PLOT: David Leslie is an American performance artist, stuntman, and Acker Award Recipient 2018. On tonight's show, David Leslie joins Clayton to discuss last night's Acker Awards, David's past performances, stunts, Evel Knievel & more!
ABOUT DAVID LESLIE: Note to reader: When one must write one's own 'bio', the writer ususally refers to him or her self by his or her first name, surname, or first and surname. This seems a little too unnatural to me this time around (I've done this aplenty) so in the instance I will prefer to simply make a stream of consciousness, chronological list of actions and accomplishments beginning with 'I' or 'My'. What follows then is not my bio, rather it's my 'io', or a 'myo'.
I was born (in 1957) and raised in the small factory town of Hopewell, Virginia. The Washington Post once described Hopewell as being "the meanest town this side of Hell."
I earned a BA (as a sculptor) from Virginia Commonwealth University. I earned MFA from University of Texas, Austin. I was a member of the UT faculty (teaching sculpture and performance art) 20 some years later.
I moved to the East Village, NYC in the mid 80's. I worked for a variety of great artists. Most inspiring for me was my time spent working as a studio assistant for Nam June Paik and working in productions with Pat Oleszko.
I have been creating public spectacle as an artist / daredevil in the cultural arena of performance art in NYC art houses and club venues since the mid eighties. My addiction for art and adrenaline drove me to my first stunt in SOHO, when I attempted to fly a small single seat rocket over a mountain over watermelons. That night I almost broke my neck and was nearly burned alive in the flaming wreckage. I loved it. Throughout the mid to late eighties I offered up many outrageous acts and actions mostly in admiration, imitation and respect for of the men and women who inspired me. My over the top outrageous acts were in simpatico with a temperament that was pervasive in the East Village at that time. My over the top outrageous act were a in simpatico with a temperament that was pervasive then in that East Village.
My fans and followers of my work named me "The Impact Addict". I was given that name after doing a show that I had titled "impact addict". In that show I jumped off a 3 story building onto a sheet of steel while wrapped in bubble wrap and christmas lights .. and the name stuck.
My first retirement came after I survived my "Swan Song". For that final performance I was dressed as Julie Andrews (as if dressed as Maria Von Trapp). (See Larry Fessenden's documentary " Stunt, A Musical Motion Picture" for the full story) I was violently hurled from a height of six stories off the roof of Performance Space 122. I am forever indebted to 122's Director Mark Russell for indulging me/ my art / my excesses on this night. One day I'll write the scary true story about how The Devil visited me that night as I struggled to regain consciousness.
In the early 90's Scott Macaulay, who is now the editor of Filmmaker and very fine feature films producer tapped me to replace him as the curator of performance art at The Kitchen. I am most proud that while there I instigated a persistent campaign drive to the open The Kitchen's second floor theater and gallery space. I am also very proud to have initiated that organization's first educational and participatory programing for children; then called FUTURESTOCK.
I have been a guest curator at The New Museum. I have sat on the advisory board of Performance Space 122 and I'm currently on the board of 3-Legged Dog Media and Theater Co.
Along with my friend Phil Hartman, I co founded and was the artistic director of HOWL! The Festival of East Village Arts and FEVA (Federation of East Village Arts). HOWL! and FEVA were Phil's brilliantly generous brainstorms. I thank Phil for the invite to be a co-founding father to such a challenging undertaking that resulted in a most fabulous community offering. Long Live HOWL!
I have also been a contributing writer for The Village Voice and The New York Press. Basically I pursue writing gigs when I need to get paid to go see something.
I am also a casting director. I have placed damn good talent in roles for projects ranging from common music videos, to uncommon international commercial projects as well as for independent feature films. I take especial joy in coupling my artist / actor friends and subculture associates with the big stars. Like Zero Boy's evil villain to Bruce Willis' 'Die Hard' hero. And Gary Ray Bugarcic's class nerd crush on Debbie Harry as a high school slut in the soon to premiere short "I Remember You Now".
