Q&A with Jonathan Goodwin

BBCAMERICA.com spoke recently with daredevil Jonathan Goodwin to try and get to bottom of his desire to reenact such dangerous Vaudevillian stunts.
BBCA: How does your mother feel about your extremely dangerous line of work?

JG: (Laughs) Both my parents I think are pretty proud of me. My dad gets what I do a lot more than my mum does, and my dad had a pretty wild childhood where he grew up and he used to do some pretty crazy things when he was a kid. My mum never understood that at all, in him or in me. And while she’s proud of me, she doesn’t really like to watch the show. We invited her along to come and see the season finale stunt (The London Eye) and she politely declined.

BBCA: You said your dad had kind of a wild childhood. Was he involved with your own work at any point?

JG: He was [involved] in the very early days actually. When I was first getting into this kind of stuff, dad was around, and willing, and cheap. My dad used to be a cop, and a fireman as well, so he’s got a pretty good eye for safety, and was a good guy to have around. But when I did the first version of ‘Buried Alive,’ I did it under six tons of concrete, and that was too much for him. I think everybody has a different thing that pushes their buttons, and that one for my dad was a bit too scary. So he politely said he would back out after that. But he’s still there, rooting from the sidelines.

The Incredible Mr Goodwin: Episode 3
BBCA: So how old were you when you first became aware of things like escapology and stunt work. What was your first stunt?

JG: It was quite a long time before I decided to add any kind of jeopardy to escapes. I read a book on Harry Houdini when I was seven, and fell in love with the character, but what was interesting to me was that Houdini was real. So I decided I wanted to try and emulate him. I would try to hold my breath in the bath and try taking locks apart and stuff, but it was a long time between that and actually deciding that it was something I could do. The first thing I did, in my bedroom as a kid, was put a hot iron on a bed sheet that was suspended above me, and I had to escape before it burnt through on my shirtless chest. It was a bit low tech in those days.

The Incredible Mr Goodwin: Episode 3
BBCA: And how old were you?

JG: I don’t know, I was probably about 17 or 18 when I did that. And I still have the scar actually.

BBCA: Ah, so you were off to a rough start!

JG: I got 3 quarters of the way out, but three quarters is not good enough.

BBCA: So with that said, do you believe there’s such a thing as a ‘danger gene’?

JG:I think there is. I was saying earlier about my dad that he was crazy growing up. My uncles and my father used to play First World War, which consisted of digging two trenches on either side of a field and [shooting] at each other with live-round shotguns – aiming to miss – but even so, yeah, my dad was certainly crazy and my dad has that gene, and I guess maybe I do too.

BBCA: Do you have any desire for your daughter to follow in your footsteps in any way?

JG: I’d be a real hypocrite if I said no. She loves climbing, she’s very into being physical. Obviously I would be a concerned dad. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel like that. But at the same time, if it’s what she really wanted to do, then I’d absolutely help her. You know the good thing is I would be in a good position to make sure she was trained properly and safe.

BBCA: Have you ever felt that you were in actual danger of dying in one of your stunts?

JG: I’ve panicked a couple of times. More early on than recently, because I guess in the early days I didn’t quite appreciate the amount of training and preparation that’s necessary. I remember I was once vacuum sealed inside a bag, a really big one, you know the kind you get from Bed, Bath and Beyond? And the first time I did that was truly terrifying. You can’t move and it gets tighter and tighter and tighter, you can’t breath because no air can get in there, and at the same time you can’t tell the person who’s manning the vacuum cleaner to stop because they can’t hear you! That was a pretty scary experience. But these days, it’s all about preparation and making sure there isn’t anything I’m not aware of before I go into it.

The Incredible Mr Goodwin: Episode 1
BBCA: Most people would look at what you do and think you’re totally insane. Why do you do it?

JG: I come at this from a very different place. If you went into the street and asked someone to name a daredevil, they’d probably first of all say Evel Knievel but after that, they would start to name people from Red Bull like Travis Pastrana, or Felix Baumgartner, the guy who jumped out of the hot air balloon. And those guys I’m a huge fan of. But I guarantee you that if Travis wasn’t sponsored by Red Bull, he’d still be doing those things. Whereas for me, I come at this whole world a bit differently. When Charles Blondin walked the tightrope 100 years ago across Niagara Falls, he was doing that for theater, because there were 10,000 people watching. That’s what’s exciting for me: creating a spectacle. I’m not an adrenaline junkie. Obviously I don’t hate it, but for me it’s about having a great idea, and layering on levels of theatricality.

BBCA: So, since you do all these stressful and dangerous stunts, what do you do to unwind? Or do you ever unwind?

JG: No, I do. I love spending time with my family. I love knife throwing, it’s one of my favorite things to do in the world. It’s slightly different if there’s someone standing at the board but actually that kind of repetitive skill I find relaxing. If my wife can’t find me, I’m usually hurling sharp bits of metal at a target board.

The Incredible Mr Goodwin: Episode 2
Watch Jonathan’s show ‘Dangerman: The Incredible Mr. Goodwin‘ on Mondays at 10pm ET, right after new episodes of ‘Top Gear.’