Crazy Legs
Crazy Legs Conti Photographed By Evan Sung

Crazy Legs Conti
Interviewed By Jessica Cogan

Special Bonus!
A few words from competitive eater Eric “Badlands” Booker!

Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating, the documentary following professional competitive eater Crazy Legs Conti in his pursuit of gastronomic greatness, premiered last May at the Tribeca Film Festival. On October 13, the film made its TV debut on A&E. That night, I sat down to talk with Crazy Legs about the sport of eating, life on the professional circuit, oysters, mayonnaise, groupies and more. Sporting the hairdo and vocabulary of Sideshow Bob, Crazy Legs shared with me the glamorous and gluttonous world of competitive eating.

Jessica Cogan: Why “Crazy Legs”? Is this a salute to the famous member of the Rock Steady Crew?

Crazy Legs: Because I live in New York, I'm often asked about Crazy Legs the break dancer. But really, it's kind of a mystery. I do wear shorts year round - I'm from Boston originally, so I feel I'm weather immune. I climb out window ledges as a window washer, and I pose nude for studio art classes. So somewhere in there people say, "That’s the reason for the name." And I don’t really like to correct them. I like them to come up with their own explanations.

JC: Sure. Let them do some of the work.

CL: If I ever beat Kobayashi in a competitive eating contest, I will reveal to the world where the name came from.

JC: Why competitive eating?

CL: Well, I've been a fan of the sport since I moved to New York. Some people want to see the Statue of Liberty, I wanted to see 400 pound men eat as many hot dogs as they could. One of my favorite things was to try to get the leftover food off a competitor's plate. Much like when Mean Joe Green in the Coca Cola commercials would throw his used jersey to the kid, I was crying out for Badlands Booker to throw me his leftover hot dogs and buns. In fact, I went to the World Matzo Ball Eating Championship hoping that Oleg Zhornitskiy, who I knew was going to be a great eater, would throw me a leftover Matzo ball. Unfortunately, he spoke no English, so he couldn’t understand what I was saying. Anyway, I was always a big eater, always loved food. I was weaned on good food and good friends.

JC: According to the documentary, you're currently ranked 16th?

CL: Actually, I've moved up in the rankings. I'm 11th in the world, according to the IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eaters). Right at the door of the top ten…

JC: Were you at all hesitant about going pro? Did you consider remaining an amateur eater?

CL: Absolutely not. I'd always dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. I played sports in college – I was a third string punter on the football team. I played basketball. I was on the track team. I did high jump, but I never quite got high enough to qualify. None of it enabled me to turn pro, though. Since I've become a pro eater, I've been in Sports Illustrated, on ESPN, in FHM magazine. It's very exciting. I mean, everyone's eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. They're just not doing it at the professional level.

JC: Can you tell me a little bit about how you train?

CL: When I was first taken under the voluminous wings of Hungry Charles Hardy and Badlands Booker, a lot of the training was physical - drink a gallon of water in under two minutes, swallow ice cubes to stretch the esophagus. But I've found that the important training is the mental training. That's what I've learned from Kobayashi and Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, that it's really mind over stomach matter. And if you can somehow tap into the Zen mentality that Kobayashi has mastered, then you'll become a much better eater.

JC: Absolutely. It's a real mental game. But you are famous for having eaten 34 dozen oysters. Let's be honest. Do you suffer physically after a bout like that?

CL: There were definitely physiological effects. At one point my legs seceded from the rest of my body and were shaking uncontrollably. My stomach was ice cold, and I could only think that it was perhaps resembling the ocean and welcoming the bivalves back to the womb, so to speak. I had to start drinking coffee just to keep warm because the mollusks were putting up a fight. They didn't want to go down easy. So are there effects? Certainly. But the great eaters are able to push beyond the wall. It's the last minutes of a competition where dreams are made and realities are broken. And that's where the greatest pro eaters succeed.

JC: What's the atmosphere like at the IFOCE? I mean, is there scandal behind the scenes? Is it like the Lakers, Kobe vs. Shaq?

CL: No, no. There's definitely camaraderie, a brotherhood and sisterhood of competitive eating. But when the bell goes off or the whistles blows, it's certainly every eater for themselves. Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas seems very demure, waves to the crowd, looks like a beauty pageant contestant - then she laps me in jambalaya, did nine pounds in ten minutes. I did four pounds.

You look at the state of professional sports now, it's owners vs. players, salary demands, ticket prices going up. A mess. What's more pure than knowing that if you can afford lunch, you can begin training as a professional eater? The IFOCE, the governing body of all stomach-centered sports, goes places no other league does. There's no salary cap, no drug testing, no weight requirements, no age or gender requirements. Food is a universal thing - we all eat to live. And the IFOCE recognizes that and recognizes that you can eat for sport too.

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