Here Comes the Artillery: A Conversation With Human Cannonball Brian Miser
Your average circus features numerous exciting and death-defying feats. There’s no shortage of people flying through the air, and there’s usually plenty of fire involved. However, the human cannonball act is particularly freaky. It takes a unique brand of crazy to watch exploding cannonballs in a cinematic naval battle and think, “I could do that.”
Brian Miser, 52, has been human cannon fodder for more than 18 years, and has toured all around the country with the Ringling Brothers Circus. “The Human Fuse,” as he is sometimes known, is perhaps most famous for launching himself more than 100 feet with a giant crossbow. While on fire.
On Saturday, Brian launched out of two separate cannons to help Captain Morgan launch their new spirit, appropriately named “Cannon Blast.” The event — which took place in downtown Orlando, FL — was a booming success. We spoke with Brian just before the event, and asked him about everything from his life as an adrenaline junkie to how he feels about his young daughter following his flight path.
You obviously have a unique profession. What was your path to becoming a human cannonball?
I started when I was 8 years old, on a trampoline. When I got on there, and I could flip and twist — it just came natural to me. I graduated high school and went to an amusement park, doing trampoline, and learned to do the flying trapeze there. I did that for 16 years, and decided to make my own cannon and be a human cannonball. I’ve been doing that for 18 years now, and I’ve been shot out of a cannon over 6500 times. It’s a blast (laughs).
Haha, love it. Was there a particular moment where you thought, “Hey, I wanna do this”? Were you inspired by your colleagues?
Yeah, I worked with a guy who did the cannon before, and I was totally intrigued by it. One day I woke up and my body was hurting — my shoulders were hurting because of the trapeze — and I thought, “Well, I need to keep flying through the air.” I was just learning to weld and build things and I thought, “You know, I think I want to build a cannon,” and I just started putting my mind to it. I came up with the design, and I just started going at it. I was self-taught. The cannon business is very tricky — no one wants to tell you their secrets of how they work, so I had to learn the hard way.
What do you feel comfortable telling us about the machinery of how a human cannon works?
I design them. I have four different cannons — I’m using two of them here [in Orlando], which is kind of unique. I’m doing a shot out of each cannon within a half hour. I hit 65 mph instantaneously — it’s 7 Gs at the takeoff, and 9 Gs at the landing. So yeah, it’s hard on the body. I’m sitting at the bottom of the cannon, and the countdown starts. I take a sequence of breaths, and then when countdown gets to one, I hold my breath and squeeze every single muscle in my body to brace for impact. The cannon blasts, and I go flying out of it.
What’s going through your mind in the moments before you get launched?
Well, I’m not in there very long — maybe 15 seconds. Once I get in, I’m ready to get out. Sometimes I lie there, and I’m thinking, “What the heck am I doing? Man, this is crazy.” But then when I’m in the air and I think, “This is the best feeling in the world.” Flying through the air like superman — no strings attached. Defying gravity; it’s really an exhilarating feeling.
Wow, I believe it.
Yeah, and sometimes — I’m 52 years old now — I get to the point where my body’s hurting. I wake up in the morning and I’m think, “Ow, maybe it’s time to quit,” but then I do a shot and I think, “Man, I can’t quit — I’m having too much damn fun!”
How much “fuse” do you have left, do you think? What would it take for you to quit?
Well, I’m kind of waiting for my body to tell me that it’s time to quit. I do it more part time now, rather than full time. I kind of pick and choose where I go to work. So yeah, when my body says, “All right, you can’t handle that any more,” then that’s gonna be a sad day.
It sounds like you truly enjoy it, so you might as well keep doing it.
Oh yeah. I’m doing great things, like this event with Captain Morgan. They’re launching their new brand: Cannon Blast. It’s an exciting new venue for me, and a new outlet, so I’m really looking forward to it.
Yeah, I’d like to talk to you about that. I was wondering if you could describe how the Captain Morgan Cannon Blast Bar Crawl came to be. Who approached who, and how did the planning process play out?
They contacted me — I think it was back in June — and they told me they were launching this new brand, Cannon Blast; and what better way to launch Cannon Blast than to have me launch out of an actual cannon? We were in talks for a while, and finally got things worked out. We’re going to launch that brand tomorrow in Downtown Orlando at six o’clock, and I’ll be shooting from two different cannons. The cannons are really cool — they look like a pirate ship cannons.
Is there one “pie in the sky” feat that you’ve been planning for a while and haven’t done yet?
No, I think I’ve done that already. When you’re flying from a cannon, there are only so many things you can really do. So what I came up with was to set myself on fire; I burn while I’m inside and I come out on fire — full-body burn. That was my ultimate feat, and now it’s like, how am I gonna top that?
I watched a couple videos of you launching while on fire. Pretty incredible. That’s your signature stunt, isn’t it?
Yeah, I’m the only one who’s ever been on fire, flying through the air. I actually hold a Guinness World Record for that.
You’ve definitely made your mark!
Yeah, well, this is exciting too — I’m shooting out of two different cannons in a half hour, and after that second jump, my body’s probably going to be telling me, “All right, you need a break.”
Throughout your career, I’m sure you’ve been approached by young people who want to do what you want to do. What do you say to them?
Oh, they come up all the time, and they say, “Man, I would love to do that.” It’s a very secretive art, so I can’t really get into it. I teach people; I leased a cannon to Ringling Brothers and trained some performers for that. I made a little cannon that was 8 feet long for a circus over in England, and before I sent it away, my daughter wanted to shoot from it. She said, “I want to be the youngest human cannonball ever, shot out of the smallest cannon ever.” I shot her out of that thing twice, and she loved it. I think she’s gonna be hooked, and probably try to make a career out of it.
Would you be happy if she pursued that career, or do you feel like it’s too dangerous?
Oh yeah, it’s definitely dangerous. My wife was a human cannonball, too, so I guess it’s in my daughter’s blood; she’s gonna be a human cannonball. I’m excited that she wants to do it, but at the same time, I’m not, you know?
You’re obviously an adrenaline junkie. Does that drive for the extreme carry over into other aspects of your life? What else do you do other than launch yourself out of cannons?
For adrenaline, there’s not a whole lot. Amusement parks don’t really do anything for me. I have one of those UTVs, side-by-side, 4-wheel. I like going to offroad parks, that gets me some adrenaline, climbing the hills and all that. I’ve done the bungee jumping, I’ve done high falls — 70 feet into an air bag. It’s fun, but I’ve done it enough where it’s like, all right, this is my job.
No, it doesn’t get old. Every shot is different. The cannon still gives me an adrenaline rush, and I get nervous every time. I still love doing it, and hopefully my body holds out, so I can do it for another 10 years.
What do you do to relax? How do you unwind after doing something so intense?
Well, after my second shot tomorrow, I’m going to take a shot of the Cannon Blast (laughs). But yeah, it usually takes a couple hours of flying down afterwards to get relaxed. A couple hours to warm up, get ready for it, and then a couple hours after you do it.
Is there anything you want to tell me about the blast this weekend?
It should be an exciting good time, I’m really looking forward to it. And the new Cannon Blast rum is very flavorful — it’s citrusy, it’s sweet, and it has a little bit of heat to it. But, remember to drink responsibly. I’m actually doing three shots tomorrow — two out of a cannon, and one of the cannon blast rum.
Haha, yeah, and the important thing is you’re taking the shot of booze after your big blasts from the cannons.
Definitely. For sure. You want to be aware of what you’re doing.