Part man, part dragon, true self-made “freak.”
Vancouver’s Josh Burns, aka Burns the Dragon, has long been turning heads—and stomachs—and loving every painful minute of it.
Not for the squeamish or faint of heart, Burns is bringing his talents to Saturday’s Sideshow event put on by the Army of Sass Penticton dance group at the Lakeside Resort.
Burns, 28, who is currently undergoing body modification to morph into his mythical namesake, having already had his tongue split, eyes blackened and horns implanted, is promising a “great” show.
No pain, no gain.
While restaurant servers may get tips left under a plate and buskers have coins tossed into a hat, Burns has a unique way to supplement his appearance fees.
And for that audience members will need to bring some folding money which they, wait for it, staple the legal tender to his bare skin.
“People get to staple it so the bill stays on my body and depending on what the bill is they can put it in a more painful spot, a $5 bill might get you an arm, a $10 bill might get you, like, a chest and so on and so forth,” said Burns, who comes from a circus background. “By the end of the show I’m pretty much naked, but it’s not just about the money. I build it up to a specific end of the performance which I’m not going to tell you, it’s a surprise.”
His other act for Saturday’s three shows, which start at 5:30 p.m. in Salon D, is a balancing act while standing on a bed of 500 nails on his converted longboard.
The traditional act is lying on a bed of nails and generally, if there are enough nails the weight is distributed evenly so the pressure is not enough to puncture the skin, but standing is a different story.
“Yes, it hurts quite a bit. I mean other sideshow performers look at me like I’m crazy,” said Burns. “I do have calluses but it’s a lot more pain when I put all my weight on my feet. I get stabbed but it’s not like a large amount of damage to the body.”
He has a wide variety of other tricks and stunts up his sleeve, some much more extreme, painful and damaging and others, not so much.
“My world is about shock and awe,” said Burns. “I like shock value over all the other things. I use the shock value because I love the reaction because the crowd isn’t expecting what I’m going to do.
“It makes me happy that it gives people new experiences that they haven’t had before, to see somebody do something they could and shouldn’t do, sometimes I get questions but usually people don’t want to do what I do.”
And the more the crowd reacts, the more pain he’s willing to endure. That’s something his longtime friend, Richard Harrison of Penticton, can attest to.
“He literally lives for it, if you freak out he’ll do it even more. He just loves it,” said Harrison. “I’m just so excited about the show. Penticton needs something like this. It’s good for all the young people, something for us to get out and do that doesn’t close down at five o’clock.”
Burns, who also works with reptiles, got Harrison over his fear of snakes by getting him up close and personal with some of his boa constrictors. That part of the show, unfortunately, won’t be making the trip to Penticton this time around.
Dragons have always been an important part of Burns’ life from the time he was a kid so he felt actually becoming one, at least somewhat in appearance, was a natural transition.
“Mom said I always wanted to be a dragon, so I started doing this seven years ago. I do a little bit at a time because it’s painful and it’s expensive so I have to save up for it,” he said.
Along with the tongue, the sub-dermal horns, blackened (tattooed) eyes and shaped ears, a good portion of his body was tattooed to look like a dragon.
That session, where he and Alberta tattoo artist Brandon Fancie took a stab at breaking a Guinness record for the longest tattoo session, lasted 51 hours.
“I’m used to pain through my line of work. I thought because it was on my back it wouldn’t be that bad, but I was wrong,” said Burns after the 2015 needle-to-skin marathon. “After about five hours I wanted to stop—at that point all of the endorphins wore off and it just wasn’t pleasant at all. I think overall I went into shock three different times and it just steadily got more and more painful.”
But the pair finished the job and while their time has since been broken, Burns is already planning to go after the record again.
What’s in store for Burns the Dragon in the future?
“I know I can’t do this forever, my body’s just not going to be able to take this for a long time. It takes a little longer to recover these days,” he said. “I think when I can’t do it anymore, I’d like to maybe have my own circus and even be the ring leader.”
The Sideshow this Saturday will feature a number of other acts including dancers, aerial acrobatics, flow artists, singers, belly dancers and more.