What do you do after you’ve found the twisted skeleton of a 15th-century king under a Leicester car park? Go on a global road trip hunting for real-life superheroes, naturally. Simon Farnaby’s new travelogue Man vs Weird promises magnetic men, a drill-wielding monk and the million-volt “human battery”. So will their abilities test the very limits of science, or are their superpowers poppycock?
Well, maybe. I got the Richard III documentary by accident. If they’d known they were going to find a dead king, they probably wouldn’t have had me.
Nonsense. What made you want to do this show?
I love those shows where you go looking for yetis or the Loch Ness monster. Go and look for these weird people with bizarre powers and abilities? I just thought, “Yeah, I’ve got to do that.”
Weird people who have bizarre powers, or weird people who claim to have them?
Both! In episode one this guy called Etibar in Georgia claims to be magnetic and has a world record for having spoons attached to him. I’m pretty sure he just had clammy skin.
What about people with convincing superpowers? Any real-life Clark Kents?
The Unbreakable Monk was one of my favourites. He said he summoned his chi, his inner energy, to various places in his body. He lies on top of one spear in his neck and two on his groin, then concrete is put on his back and hit with a sledgehammer. There’s just no way that you or I could do that; it would kill you. They were really sharp spears and even just leaning on them really hurt.
Blimey. What else can he do?
He drills into his head. That’s a weird one because it was a sharp drill and I drilled a bit of wood with it. It was amazing that it didn’t go into his skull.
But he’s actually just holding the drill next to his temple and subtly leaning away, right?
No, I was there, he was drilling. We met him two days later to do the interview and he had a bruise and a dent in the side of his head. But I think it was a bit like a dentist’s drill. It hurts a lot but it wouldn’t actually go all the way through your head.
What about the other guy in episode two, pushing skewers through his arms? How is he not bleeding everywhere?
Good question! I think he knows where to put the stuff. He puts a skewer through his tongue and that’s like a piercing that has healed and he just pierces it again. As long as you don’t hit any arteries then you don’t bleed; I think he just knows how to avoid things.
Did you discover your own secret superpower?
Goran Colak, “the human fish”: he can hold his breath underwater for 11 minutes, and he actually can do it for 22 minutes if he takes a gulp of oxygen. He taught me how to do that – not for 11 minutes, but I did it for 30 seconds at first and then he gave me tips and I did it for over two minutes. That was pretty extraordinary.
What tips did he give you?
Relax your muscles so you can use all the oxygen effectively rather than in turning your fear into panic and coming up for air.
You must have met some super-freaks along the way too. Tell us about the creepiest.
Braco. He’s a “divine gazer”: he doesn’t speak, he just looks at you and he has thousands of followers who say he makes them feel good when he looks at them. It didn’t work for me, I’m afraid. He looks like Peter Stringfellow gone wrong.
Was it difficult to reconcile these people’s claims with the science?
With a lot of these things I would look to science. There’s a guy, Biba, who discovered an ability to withstand electric shocks. He was a welder and cut through an electricity power cable that should have killed him. He didn’t feel anything. He puts on a show where he sticks nails into a plug socket, the voltage goes through him and cooks a sausage between his hands. We spoke to a doctor and he explained that Biba has weird skin that has very little moisture in it. And he looks weird. When you see him, you’ll go oh, OK.