Skepticism’s great friend, David Willey—who became famous as the “Mad Scientist” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno—has been featured in the nationally syndicated comic strip, Jump Start, drawn by Robb Armstrong.
Skeptics have had close-up seats to Willey’s explosions and other feats, and a few have participated in his firewalks conducted for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Indeed, firewalking was the subject of the Jump Start feature which offers a priceless caricature of our hero racing over flames.
It cited his unofficial record of “165 feet” at temperatures “in excess of 1,000 degrees.” I won’t try to recreate the funny strip in words, since you can see it yourself at https://www.gocomics.com/jumpstart/2013/07/14).
How does one accomplish a firewalk without becoming seriously burned? I have adopted the following rules:
- Do not try firewalking at home.
- Walk only on a bed of hot coals prepared by David Willey.
- Always let David go first.
- Keep your feet dry. (If there’s wet grass at the end—a good idea!—dry your feet before again firewalking. Otherwise, hot cinders may adhere and—ouch!)
- Do not stop to pose for photos.
The physics of firewalking is explained in my book, Secrets of the Sideshows (2005, 2008) where you can read about other wonders. I have not only made many firewalks with David, but I have also been sandwiched between beds of nails while he broke a concrete block on top with a sledgehammer, and at his instruction I have dipped my hand in both molten lead and liquid nitrogen.
I have spent much other quality time with David: lifting pints with him and his charming wife Raven; taking still photos of him when he walked on a bed of broken glass for the Learning Channel (pictured in my book); and practicing carnival-style knife throwing with him, using an upended picnic table at CFI. And I have learned this: the “mad scientist” isn’t so mad after all. In fact, he’s one of the sanest guys around.