Over the years many people have assumed that working together the way the couple does might put considerably more strain on their relationship than the typical husband-and-wife team. Nothing could be further from the truth. The profound trust and understanding shared between the two gives them an almost preternatural ability to perform stunts others wouldn’t dare. A prime example of this is an act in which Pinkie holds an apple in her mouth while Hellgate carves his initials in to it with a fully functioning chainsaw. There are no modifications to the machinery; there is no trick. Nerves, steady hands and trust are all that stand between an impressive display and disaster.
Amazingly enough, most of the injuries they have sustained over the years haven’t been from the actual performances but from the mundane tasks associated with setting up the stunts. At an outdoor venue Pinkie was moving supplies from point A to point B in preparation for a little fire-breathing when she stepped into a gopher hole, snapping her ankle. The fire-breathing still went off flawlessly.
There is one notable exception to their otherwise impeccable safety record. Several years back, Hellgate was performing a variation of his glass-walking stunt in which he did a sort of “angry gorilla stomp,” leaping several feet in to the air before grinding his bare feet into the box of broken glass (his vague resemblance to a certain hairy, mythical inhabitant of the Pacific Northwest makes this a visually stunning feat). On this particular occasion, an errant two-inch-long piece of glass embedded itself deep in the big man’s heel, resulting in a great deal of blood and a wound that shoould have received stitches.
Ever a “glass is half full” kind of performer, Hellgate remarks on the occurrence: “I can’t say as I enjoyed it but it did prove once and for all that what we do is genuinely dangerous We aren’t faking anything—so I guess it was worth it.”
The popularity and success of the Subterranean Cirqus has opened a number of doors for the couple, including a warm and long-standing friendship with Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman (“Toxic Avenger,” anyone?) and a stint working with several veterans of the Jim Rose Sideshow. Hellgate recalls one of his favorite encounters as the time he and Pinkie met veteran horror actor John Dugan (Grandpa Sawyer from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) who having just witnessed their performance admitted, “You kids scare the hell out of me. That was terrifying.”
The macabre duo was once offered a shot at their own reality television series. In the end, it was an offer they decided to decline, refusing to give up creative control of their act. A principled move to be sure—but also a shrewd one. They are respected members of the sideshow community, earning the trust and advice of old-timers and veterans and the demand for their act has never been higher. Although they are frequently joined on stage by longtime friend and fellow performer Leroy “The Irish Strongman” Lewis, whose signature move is driving nails with his forehead, it is clear that Lazarus Hellgate and Pinkie, the Princess of Pain, don’t need any help achieving fame. They just need a liitle help burying the bodies.
To find out where Subterranean Cirqus is performing, visit them at facebook.com/subterraneancirqus