We Must Protect Our Daredevil Jobs From Cheap Foreign Labor

The Great Martinelli
The Great Martinelli

To the casual circus attendee, the daredevil's job probably looks like it's all fun and games. But believe me, it's not nearly as easy as it seems. We daredevils put our lives on the line every day providing entertainment for the nation. Sure, we get to spend our days going over Niagara Falls in barrels and zooming around on motorcycles inside metal globes, but when the day is done, we're just like anyone else. We have families to raise, bills to pay, and looming fears that our jobs will be taken away by immigrants.

Daredevils have walked real tightropes for more than a century. Now, we walk metaphorical tightropes, too, with the unemployment line always looming beneath us.


Ten years ago, if you'd told me a daredevil from overseas could take away my job, I would've laughed in your face. I'd have told you all the greats were homegrown: Annie Taylor, Evel Knievel, that guy who climbed up the Golden Gate Bridge. All Americans, all classics. But our problem isn't a lack of talent: This country has plenty of men willing to put on a pair of roller skates and jump a row of 15 cars. The problem is that Ellis Island is crawling with Slovenians—each one more than willing to put on a pair of flaming roller skates and jump 20 cars for half the money.

Our notoriously porous borders are particularly vulnerable to human cannonballs and speeding motorcyclists from Mexico. There's nothing in place to quell the tide of daredevils flying over the Rio Grande and landing safely on American soil to steal our livelihoods. This rhinestone-studded locust swarm is prying the food right out of our death-defying mouths.

Worst of all, these foreigners have no regard for standards of conduct and safety. When you've been risking your life as long as I have, you learn how to better your odds with special nets and harnesses. We fought long and hard to make our ringmasters and fans see such precautions as necessities. All our years of hard work are shot to hell, though, the second some Indian agrees to be shot out of a cannon across a gorge with no net. Sure, a Kenyan will ride a unicycle across a 50-story-high steel beam without so much as a kneepad, and I grant you it's exciting. Gives me chills, and I'm a professional. But I guarantee you that the day something goes wrong, you'll wish you didn't have to explain to your kid why you took him out to see a man die. Hell, that's some show! Little Johnny'll never forget that one, that's for darn sure.

Look, what riles me up is not that this new group of daredevils is foreign-born, but that they don't care a whit about the sacred traditions of the profession of dare-devilry. Their devil-may-care attitude is jeopardizing the profession and everyone who has ever broken his back in its name. My great-grandparents came to this country from Italy with nothing but matching outfits and a dream to be the greatest silks-and-tissue aerialists the world had ever known. They had to invent themselves, one step at a time, like pioneers. My brothers and I devoted our lives to the stewardship of their proud tradition. Now, in the twilight of our lives, when we should be passing our gold lamé parachutes onto our sons, a reckless new breed from the hinterlands is usurping their birthright.


Take that French guy that calls himself Spider-Man. If he's French, shouldn't he call himself Spider-Homme? He's using an American daredevil name, but he's not even English! How about we let Americans climb American skyscrapers? You go climb the Eiffel Tower next time you're feeling frisky, Pepe. Leave the Sears Tower to us.

A lot of people say these outsiders are doing jobs no American wants, anyway. I strongly disagree. Flying through a burning hoop at a county fair may not be everyone's vision of the American dream, but shoot, you have to work your way up to igniting yourself at the top of Devils Tower. You build a name for yourself while you learn the ropes. But with the flood of cheap labor streaming over our borders, the bar has been raised. To secure a basic carnival job, beginner daredevils are forced to perform stunts so crazy, you'd think only someone who's suffered repeated head trauma would be willing to chance them.


When I think of the great opportunities I've had in this country, I am filled with pride. I've been wearing a star-spangled helmet for 20 years, risking life and limb to make people forget their problems, if only for a few minutes. I inspire people. They think, "If that man can remain in a tiger cage with a grizzly bear and four rattlesnakes for five minutes, what am I capable of?" But now, I must worry for my future. People no longer come to shows to see me cleverly cheat death with a bold display of showmanship—they want the possibility of death to be real and present. Face it: When I'm on the bill with some Angolan willing to bungee-jump 150 feet into a flaming barrel of gasoline while French-kissing a meth-stoked cobra, my stunt where I ride a tricycle across a tight-rope loses a little bit of its luster.

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