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Stuffed on the Fourth of July: Q&A With Competitive Eater Crazy Legs Conti

For twenty plus years, Crazy Legs Conti has been a consistent staple on the competitive eating circuit, which is highlighted by The Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on the Fourth of July. Crazy Legs, who was a three-sport athlete at Johns Hopkins, never defeated Joey Chestnut, but he’s arguably the most colorful character in the history of competitive eating. No surprise, he’s hilarious in his documentary, Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating, available on Tubi, and his book, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Eater: A Competitive Eater’s Diary. Crazy Legs took a few moments to discuss eating, his beloved Celtics and a smorgasbord of other subjects.

STADIUM JOURNEY: Besides the nude modeling, the window washing and the beverage managing, you worked a lot in film production. You were fortunate enough to work for the late Morgan Spurlock. What was that like? Did you discuss competitive eating?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: Morgan was a stellar guy - creative and a lot of fun to be around. He had hoped for me to eat one hundred chicken nuggets as fast I could for Super Size Me, but the league, rightfully so, thought it might be a mixed message with competitive eating and health. Later, I joined Morgan in London for a show he did, New Britanica, where I ate four entire meals  - two American, two English - against an English eater. I got to meet Jamie Oliver backstage, and we were fine pals until I went out and demolished the food in my usual messy fashion. I didn’t waste any, but I don’t think he was hip to competitive eating, and I haven’t heard from him since.


STADIUM JOURNEY: There's no shortage of monikers in competitive eating, but you have arguably the best. How did this nickname come about? If you care to share, what’s your given name?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: My given name is Crazy Legs Conti, and its origin I’ll leave a mystery, but I have several monikers from my food stuntman attempts. I ate my way out of an eighty foot cubic box filled with popcorn, dubbed, “The popcorn sarcophagus,” which earned me the monikers, “The David Blaine of the Bowel,” “The Evel Knievel of the Alimentary Canal” and “The Houdini of Cuisini.” I also like these others: “The David Bowie of the Bun” and the “Salvador Dali of the Deli.”


STADIUM JOURNEY: Well before you were a competitive eater, you were competitive in more conventional sports, specifically basketball. In fact, at Belmont High in Massachusetts, you were inducted into their Basketball Hall of Fame. What sports did you compete in? Discuss some of your accomplishments? 

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: Yes, I was induced into Belmont High’s Basketball Hall of Fame, a great honor. We almost made it to the Eastern Conference finals to be played on the parquet of the Boston Garden but lost in double overtime on a last second shot. One can learn a lot in defeat, whether it's hoops or hot dogs. I played a couple years in college - Division 3 - at Johns Hopkins, but also was a back-up punter and did the high jump. I was a three-sport varsity college athlete but better at the pregame meal than the actual athletic endeavor, so it’s not strange I turned pro in eating.


STADIUM JOURNEY:You've spoken highly of the meatball subs at Belmont High School, what were some of your other favorite eating haunts growing up?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: My aunt Adele was the lunch lady, and though I brought my own lunch - liverwurst, gross I know - on meatball sub day, Aunt Adele would load up a sub beyond bursting. I was also a fan of the pizza place in Belmont Center but mostly because I could see retired Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson. He had quite the life journey and is now sober. His autobiography is great.



STADIUM JOURNEY: What's your favorite sports venue in Boston? Which venue was a young Crazy Legs spending the most time at?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: The Boston Garden was so important to me that I now only see my beloved Celtics on the road. I was there when Bird stole the ball and threw it to my all-time favorite player Dennis Johnson. Greatest five seconds of my life. Most other things have taken longer than five seconds. I am also a huge fan of the Boston Marathon. I attended every year growing up, cheering on the later runners, after they’d hit the wall and were barely hanging on to finish. It teaches one a lot about the human body’s limitations but also how the mind can push one beyond those limits. I ran it in 2007 and absolutely loved every step. I was coming off a hot dog qualifier the day before and indeed 21.5 in hot dogs and marathoning is the wall.


STADIUM JOURNEY: So back to Hopkins, playing two sports in college is super difficult, but three seems next to impossible. What was this experience like?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I loved my time at Hopkins, but basketball was my primary sport. We had such a strong team and made the NCAA tournament each year. I didn’t get a lot of playing time as I was too short for the four spot, but when it came time for me to retire after my sophomore year, I left my shoes on the court. I still have trouble simply playing pick-up these days because the level of play is underwhelming. I truly enjoyed my time on the competitive hoops court. The other sports came along as I was helping out my buddy, Dan “D-Fly” Flynn, who was the starting punter on the football team but also a wide receiver. He wanted to focus on offense, so his family, a true football dynasty of folks, trained me one summer on punting. The high jump was to help out the head coach of the track team who was also the defensive head coach of football. He basically let the lunatics run the asylum by having us screw up the Fosbury flop each match.


