Exclusive Interview: Tim Noonan on Rite of Passage and Eating Penis

Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network is premiering two new shows tonight. You all know Danny Trejo, who will explore how old school weapons are made in Man at Arms. Right after, you’ll meet Tim Noonan on Rite of Passage.

Noonan was an Australian journalist who left to make this show. He goes to 12 different region to participate in the local rites of passage. In the premiere, he wrestles a bull in Madagascar, and eats penis and testicles according to the custom. Noonan joined Trejo at Trejo’s Cantina in Los Angeles to talk about his show. Rite of Passage airs Thursdays at 9PM on El Rey.

WLE: I’m an adventurous eater myself. I’ll try anything once. Did you like the testicles?

Tim Noonan: Testicles were extremely rubbery and tasteless. For some reason, in Madagascar, they believe that men get strength from eating penis and testicles. I didn’t really find that. It was a really rubbery, tough thing to eat.

WLE: I felt the same when I had testicles in Hong Kong. I’ve never been anywhere that served penis though. What does that taste like?

Tim Noonan: The way they cooked it, it was like eating a rubber band. It was like a stretchy calamari.

WLE: Well, I love calamari so maybe I’d like penis.

Tim Noonan: Yeah, it was kind of like calamari but far tougher.

WLE: Had you ever ridden bulls, mechanical or real, before Rite of Passage?

Tim Noonan: No. I’d never ridden a horse before. Certainly never done anything that dangerous. Growing up I tried to surf and tackle big waves, but before I embarked on this journey I had never done anything like this. That was the reason I did it. I really wanted to test myself to see if I could man up. I grew up raised mostly by my mum. My mum and dad split up when I was young so I think I had this big void, what it meant to be a man as I was growing up. How do you walk? How do you talk? How do you hold a beer What does it mean to be a man? I got into journalism and then I wanted to do undercover stories. I shaved my head and I tried to toughen myself up but I grew up with farmers around me. My uncles were really “Get your hands dirty” sort of men. I think I always didn’t feel quite man enough. So I wanted to put myself through a rite of passage. I’ve always had an interest in Tintin type adventures, boyhood adventures around the world. So I tried pick 12 spots that I desperately wanted to go to, test myself against all these men that I perceived to be tough. It wasn’t always about physical toughness. It was about different facets of manhood. Sometimes it was spiritual. Sometimes it really was just about whether I could muscle up to get through an initiation. Other times, it was about caring for a golden eagle, like a baby, bringing up the baby.

WLE: What other rites of passages are covered?

Tim Noonan: In Madagascar I wrestle a bull. In Brazil, I have to attempt to attempt to hit a wasp’s nest which is a meter high full of thousands of wasps. That’s the way boys become men in those areas. I have to have the courage to be able to suffer the stings and the pain of feeling that nest and emerge the other side. In another part of Brazil, they become men by pushing themselves through physical duress and exhaustion so that they become delirious and have a vision of their manhood. Another one is in Papa New Guinea, I have to wrestle a shark into a canoe and become a sailor. I had never sailed before. I had to actually carve a canoe, chop a tree down, carve a canoe, learn to sail and then pull a shark to the boat and pull it up into the canoe. In Cameroon, boys become men by climbing head first down a snake hole, grabbing the head of a python, pulling the python out which is enormous, like six meters long. You have to be able to go down and have the courage to grab the snake for the village, so the village can eat. Another way to catch the snake is to put your leg down the snake hole and the snake eats your leg. You bend your knee and the men pull you out. I went to Siberia where you had to become a reindeer herder. I’ve never had to kill an animal before so that was pretty confronting. Learning to have to kill your own reindeer that you’ve grown to love and eat it raw on the ice is one of the challenges. I got tribally scarred. I had my ears pierced, although you can’t see now.

WLE: They closed back up?

Tim Noonan: They healed now but I’ve eaten the most bizarre things under the sun.

WLE: More bizarre than penises?

Tim Noonan: Like spiders, termites, flying termites raw, raw reindeer blood, all sorts of things like rat. In West Africa they ate barbecued rat and the rats are enormous. I learned to catch one. All sorts of things. The list goes on. There’s 12 different initiations.

WLE: Getting stung can be fatal so did you have to be tested for allergies to wasp stings?

Tim Noonan: No, on this series there was no safety precautions. It was something that I evaluated on the ground as I went. I did get stung. I’d been stung prior to that in Cameroon where I had to put my hand into a beehive up a tree and bring out the honey. I didn’t know if I was allergic or not. I had been stung prior so I figured it was okay, but there’s nothing that quite prepares you for getting stung hundreds of times and then going, “Oh God, I’m really going to find out right now whether or not I’m going to be in trouble.” Where would I go? There was no medical help for days. So you have to commit.

WLE: Being from Australia, did you ever do a walkabout?

Tim Noonan: That’s a good question. I always wanted to do a walkabout. Part of the series was doing initiations that were still current today. It’s really difficult to find them. In Australia, they disappeared, long gone. So I had to really go into the farthest reaches of the earth to try to seek out those places where it still existed. The last bastions of places where the culture still remained true and the traditions and rituals were still strong. The modern world has crept into everywhere. Facebook is in the deepest corners of the Amazon. So to find those last little pockets where people still practice these old customs was the toughest part of the show.


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