After 11 years in retirement from my life as a performance artist/daredevil I returned to the medium and mayhem in 1999. My critically acclaimed show BOX OPERA series ran for over four years with the collaborations and talents of such brilliant East Village Performance Art All Stars as the Box Opera co-creator Jonathan (The Herring Wonder) Ames, Julie Atlas Muz (choreographer and logo) with Tigger, Molly Griffith, Dirty Martini, Lady Ace, and Kate Valentine as round card boys and girls, Tommy Murrin (the ring announcer), Karen Finley, Crispin Black, Zero Boy, Matthew Barney, DANCENOISE, David Neuman and Stacy Dawson, The Mangina, Galinsky, Shelly Mars, Michael Portnoy, James Godwin and David Turley, Pat Oleszko, and Ridge Theater.
I refer to my good friend Jonathan Ames as 'The Founder' of the original Box Opera concept because this ultra fulfilling episode of my life would have never occurred had Jonathan not felt compelled to challenge me to "a writer versus artist - boxing match as art" upon first meeting me. You can read the origins of Box Opera as told by Jonathan in the press section within this site. Or pick up a copy of Jonathan's "My Less than Secret Life".
My 20-some years collaboration with my collaborator and best friend Larry Fessenden has produced a series of video documentaries called "The Impact Addict Videos" (available through Glass Eye Pix). The video's weave together interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, news clips, pirated block-busting songs and pix, and the multi-camera coverage of the events that made me 'art world famous'. The videos both celebrate and explore my motives, my addiction, my predication towards pain, danger and near death experiences. They are Larry Fessenden's video portraits of me .... the man the New York Times called "The Evel Knievel of Performance Art," and MTV dubbed "America's own King of Pain.
Eventually Larry and I will edit the four fabulous years of the Box Operas into one banging documentary. When that finally happens we'll release it as well as the entire Impact Addict Series on disc. Sooner than later hopefully. We both stay so damned busy in our own as well as other's projects, it's difficult to slow down and even more difficult to back up.
I'll close my 'io' by offering my greatest gratitude and respect to all of the very special people who facilitate or perform the multitudes of minutia that is required to create anything special and significant. Of my many projects, programs, and production experiences in the arts, there is absolutely nothing that has spiritually and emotionally moved me more than the genuine generosity of those who enable the arts and artists by way of their support by way of muscle, money or enthused motivation. Without you, we are art-less. ►more
DAVID LESLIE, IMPACT ADDICT | Review By John Strausbaugh
Published Jul 16, 2002 at 6:01 am (Updated Feb 16, 2015)
For a guy going on 45, David Leslie is in great shape. He works out a lot, and trains regularly at Gleason's.
Which is just as well. Because this Thursday night he climbs into a boxing ring with Gerry Cooney for what he hopes will be a four-round exhibition match. It will be the main event of an extravaganza he calls Box Opera 3 . In spirit it'll be as much like professional wrestling as professional boxing, with a lot of performance art (including lifesize Rock'em Sock'em Robots and a reenactment of Lincoln's assassination) and some topless women thrown in.
David Leslie is the "Impact Addict," a performance artist as stunt man. His stunt career began in the mid-80s, when he was a sculptor approaching his 30s, doing odd pieces like a portrait of Johnny Unitas. He says he began to feel like "I'm the guy at the Super Bowl souvenir stand selling the little tchotchkes that reference the action on the field." He decided he wanted to be the action. "My struggle was, I'm going into my 30s. I'm supposed to be acting like a grown man, and it's like I'm going back to Little League Football.
But he went ahead anyway with his first stunt, an Evel Knievel-style "rocket jump" over 1000 watermelons in '86. "And then I was hooked." Next, in one of his most visually stunning acts, he jumped off a three-story building on Ave. B in a suit of bubble-wrap and lightbulbs, earning the title "Impact Addict." In other shows he fought six kung-fu fighters simultaneously; celebrated Chinese New Year by blowing himself up in a costume made of firecrackers; fought an exhibition match with Riddick Bowe on the Staten Island ferry; and in 1989 he threw himself off the roof of P.S. 122 in an 80-foot freefall dressed up as Maria von Trapp.
