Crazy Legs Conti Photographed
By Evan Sung
Crazy Legs Conti
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
Jessica Cogan: Why “Crazy Legs”? Is
this a salute to the famous member of the Rock
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
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
JC: Were you at all hesitant about going pro?
Did you consider remaining an amateur eater?
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
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
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