Brett Loudermilk learned to hammer a nail up his nose at age 8, and that might not even be the Vegas-based sword swallower’s wildest tale during our hour-long interview.
Prior to the pandemic, Loudermilk was a performer on the Las Vegas Strip, most recently appearing in Spiegelworld show Opium at the Cosmopolitan. Now, having recently auditioned on a Season 15 episode of America’s Got Talent, he’s hoping to reach even greater heights.
“AGT gives you an audience of millions of people all at once,” Loudermilk says, likening the platform to the Johnny Carson-era Tonight Show. “It’s a venue [that can] change the life of a performer.”
Born in West Virginia and raised in North Carolina, Loudermilk began practicing sleight of hand as a child. When he witnessed someone swallow a sword, however, Loudermilk changed course.
Not yet a teenager, he couldn’t find anyone willing to show him the ropes. But when he caught legendary magician, sword swallower and vaudeville performer Todd Robbins on television, Loudermilk knew what to do.
“I saw a remake of the show That’s Incredible!, and Todd ate a lightbulb and swallowed a sword, and I was like, this is the coolest guy I’ve ever seen,” Loudermilk recalls.
He scoured the internet for Robbins’ phone number and called him on the spot. “I said, ‘You and I should know each other, and you should teach me how to swallow swords’,” Loudermilk says.
Robbins obliged, but a logistical issue remained: Loudermilk was in North Carolina, Robbins in New York. So?
“He taught me how to swallow swords over the phone,” Loudermilk says. “There I am, 15 years old, locked in my bedroom, and, unbeknownst to my parents, talking to a man in New York City, using a coat hanger and shoving it down my throat every day,” he laughs. “I don’t know the legality of teaching a minor to control their gag reflex over state lines, but once I got the coat hanger down, he sent me a sword.”
At 17, Loudermilk dropped out of high school and flew to New York City with $500 in his pocket. Though street performing didn’t match Loudermilk’s visions, it helped him develop the persona audiences know today.
“Abrasive,” he says. “I’ll say whatever comes to my mind. Back then, if I asked somebody to stop and they didn’t, I would throw a temper tantrum on the street. I’ve made a lot of people very angry doing stuff like that.”
Not that Loudermilk comes off as mean-spirited. The excitable, handsome performer with bright fuchsia hair says his act is meant to get people laughing, even as it makes them uncomfortable.
“I want to bring people joy,” Loudermilk says. “I want to show them something that makes them think, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that was possible. I do plenty of things that make people squirm, but there’s a [difference] between shock and fun. I’m not interested in shock.”
Loudermilk’s AGT audition, televised on June 16, showcased his ability to win over an uncertain crowd. “Everything went wrong, [yet] it couldn’t have been better,” he says.
In the YouTube clip, which has racked up more than 1 million views, Loudermilk invites AGT judge Sofia Vergara to the stage, instructing her to pull the sword from his mouth when he winks. Vergara panics. “What if I kill you?” she exclaims.
After two thwarted attempts—Vergara backs away from Loudermilk, leaving him to remove the sword both times—she eventually comes through. But the bit doesn’t end there.
She and fellow judges Simon Cowell and Howie Mandel go on to yank three additional swords from Loudermilk’s esophagus—after he swallowed all three weapons at the same time.
“When Sofia was terrified of me, I thought, ‘This is great, I’m going to lean into it’,” Loudermilk says. “Then Simon interrupts me. I’m about to launch into a whole new piece, but he wants to pull a sword out of me. At that point, why should I say no? I’m just as curious as everybody else. What’s going to happen? How badly could this go? I look at things like that as gifts. You present me with a gift, I’m going to unwrap it and play with it.”
And though he doesn’t know exactly where AGT might take him this season, he plans to fight his way to the top—and beyond.
“I dream about being able to tour,” Loudermilk says. “Will I be in a world that supports live shows by the time I’m done with my AGT journey? Who knows? But I’m in a position where I’m building an audience and a nice community of people, and I want to hang onto it.”
AMERICA’S GOT TALENT Tuesdays, 8 p.m., NBC.