would it take to get you to bungee jump?”
“Every one in this room would have to bring their ticket to the Bungee Place, tomorrow morning at 9 AM (when the Crane started its operation) - if all 143 of you show up, I will jump. But it has to be all of you. If a single audience member skips out, I won’t go. Well, the Audience said: “We have a deal.”
The show ended, I talked with a few new fans, then the other two comics went to Perkins Pancake House with me and we got breakfast. Breakfast at midnight is not unusual for any club performer. We chatted like Road Comics often do, but then they both surprised me with their next comment:
“Kevin, you should go get some rest. We are going to call it a night. We have to watch you bungee in a few hours.“
I laughed. No way would they show up. Not at 9 AM. Heck most Road Comics might just be coming back to the Hotel at that hour. LOL
Well, they did.
I got a call from the Front Desk Manager.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Well, you have a driver waiting for you down here in the Lobby. The Bungee Company sent him over. Apparently there are more than a hundred people lined up over there to see you jump.”
“You’re kidding? (I thought it was the other two comics playing a prank on me.)”
“No, Sir. Here, I will put him on the line.”
The guy from the Bungee place told me that people started showing up at 8 AM. By 8 thirty, there were more than 150 folks standing outside the fence. Most of them had tickets to a Comedy Show from the night before. They told my Manager that I had said from stage: “If you all show up tomorrow at the Bungee Crane, I will jump.” Well, they are all over there waiting for you.
I couldn’t believe it. I hurried and got dressed. Got in his car with my heart pounding and a feeling of dread pressing down on me. They can’t all be there- can they?
Yes, they could.
I got out of the car to thunderous applause. Not only did the entire Audience show up - waving their tickets in the air like little towels, but the other two comics were there grinning from ear to ear. The Manager of the club was there too, along with both cooks, six waitresses, and the Door Lady. Some had brought their boyfriends or girlfriends who weren’t at the show along to watch. In total, there were close to 200 people there to cheer me on. I couldn’t back down. The Manager of the Bungee Jump - waved the price of jumping AND threw in a free T-shirt. As he said: “This is a heck of a good publicity shot for me. If you jump, I am sure some of these spectators will give it a shot too.“
There was only one other guy in line waiting to jump, and he was eating a Cheese burger. I almost threw up right then. He just smiled at me saying:
“Ever jump before?”
“Me either. Should be fun.”
With that, he went back to eating his cheese burger. I went back to thinking about me and my big mouth.
They move you into a tent where you sign papers saying that if you splat into the ground, you did it of your own free will. Then they weigh you. I asked them why?
“So we can use the correct thickness of bungee. Too light and you will hang a hundred feet above the air pillow landing site. Too heavy, and you go right through it and hit the cement.“
Was all I could manage.
They hook the bungee up to the crane, and the other end to your legs. You have to shuffle your feet like you have shackles on, because you are dragging a couple hundred pounds of bungee cord along with you. When I came out of the tent to shuffle into the little cage suspended from the crane, the crowd cheered like I was on the last lap of an Olympic race. Believe me, I was sweating like I was doing just that. My pulse was so rapid a humming bird would have been impressed. The guy handed me a towel to wipe the sweat from my face. Into the small cage we went.
I could hear the cheers and claps as we went up…and up…and up…then it got silent. A wind was rocking us a bit. The Guide told me not to worry, that the wind would have to be at least six knots stronger to cause them to shut down the ride. He told me to pretend I was rocking in my mother’s arms. I told him that my Mother never rocked me three hundred feet in the air. He laughed. I cried.
You don’t really think of how flat Florida is. Not really. Not until you are suspended from a tiny basket three hundred feet in the air- gently swaying in the breeze as you look down over Orlando. At that time, very few buildings in Orlando topped 20 stories..more than a 100 feet BELOW me. Sea gulls were swooping under the cage. I held on with a grip that Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t have broken. The guide let down a little two by two foot grate, that was your launching platform. He had to step to the side, open the gate to the platform, and let me shuffle past him to step on that iron tongue sticking out from the cage. I did.
“Okay, I am going to count backwards from three. Three, two, one. When I hit one, just fall forward- gravity will do the rest. You only have to be brave for half a second, after that, well, there isn’t anything you can do.“
I had asked on the way up if people ever change their minds and go back down.
“Oh sure. But not often. The peer pressure of a girlfriend, boyfriend, or family member is usually enough to get them to jump.“
I had the pressure of an entire Audience, and the Staff of the Comedy Club, and two Road Comics to boot. If I chickened out now, well those two would have a “Kevin was so scared bit” ready by the show that night.
I shuffled forward. Vowing never ever ever ever to challenge an Audience again. I thought a good thought about my wife, who would kill me if I died bungee jumping. I was glad my kids knew I loved them. If there had been cell phones back then, I would have sent my last text. LOL
I didn’t fall. My knees simply buckled from fear, and I tumbled off the iron tongue. Even I was surprised that an out of shape thirty year old man could scream that loud, for that long. Down on the ground, the spectators went nuts. The Manager didn’t like the sound of my scream, and had the EMT’s ready to go, and the Crane Operator notified to lower me down as soon as it was safe to do so. You can’t lower the jumper until the bungee becomes static. So I managed to scare folks who weren’t afraid to jump. LOL
It isn’t the first “fall” that scares you, it is at the peak of the first recoil. Because when you get to that peak you can actually see the bungee cord below your feet, you are weightless, so - for just a second- you think the cord has broken or separated from your body. I screamed again. The Crew of the Bungee ride thought I was having a heart attack, or my hip had come out, or I had thrown my back out. They had no idea that a guy could scream like that just from cowardice. They know now.
Finally they lowered me to the air mattress (just like the giant ones that stunt actors use) with great care and gentleness. They unharnessed me. To their surprise (and mine, to be honest) I hopped right up, still on the air bag, and began jumping up and down with repressed adrenaline and joy to be alive.
“I did it! I did it! I did it.”
The applause was deafening. I put the T-shirt on right then and there. Took the certificate they give you too. Then I challenged the folks who saw me jump - and who were at a my show the night before- to jump too. The Manager comped the two other Comics, so they jumped first. Then about forty or fifty members of the Audience gave it a shot. The Manager of the Bungee jump place said it was his best day of the season so far. And I could jump for free any time I was in town.
I never jumped again.
Kathy, my wife, was not pleased when she saw the video…especially when she heard the doppler affect of my scream, and watched two giant seagulls glide by just under me.
I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. I still have my fear of heights, but I know I can do it if I have to.
That is one lesson I learned.
The other is: Never challenge a Comedy Audience, they might just take you up on it.