He says that was the closest he's come to really hurting himself, when he went through his landing gear and "my body punched a hole in the three-quarter-inch plywood platform... I've always said Mark Russell, the director of P.S. 122, has got to be more crazy than I am" for letting him do it. After all, if the stunt had gone really wrong, Russell could have gone to jail. Leslie would simply have been dead. "Dead in drag," he jokes.
Why did he do it? The adrenaline? Is he a masochist?
I'm a showman," he replies. On one level, the idea is to get hipster art audiences to look at "lowbrow spectacle" like stunts or boxing in a new way. Also, he says, "For me, there are two shows going on. There's the one that you guys in the audience are seeing, and the one that I'm seeing when I'm on top of P.S. 122. I've got a whole other show. Nobody gets to see that but me, and that blows my mind. That's the addict part of me. My addiction is not to have a bunch of people watch me do something. It's standing there going, 'Fuck, I have to go. There's 1000 people down there and I've gotta go.'
"I love being in a situation where I should be getting hurt, where I could certainly die, and don't get hurt," he elaborates. "If I get hurt, it's a failure. I'm embarrassed. I look like an idiot. And you feel stupid because you watched it."
After the P.S. 122 show Leslie was offered various showbiz opportunities: opening for the Stones, an early version of MTV's Jackass. Instead he retired the Impact Addict and pursued a quieter, more grownup career for the next 11 years as the performance-art curator at the Kitchen, "where I was fairly miserable for two years," and then as a casting director.
In 2000 he met then New York Press columnist Jonathan Ames and the two goaded each other into the ring for the first Box Opera. The Impact Addict was back. Older, but no less ballsy. Both guys trained seriously in the months leading up to the fight, wherein Leslie pretty much kicked Ames' ass. Leslie fought another arty type in Box Opera 2, and then there was the knockout contest, where he challenged all comers in the audience to deck him and win $1000. That night ended in a small riot, with Leslie still standing and keeping his dough. "I can take a hit," he says.
One hopes so. For Cooney, this fight is a way to raise money and awareness for FIST, the charity for current and retired boxers. For Leslie, it's a way to kick the Box Opera spectacle up to another level.
"I've been to see Cooney fight four times in the past year, starting with an exhibition fundraiser for the Twin Towers Fund. He's only a year older than me?next month I'll be 45, he'll be 46. He's in great shape. Nobody could touch him. He's fast. You'll be shocked at how quick his jab is. Very smart, very fast, and doesn't let people touch him. He's like, 'We'll go out there and I'll beat you up and you're not going to touch me. And if you try to touch me, I'm gonna punish you.'
"I don't want to go out there with somebody who's just going to toy around," he continues. "He could literally kill me if he wants. I'm gonna go out there and piss him off, and he's gonna punish me, and that's what the crowd is going to see. I'm going to be trying as hard as I can to get under or around his incredibly fast jab and really rattle him, get him to where he's like, 'I've got to get this asshole off of me.'"
A friend recently told Leslie that Box Opera is "like an over-produced, very public midlife crisis. That's probably right. But I'm having a damn good time doing it."
For his next extravaganza, he's plotting a return to his Knievel roots: he wants to "jump a motorcycle from Brooklyn to Manhattan" across the East River. He acknowledges the extreme potential for failure. "I'll put it this way," he grins. "There'll be a receiving ramp on one side, and a take-off ramp on the other, and I don't know how much use the receiving one will get."
Box Opera 3 is Thurs., July 11, 8 p.m., at St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO, 38 Water St. (betw. Dock &Main Sts.), Brooklyn, 718-858-2424; tickets are $25-$35-$50.
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