Geoff Edgers On Fried Calf Testicles: 'Tastes Like Chicken' … Sort of.
Geoff Edgers is a full-time reporter for the Boston Globe, covering arts and culture, but this month, he’ll pick up a little extra work on the side—as the host of a new Travel Channel show “Edge of America.” In each episode, Edgers journeys to a new state to participate in the weird festivals and contests locals put on for entertainment. The show premieres January 22, in Oklahoma, where Edgers castrates a calf and eats a rattlesnake heart. We caught up with him to ask what calf balls taste like and how hosting a television show differs from writing for a newspaper:
The first episode was like a horrifying spin on the farm to table movement. You go from castrating a calf to deep-frying and eating the balls.
Nothing like bull balls to draw in America, right?
I think you made more ball jokes than a Family Guy episode.
It’s crazy in that way, in that what we do is really defined by the place we are. Like Oregon [episode 2] is a completely different tone. It’s totally peaceful and chill. Except for the bike jousting.
It seems like you often end up doing stupid stuff for which you probably have to sign a lot of legal releases.
I think the rule is I’m going to do the thing I’m reporting on. Which is of course the complete opposite of my regular job. If I’m going to understand what it’s like to ride on a 10-foot bike with a giant PVC pipe under my arm trying to knock another guy off, I’m going to do it. And I hope that pays tribute to Hunter S. Thompson becoming part of the Hell’s Angels more than Jackass.
Are you ever worried about your safety?
Well I mean it doesn’t pay for me to get hurt or killed, and I’m not base jumping off a 200-foot bridge in Virginia. So there’s a certain level of safety that goes into it.
In our Florida episode, you know, I jump on an alligator. And aren’t there two guys nearby that would be there if that alligator turned on me? Sure. But it’s also an alligator.
Are you guys going to do a Massachusetts episode?
We have 13 episodes right now and Massachusetts is not on that slate. If we end up getting another season, I’m sure we’ll do Massachusetts. And I can’t tell you what happens here because I haven’t done any research. But I can tell you I’m sure it’s going to be a side of Massachusetts I’m not familiar with, even as a native.
Let’s talk about the stuff you’ve eaten. That’s probably the most viscerally discomforting part to watch. Are you typically an adventurous eater?
I don’t think the calf fries in themselves were bad. I think it was trying to eat that many of them that fast. It was how fast you can eat a pound. And I did the best I could. I really believed I could win that eating contest. It didn’t sound that hard. It’s just a pound. But when you take these things, rattlesnake and bull testicles, you’re cutting it, you’re breading it, and you’re frying it. The whole “tastes like chicken” thing isn’t really that far off the mark. But I’m not sure there’s anything I could eat in a contest that wouldn’t make me sick.
You’re often quite self-confident going into the competitions that you participate in. But you haven’t done super well thus far. Can we expect to see you win?
I’ve filmed nine episodes, and I’ve won some things. I can’t really reveal it, but I will say I have a couple of the strangest trophies I ever thought I would acquire.
That’s a good sell.
The fact is there are things out there that you can just win with natural ability and machinery. So since episode two, I’ve done okay. There are times when I just can’t even approach the victory stand. But there are other times when I’m competitive.
It’s not a political show, which is something I think was refreshing. Some of the places you visit seem really unfamiliar, Oklahoma in particular. Do you encounter politics? Or is that just totally out of your mind?
To me, the purpose of the show is to understand other people and places not to get into a debate. I’m respectful of people from other places. I believe this is not the center of the earth—Boston or New York—and I want to understand the things that occur, and participate.
How did you make this transition from print reporter to TV host?
Well I haven’t really made a transition because I’m a full-time staffer at the Globe doing the same job I’ve done for 11 years.
I made this crazy documentary about the Kinks, “Do It Again,” with the filmmaker Robert Patton-Spruill, and that opened my eyes to what I could do and what TV or film can do. The film showed on PBS and an executive at the Travel Channel, whom I also know as a friend, said ‘Hey, why don’t we try to see if you can make a show here?’
It seems, watching it, like a lot of the skill set is the same. You’re interviewing people, finding good stories, writing a script. But what was jarring about the transition?
There are two things that are very different from my regular job. One is, in my regular job I keep out of the story. Two, I think the idea of talking to an audience through a camera—it’s very strange at first to talk to somebody you’re interviewing and then look into the camera and give a funny look or an odd look and even speak to the camera and have a conversation. Because that’s really who your conversation is with beyond the subject in the scene. You’re really talking to the viewers. And I think that takes real practice.
That must be strange for the interviewees, too, to see it all happening for the benefit of the camera.
My main subjects, we’ve talked to those guys before we’ve gotten out there. They know they’re going to be part of the show and basically a character. And some of those characters are great and some are flat, but we’ve been real lucky. I mean that guy from the [rattlesnake hunting], that guy is like Gary Busey times nine.
Speaking of which, I had no idea a rattlesnake’s heart would beat so long after you killed it.
You learned something! That’s an important thing. We try to have actual facts and things you can take away. It’s not just the activity. It’s like, why is this happening?
It’s like a higher brow Fear Factor, where they’re also probably eating snake hearts.
That snake heart eating, I’ve got to tell you we edited so it’s shorter on camera, but I spent a long time having this internal debate. No one told me to eat that heart. It’s not like the director gave me a signal or something. But I just kept debating it. Should I do it should I not do it? Would I look like some guy on TV trying to impress people? What would Bourdain do? Should I not do it like Bourdain? I had this huge dialogue. And I said you know when am I ever going to be in Oklahoma at a rattlesnake festival ever again? How can I not at least see what happens? And that in a nutshell is my attitude. I’m going to do it, but I know I’m a fish out of water.
This interview was condensed and edited for length and clarity.