All Ryan Murphy had to say was "freak show," and "American Horror Story" fans immediately started imagining the crazy performances they might get to see in the upcoming season. The FX show's co-creator revealed on Twitter that the next miniseries installment would be named “Freak Show,” setting off rampant speculation.
Series regular Angela Bassett had previously teased E! News that she could be playing anything from a Siamese twin to a bearded lady. And co-star Sarah Paulson revealed to Vulture that she has been working on a “very special skill” for “Freak Show.”
Other details on the highly anticipated fourth season are scarce. Besides Paulson and Bassett, regulars Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters and Frances Conroy are confirmed to return, with newcomer Michael Chiklis announced at PaleyFest. Veteran actress Lange is on board to play a German expatriate “managing one of the last freak shows in the U.S.,” while Bates and Evans will play mother-son performers with Chiklis as Bates’ on-screen ex-husband.
But back to the performances. Based on the history of freak shows and sideshows, fans have been wondering if they'll see daring things like fire eating and sword swallowing. Sure, some traditional freak-show skills could be learned, but one “self-made freak,” professional sword swallower Dan Meyer, makes it clear that “American Horror Story” would have to enlist the help of professionals to pull off certain stunts.
Meyer got interested in sword swallowing in 1997 after meeting a pro in the field. “He gave me two tips,” Meyer explained to International Business Times. “One: It’s extremely dangerous … and tip two: Don’t try it.”
The warning didn’t deter Meyer, and four years later he succeeded in getting his first sword down. It took another two years for him to develop a system and an additional five years before he really mastered it, working his way up to performing the act with no hands and multiple swords. (He got up to 21 last year.)
“It took me four years, practicing 10 to 12 times a day, every day,” Meyer said, adding doubt that any “American Horror Story” actor could train enough to do it this season. “[I had] a total of almost 13,000 unsuccessful attempts before I got my first sword down. So I doubt if they’ll be able to get an actor to pull it off very quickly.”
Now Meyer performs all over the world for all different types of audiences – including acts at Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford -- and he has been featured in documentaries and television episodes on the Food Network, CNN, ESPN, MTV and Discovery. “I kind of enjoy doing it for the thinking man,” Meyer said of his special skill.
Meyer has never watched the award-winning FX series, but he is familiar with the history of freak shows and the field.
“There are two different terms that we use in sideshow,” Meyers told IBTimes, counting himself part of that world, though he really works outside of it. “One of them is a natural freak or born freak. And one is a self-made freak.”
According to Meyer, an example of born freaks are those born with claw hands, or unusually shaped people. The self-made freaks are the people who are tattooed, sword swallowers, fire eaters, glass eaters, those who lie on a bed of nails.
“So actually those of us that do it, we’re proud to be called freaks,” he explained of the industry. “Proud to do something outside the norm, outside the ordinary.”
Dan Meyer isn’t attached to “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” but if the FX miniseries wants to incorporate sword swallowing, he’d love to jump on board.
Season 4 of “American Horror Story” premieres on FX in October.