What does Jack Dagger do for a living? He’s a knife-thrower, duh!
Jack Dagger – one of America’s best-known blade-flingers, whose live shows always pull a crowd – on injuries, knife fights and what he plans to perform in Dubai some day
When was the first time you threw something sharp? I don’t remember how old I was, but as a kid growing up in Louisiana I remember my mum trying to get me to help her weed the garden, only for me to take the tools and run around throwing them into the dirt. I found that if I threw them in different ways it affected their spin, and it became like a game to me. The maths of it all made sense in my head and I think that’s what paved the way for figuring out the physics of knife-throwing.
When did you start taking it more seriously? I’d picked up some inexpensive throwing knives and they were junk, really: sharp, dangerous and they tended to bounce back at you. I kept trying to figure out what was wrong with them and then in about 1988, I read an article in Blade magazine about a man named Harry McEvoy who owned a company named Tru-Balance Knives. He was known as the grandfather of backyard knife-throwing, so I wrote to him and he offered to sell me a good one, which I bought for $35 [Dh128].
What makes a good throwing knife? It has to be the right size, for a start. They need to be at least 12 inches (30cm), preferably around 14. Any smaller than that and they rotate too quickly and develop such rotational speed during the throw that if they bounce out of the target it can be pretty hazardous. Longer than 15 inches and a knife becomes more like a sword, and is pretty difficult to turn.
Why do you do it? I’ve always been a performer – ever since doing somersaults down the aisle at my aunt’s wedding when I was two. As I got older I realised that knife-throwers are just a kind of weird breed of people and we just have a certain thing where throwing knives flips a switch for us. I love it. There’s hundreds of people in the world who love it, too, and when we meet up at competitions it’s more for the fellowship of meeting like-minded weirdos than anything.
How often do you compete? I don’t any more. I competed very well until an injury made me think it was the perfect time to step away and move more into the administrative side. I still perform, but I no longer compete.
What was the injury? Not what you might expect. It was after a gig in LA, I had a small car and my target board was 6ft (1.8m) by 4ft and two inches thick. It weighed a tonne. After each gig I had to haul it on top of my car and this one time as I was doing it I felt something pop in my arm and it turned out I’d ripped my bicep tendon. From that point forward I couldn’t throw things with any great distance.
When you came up with ‘Jack Dagger’, did you try out any other names first – such as Stevie Sharp or Barry Blade? Well, I was born Todd Abrams and that does not pack the right kind of punch. I slaved over the choice of names – it took forever. I eventually settled on Jack, because my grandfather was called Jack and I’d always thought it was a cool name, but it still took me years to add the ‘Dagger’. My friend wanted me to use Lance Steel but I thought that sounded too much like someone from a romantic novel.
What do people love most at a show? Well, there’s one thing that I’m known for, called the Cucumber Slice. My assistant holds a cucumber on the inside of her forearm parallel to the ground, and I throw a few knives around her arm and then the last knife bisects the cucumber, slices it in half. I actually performed that on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien in 2009. Maybe I’ll get to do it over in Dubai one day. I have lots of friends who’ve performed over there and my number’s got to come up sometime.
Do you often cut your poor assistant? Not really, because the knives aren’t sharp. We go on and on onstage to allow the audience to believe that these are razorsharp knives, but it’s nonsense. Nobody throws a sharp knife because that’s stupid. If the blade was sharp, I’d cut my hand when throwing it.
The tip looks pretty sharp… Yeah, the tip is the only part of the knife that touches the wood. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean knife-throwing is easy. That tip of the knife is still mere inches away from the point where it could theoretically puncture the skin.
Do injuries never happen, then? I’m not saying that. But little grazes – not grievous wounds. One time at an outdoors show I was up a ladder, my partner was up a ladder and my ladder shifted between the cobblestones. That repositioned the throwing distance and caused a graze. From then on I stopped standing on rickety ladders. You’re always learning.
Finally, is your back garden littered with the graves of former assistants? No – but there’s a huge desert between here in LA and Las Vegas. That’s where you’ll find them.
The time Jack won’t throw a knife? A fight (not that he picks many). ‘I don’t think I’d take a perfectly good weapon and throw it. I think I’d hang on to it.’