STADIUM JOURNEY: You were the Blue Jays' third-string punter. What's that like?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I moved up to second string when someone got hurt. I really needed another year to get better, but I loved punting. One time in practice, I nailed one that cleared the fences and bounced to the business across the street. D-Fly noticed the business my punt landed in front of and opined, that I really took that one to the cleaners.


STADIUM JOURNEY: At Hopkins, you excelled at the pre and post-game meals. Which were some of your all-time favorites? Did you ever overindulge to the point that it affected your on-field performance?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I did eat nine bagels in one sitting before a football game but didn’t end up playing which due to the expanding bread in my belly, was probably for the best.


STADIUM JOURNEY: So you're in New York City now, do you have a favorite sports venue?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I catch a lot of sports in dive bars now, so I can have some wings and drink beer. I like to use the meat umbrella and keep one hand sauce free. I am a fan of the Hairy Lemon on Avenue B and 3rd. I watched every Celtics playoff game there leading up to this year’s championship. The Celtics made the banner happen on the court, I did the same except with buckets of Miller Lite and twenty wings at a time.


STADIUM JOURNEY: Where can you get the best slice in NYC? Best chicken parm?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I think the slice game is overrated because one has to do a reheat. I tend to go to whole pie places. I love Arturo’s on Houston downtown and the original Patsy’s Pizza on 1st Avenue and 116th uptown. If you make it to Queens, a place called Milkflower is great too, a modern take on pizza where toppings like arugula and toasted lemons make appearances.

I always go for eggplant parm over chicken parm, and the best is at Mike’s Deli on Arthur Ave,, but late night, while drunk, your neighborhood pizza joint will satisfy. 


STADIUM JOURNEY: So you broke into competitive eating by scarfing oysters. What is it about oysters?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: Oysters are my spirit animal, and I think it’s okay to eat one’s spirit animal. They are great for the environment and make everything around them better. They are basically the Larry Bird of the natural world. I love the taste too - briny, sharp, interesting - probably like Larry Bird’s sweat.


STADIUM JOURNEY: You played a competitive eater on The Sopranos. How did that come about? Describe the experience.

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I was friendly with the casting person, as her husband helped produce the documentary, Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating, so when she called me, she said if I played a cannoli eater I couldn’t be considered for a different role later on. I don’t know what role a dreadlocked white guy could play on The Sopranos, so I wisely took the eating role. We did eleven takes of eating and then they broke for lunch. I had no room, so I hung out outside. Later the assistant director said the cast wanted me at lunch to talk competitive eating. That was a missed opportunity. 


STADIUM JOURNEY: As far as speed eating hot dogs, do you have a technique? With Joey Chestnut not competing this year, who are the favorites to take the yellow mustard belt?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I dunk my buns in Tang to change the taste and avoid flavor fatigue. If it’s good enough for the astronauts in space, it’s good enough at the competitive eating table. If Joey doesn't appear I’ve got Pat “Deepdish” Bertoletti winning in OT against Australia’s James Webb with the number in the low fifties. It’s going to be a heck of an afterparty if Deepdish wins. He has a lot of siblings from Chicago, and it’ll get wild at Ruby’s on the Boardwalk post contest.


STADIUM JOURNEY: George Shea does wonderful, hilarious play by play on the Fourth at Coney Island. How do you keep yourself from laughing and not choking? Or do you just tune him out? It seems like you must because he’s hilarious.  

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: George is a masterful writer, and then he puts those magic words into the performance with such aplomb. One does tend to try to maintain a Zen focus as you ascend the stage, but during the contest, there have been a few times that Eater X and I started laughing as George went on a tangent about his pet hamster Bullet, and how much he misses him. Sometimes the melancholy bits are the best


STADIUM JOURNEY: How does it feel moments before you enter stage on the Fourth? What are you thinking? How are you feeling?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I’ve competed at the Nathan’s finals sixteen out of the last twenty-three years. This year, the numbers were astronomical, and I’ll be out at Coney to support the eaters. The years I ate, the thrill is electric. There is really nothing more surreal and fun at the same time. Forty thousand fans at Stillwell and Surf, cameras from around the world - the place becomes this magical vortex of joy. Any butterflies an eater has in their stomach are quickly squashed by Nathan’s hot dogs and buns.


STADIUM JOURNEY: What's next for Crazy Legs Conti?

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: I am a gourmet and a gourmand. I love great food in greater quantities. I think my unique perspective on food would be great to highlight as a TV food host. I’ve traveled the globe eating a lot quickly, but I would be thrilled to slow it down for audiences and enjoy each single bite.

Jon Hart is @manversusball

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