Kevin Michael Connolly first came to prominence as a result of winning a silver medal at the X Games, an impressive achievement in and of itself, but one which was deemed decidedly more media-worthy as a result of Connolly having been born without legs. Using his X Games winnings to fund a trip across 15 countries in 2007, Connolly took photos along the way, publishing the results on a website called The Rolling Exhibition, and he subsequently wrote a memoir entitled “Double Take,” which has been optioned for a possible film. Now, as if the writing-photography combo isn’t enough in and of itself to keep most people busy, the guy’s gonna be hosting his own series on Travel Channel called – wait for it – “Armed & Ready.” Somehow, Connolly found the time in his schedule to chat with Bullz-Eye about what viewers can expect from his show, also filling us in as best he could about the status of the movie adaptation of his book, the wealth of limb-related puns in his repertoire, and how the words “all over the map” in no way come close to clarifying the depth of his tastes in music.
Bullz-Eye: I feel like we’re practically best friends now that we’ve Tweeted back and forth.
Kevin Michael Connolly: I know! Exactly! It’s, like, one step away from exchanging bodily fluids! [Hesitates.] Okay, maybe not that close. But it’s in the ballpark. Six degrees from…
BE: Yeah, we can probably just agree that we’re very close.
KMC: Got it. [Laughs.]
BE: Thanks to the Travel Channel, I’ve been able to check out the advance screeners of the first two episodes of “Armed and Ready.”
KMC: Oh, cool!
BE: I would say the same. So you’re a guy who’s gone from winning a medal in the X Games to being recognized for your photography to writing a book to now hosting a show for Travel Channel. That’d be a pretty amazing road to travel for anybody, let alone somebody who’s had to tackle these things from, shall we say, a different vantage point.
KMC: And to do it all by the time I’m 27! [Laughs.] It’s pretty crazy, man.
BE: So what are the origins of “Armed and Ready”? How did you find yourself in this line of work?
KMC: Well, Travel Channel contacted me after I had an article come out in Outside Magazine that was in promotion of my book, Double Take. Really, the show is an extension of everything I’d been doing with my photography and skiing. I mean, we don’t have skiing in the first season or anything, but, basically, with both of those activities, whether it was traveling on the road with a camera or jumping on my mono-ski, all of it required adaptation and building jury-rigged apparatuses on the spot to allow me to do whatever I needed to do. And as you saw in both of those episodes, we’re certainly still trying to build our way out of a lot of problems. [Laughs.]
BE: In regards to the absence of skiing in the first season, was that because it just seemed too obvious, or did you just want to challenge yourself a bit more?
KMC: No, we just shot during the summer. [Laughs.]
BE: Makes sense. Well, in those first two episodes, we see you taking on the Great Smoky Mountains and Hawaii, but where else do we see you go during Season 1?
KMC: I get to do a NASA trip, so I get to try and become the first legless astronaut, and I get to go through a lot of the training there, driving the lunar rover and some zero-g activities. There’s a medieval-themed episode in Fort Collins, Colorado, where I’m jousting, which was – hands down – the scariest activity or sport we had throughout the whole series, just because, like, what’s the first thing you do to a horse? You straddle it. And I, uh, can’t. [Laughs.] So we definitely were trying to…I mean, I’m literally in the episode on the back of the horse, and someone’s drilling straps onto the actual saddle, just trying to make it work even as we’re getting ready to actually do the joust. And then we have ranger training at Fort Benning, in Georgia.
BE: As you were saying, and as I saw in those two episodes, the people you’re working with at these various places definitely seem to be game not only for you to give these endeavors a shot but are actually intrigued at the idea of trying to figure out how to make them work. Did you come across anybody who said, “No, you can’t do that, no way”?
KMC: Well, I mean, obviously, since we’re Twitter buddies… [Laughs.] People spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned through that, it’s that everything more or less has already been done. If you need something built or you want to go somewhere, chances are that someone has gone before you and done that. And so, while not having legs definitely provides its own set of logistical challenges, the other way to look at it is that it opens up this whole new realm of problems to solve and things to explore.
I mean, really, if anything, when people ask me, “Wow, you jumped from photography to writing to now television, why did you do all that?” the answer’s simple: I just have a really unique point of view that I like to explore, and it can be explored in a bunch of different mediums. But in this case specifically, it’s a chance to, y’know, have a bigger budget instead of just, say, being an author by yourself. Also, getting to meet some of the people and go to some of the locations that we do, that’s what really allows us to build some of the more complex contraptions that you’re gonna see on the show. The added benefit of that, too, is that no one else can really use them. [Laughs.] So at the end of every episode, I just get a new device to play with!
