David Blaine has accomplished many feats that seem to defy the laws of human nature — holding his breath for 17 minutes, living in a transparent box for 44 days on nothing but water, withstanding 100 million volts of electricity discharged continuously over 72 hours — but learning how to regurgitate living frogs from his stomach out through his mouth might be his most complex accomplishment to date. The stunt, which he debuted last November in his ABC special Beyond Magic, wowed the likes of Drake and Dave Chappelle. While it seemed to happen instantaneously mid-conversation, the trick took the magician years to learn and perfect.
Speaking to the New York Times as part of their Times Talks series on Wednesday, Blaine explained that he first got the idea from a book by Harry Houdini. “There was this one act, a regurgitation act — a hundred years ago — that he said was kind of poetic,” Blaine said. “It wasn’t like all the other regurgitation acts. So, based on this little paragraph about Mac Norton ‘The Human Aquarium’, I started thinking, ‘Maybe this is true. Maybe it really did happen — I don’t think he was fooling Houdini.” Norton, however, hadn’t left behind any written account of how he did the trick, because, according to Blaine, “probably for reasons beyond worrying about the show. He probably didn’t want people getting Salmonella poisoning or all the stuff that can go through when you start putting frogs in your mouth.” Blaine started to learn how to swallow swords, but that esophagus-controlling trick wasn’t enough. He had to travel around the world to crack this enigma:
“I went to Liberia to meet a guy who is a water spouter. [He] learned how to do it for survival, because they were so poor where he grew up and lived in Liberia, so that when they went to the well they could only bring back a certain amount of water. But if he could put the water inside [his stomach] and fill the bucket up he could go back with more and wash his shoes — you know, whatever it was. So, we saw a video of him online, on YouTube, and it took me five years to track him down. He lived in a mud hut, but there were some numbers scratched on the wall and we put posters up all over Liberia. And after a couple of years we found him and I flew there immediately and convinced Winston [the water spouter] to show me how to do it. I came back and started playing with this concept that water can be stored in your stomach, you empty out the system, then I realized you can put a gallon of water in your stomach. He could put out fires with it or whatever — his mom wouldn’t let him do it because she thought it was black magic.
And then one day I decided to do it with a fish. I did it in front of Woody Allen actually, because I was talking to him years earlier about ‘there’s this guy who’s able to do this thing!’ so when I was able to do it, it was still not right, because it had to come out with the water. Then I started thinking magic would be if I could just be hanging out and then have the creature appear at any moment. So then I realized there’s a way to control my stomach to bring the fish or the frog up with nothing and that was by doing bronchoscopies and checking out where bingo balls would float in my stomach. So then we converted it from a human aquarium feat into magic.”
So, it’s pretty clear Blaine will do anything to accomplish a feat he knows — or at least suspects — is possible, but what’s the one stunt he can’t do? “There’s one [trick or stunt] that I’ve been obsessed with forever and I just haven’t figured it out and it’s how to stay awake for long periods of time,” says Blaine. “I’m also borderline narcoleptic.”