There are fiendishly freaky things in this world and Ripley’s Believe It or Not has been there to document them for years. The Ripley's team continues the tradition with new book Download the Weird – think full-colour photos of the wonderfully weird, like the cat with two-heads or Erik ‘The Lizardman’ Sprague. Erik has modified his body to make him resemble a reptile with over 650 hours worth of tattooing, a bifurcated tongue, four of his teeth filed into fangs and five Teflon horns implanted above his eyes to form horned ridges. As he prepares to come to Australia this November, we thought we'd get a little freaky with the lizardman and ask why, oh why, he went down this scaly path.
Erik, what made you want to make manipulations to your body to become the 'Lizardman’?
It began as a conceptual performance art idea inspired by some ideas from linguistic philosophy. Eventually, it went from simply being a concept to something I felt I really want to do as an artist and so, after three years of consideration and planning, I began to get tattooed and began looking into surgical procedures like my split tongue and implants.
And why the Lizardman? Why not scorpionman? Snakeman...
For the design, personal aesthetic choice – I just picked something I thought was cool. As for the name, I used a lot of different stage names and such before Lizardman (such as Snakeboy) but when I used Lizardman on TV as part of Ripley's Believe It or Not itwas seen by tens of millions of people. You don't fight that kind press.
How did family and friends initially react to your decision? Have they gotten used to it?
For my friends and family, who have watched me grow and develop as a person and an artist, this wasn't shocking the way it might be for someone just suddenly meeting me or finding out about me. I'm not saying there wasn't any shock involved, but there was a great deal of understanding. My mother once said that while she never expected her baby would grow up to be Lizardman, that by the time I made the decision it would have been stranger if I didn't than that I did.
I often compare it to the works of Picasso – if you were simply shown his early student works and then suddenly his later cubist pieces you might have a hard time figuring out how they came about. But if you look at the timeline and see the works from the time in between the cubist pieces make a lot of sense and you can see how he got there. It’s the same with my family and friends looking at my life and body modification.
What was the most painful procedure you have underwent?
My forehead implants, without a doubt. That six-hour procedure is the only time I have both vomited and hallucinated from pain.
The Ripley's book and your show stem from a long tradition in carnival and freakery in the US – were you always interested in this form of entertainment? Did you ever see "freaks" growing up?
Ripley's was a big influence on me and even a source of valuable information when I first began researching to teach myself sideshow acts. I've always loved the weird and the bizarre. Unfortunately, I grew up a bit too late and isolated to see live freak shows as a kid but I did get to see lots of variety performers including circus and sideshow acts on TV shows like Ripley's and That's Incredible.
It's not really a form of entertainment that's ever taken off in Australia – is it a uniquely American thing?
Having just performed at the Adelaide Fringe earlier this year along with Australia's own Space Cowboy I would have to disagree with you a bit on that. While the venues tend to be more along the lines of cabaret, the performers, including myself, were doing sideshow and circus acts to great response. There is a very American tradition for a certain sort of circus and sideshow (sideshow is recognised as an American Folk Art) but the acts that have done well are universal and can be found everywhere, just done in a slightly different fashion or venue.
Can you ever just walk into a bar and go unnoticed?
Only if something more bizarre walks in ahead of me and that's still no guarantee.
Do you have any words of wisdom for any young wannabe Lizards, or any other animals for that matter?
Don't rush. This isn't for everyone and there is no harm in making sure it is the right thing for you because if it is it really won't matter when you do it, just that you do it. But be very clear that doing something like this is never an answer to a problem or a situation you may have, your life won't get easier it will get more complicated but, and only if this is right for you, it will get more complicated in ways you'll probably enjoy. Think of it like having a child in that regard.
Download the Weird is out now.