BE: Actually, that leads into something I’d been wondering about. I know your father designed several devices over the years to help you get around. Has he been able to patent any of those, so that others can possibly benefit from them?
KMC: Well, I actually just finished building a mono-ski for a young boy from Make-a-Wish Foundation based off of an old mono-ski that I designed myself. Honestly, that’s one of the biggest goals I have with this show. I mean, obviously I hope everyone watches it and we get great ratings and it’s really enjoyed widely, but there’s gonna be a specific subset of people who watch it and the solutions that we come up with on an episode might be direct inspiration for them to go, like, “Oh! Now I can go try and street luge!” Or, “Yeah, okay, so that’s how you build a saddle from scratch for a horse!” [Laughs.] That direct help, especially in the adapted-sporting-devices arena, is really awesome. I mean, one of the things I remember as a kid growing up in Montana in the pre-Google world was that access to information for someone with physical disabilities was really, really difficult. So to get to expand the network, much less put it on a national stage, is just…I dunno, it’s just a feel-good opportunity, if that makes any sense.
BE: Sure it does. How did you come up with your list of destinations for the show? And were there any things that you weren’t able to do because of insurance concerns or whatever?
KMC: Yeah. Basically, I was asked by the production company I’m working with…and this is total coincidence, but ironic nonetheless: they’re called Crazy Legs Productions. [Laughs.] Totally separate. They were founded years before they met me. But they came to me and just asked me flat out, “What’s your bucket list? What are things you’d want to do?” And a lot of my stuff was going back to my eight-year-old desires, which were, like, “I want to be an astronaut and experience zero-gravity, I’ve always wanted to skateboard in a suit of armor…” So I’m, like, “Send them that list!” And sometimes there’ll be a miss. One time I wanted to rally-car drive, and they’re, like, “We might have to wait for the second season.” [Laughs.] ‘Cause trying to insure a legless kid doing the crap that I’m doing, I imagine, is a very difficult proposition. But, anyway, I was trying to give them what I wanted to do, and my producer would come back to me, and she’d usually add some dangerous element to the mix. So it’s, like, “All right, you want to go skateboarding in a suit of armor and be a knight? Well, then, you’ve got to joust.” So there’s definitely…it’s good, ‘cause I’m a little bit of a masochist, and I know my producer is definitely a sadist. [Laughs.] So it’s a good relationship.
BE: You seem to have an infinite wealth of limb-related puns at your disposal.
KMC: [Laughs.] Well, y’know, the blessing and the curse of being born without legs is that you certainly…you always have a better repertoire of jokes about not having legs than anyone coming up to you thinking they’re gonna try to be clever and pull a new one. Every now and then I’ll hear a new one, and I’ll stop and give a little golf handclap. But for the most part, I’ve heard ‘em all.
BE: In regards to the zip ties that you had to use to tie your shirt and pants together when you’re making the cliff jump in Hawaii…well, I’m just gonna say it: I think you’re too disparaging about how people would react to seeing your balls. Travel Channel viewers have seen a lot worse than that on their TV screens.
KMC: You know, that’s probably true. [Laughs.] That is probably true. But, I mean, that’s one of the things where…I don’t know whether it’s necessarily always the best attitude to have for television, but at the end of the day, for me, I’m, like, “I don’t care what it looks like. Screw it: if it works, that’s the most important thing.” I guess what I’m saying here is that, as a TV host, I’m definitely not afraid to zip-tie my shirt to my pants.
BE: You mentioned Double Take a few minutes ago. I know it’s been optioned for a possible film. Have you heard any updates on the status of that?
KMC: Um…all I know—all I’m allowed to say, actually—is that it’s now being produced with Groundswell Productions in conjunction with Katie Jacobs. So, yeah, it’s moving along. I can’t really give any too-specific details, though. Sorry!
BE: It’s all good. As far as your experiences with the X Games, I was wondering if you had the opportunity to see any performances by bands that really stood out for you.
KMC: I didn’t really get to see any bands. For the most part, when you’re at X Games, you are either in your bed, trying to sleep or ice out a recovery, or you’re on the courts. I mean, really, X Games for the athletes is a really amazing time, but also…I mean, every day I was scared out of my mind. You don’t have any time or mental state to go out and enjoy yourself. [Laughs.] As odd as that sounds. Everybody who went with me had a blast, but I was scared out of my fricking mind every day! I did get to see 50 Cent walk through with his entourage, which was pretty funny, just because…well, just because they’re a bunch of really big bouncer dudes walking through a tent filled with tiny little ski kids. Everyone was scared. It was awesome. [Laughs.]
BE: I should clarify that the only reason I really asked that question was to find out where your musical tastes lie.
KMC: Hmmm. I’m really all over the map. I really like freak-folk type stuff, so Bonnie Prince Billy, older Sufjan Stevens… But then I also dig The Knife, Royksopp… [Hesitates.] I’m trying to think. What’s my latest thing? Well, then I’ve been into this Mongolian…I forget the name of the instrument he’s playing, sorry. I’m pulling up my iTunes. And I’m being way too specific. [Laughs.] Suffice it to say that I’m really into music! I just had Marty Robbins on a little earlier ago, from way back when, playing “Big Iron.” And then I have a remix of Damian Marley by Skrillex, and then I’ve got Beck and Interpol and Die Antwoord and Alex Clare… How’s that?
BE: I’d say that “really all over the map” really undersells your musical tastes.
KMC: [Laughs.] Oh, good!
BE: I went to the website for “The Rolling Exhibition,” and in your artist’s statement, you mention how people have variously wondered if your legs were eaten by a shark, lost in a car accident, or the result of a stint in Iraq, but what’s the craziest thing someone’s said in suggestion of what happened to them?
KMC: Um…well, I remember one night when I was trick-or-treating as a kid, I was probably 10 or 11 years ago, and a little kid came up to me. I was sitting on the step of a porch, and…you know how those porches go, where you can see under the porch through the gaps between the steps as you walk up? This little kid came up to me, and he’s looking underneath the stairs, looking at me, then looking underneath the stairs again. And then he said, “How did you get that costume?” [Laughs.] So the assumption that this is just an elaborate Halloween costume was definitely a good one.
My personal favorite, simply because I still to this day have no real idea what his motivations were, was when I was in the Ukraine and was getting ready to jump on a subway car to head back to the place where I was staying. I had my backpack, so I threw my backpack and my skateboard on the train, and as I jumped from the platform into the train, two arms came from behind me and just lifted me off the ground. With no explanation! I struggled to turn around, and it’s this burly, mustachioed Ukranian dude, looking at me. And he’s got me pretty well wrapped up, but his eyes just read of pure fear, and he’s speaking rapidly in Russian to me…but I don’t speak Russian! My best guess, though, is that he was just, like, “Oh, my God, this guy needs help, I should pick him up,” without thinking of the second half of that, which was, “Where do I put him?” So he’s trying to figure out the second half of this issue, but I couldn’t help him, so eventually I just pulled the three-year-old noodle maneuver – when you don’t want to be held by your mom, you just ooze out – and I got away. So, uh, the reactions are far and wide. [Laughs.]
BE: And you’re still traveling far and wide, except now you’re doing it as the host of your TV show. The adventure, as they say, continues.
KMC: Yeah, one of the biggest catalysts for travel and meeting new people and just having new experiences in life is just curiosity, so while I have to deal with some weird questions and weird reactions from time to time… I also have the ultimate ace in the hole in terms of inspiring people’s curiosity, so it’s really cool to just be able to know that you can land almost anywhere, whether it be in the U.S. or abroad, and have people be interested enough at least in what you’re doing to open up. I dunno, I just found myself very quickly engaging with locals and ingratiating myself with the local culture, simply because of how unique it is that I’m getting around the way I do.
BE: To wrap up, you mentioned at least one of the possibilities for the second season of “Armed and Ready,” should there be one. Do you have any other thoughts of where you’d like to take the series if you get a sophomore year?
KMC: [Loudly.] Rally-car driving! [Laughs.] I figure if I say this enough, they’re just gonna have to do it, because there’s gonna be promises made in ink. I want to rally-car drive! But I was definitely told flat out, “We can’t afford insurance for that right now.” But one of the ways in which I think of the things I want to do is based on questions that I get asked by people, and one of the most common questions is, “How do you drive?” And so I would obviously like to answer that, but not by, like, driving a minivan or something. Let’s kick it up a notch! [Laughs.] So, basically, what I’m saying is that trying to drive a manual, stick-shift rally car sounds like a lovely Sunday afternoon…
Tags: Alex Clare, Armed and Ready, Beck, Bonnie Prince Billy, Damian Marley, Die Antwoord, Double Take, Double Take: A Memoir, Groundswell Productions, Interpol, Katie Jacobs, Kevin Michael Connolly, Marty Robbins, Michael London, NASA, rally car driving, Royksopp, Skrillex, Sufjan Stevens, The Knife, The Light from the TV Shows, The Rolling Exhibition, Travel Channel, Will Harris, X Games