Most hard-core rock climbers are good for a hair-raising story or two-that 100-foot fall on one piece of protection, the unexpected night spent hanging in a harness in zero-degree temps or the 36-hour death march with no water. While Timmy O’Neill has his own set of cliffhanging tales, he’s more likely give you something like this:
“As the recent emcee for the OIWC Drag Queen Fashion Show a sexagenarian dressed in a jog bra, came from under my legs, positioned his garishly colored face near my crotch and performed unsolicited faux fellatio.”
If you’ve seen O’Neill on stage before, you probably are not all that surprised.
While not behind the microphone, O’Neill is a professional rock climber who also slacklines over 1000-foot gaps, mountain bikes and kayaks Class V+ whitewater. He has set speed-climbing records in Patagonia and Yosemite-including a 3-hour-and-24-minute El Cap ascent (the time it takes many climbers to lead just one pitch). But while many armchair climbers have seen him on film and ogle enviously over his impressive tick-list, they almost certainly will be more excited to reference a memory from one of his outrageous comic performances that make Timmy O’Neill stick out sideways in the vertical world.
After seven years as a hitch-hiking, work-little-climb-lots dirt-bag, O’Neill teamed up with Peter Mortimer to make climbing films, a move he says allowed his creative side (and his bank account) more room to breathe. O’Neill climbed in and co-produced the popular films Return to Sender and Front Range Freaks, but playing the role of emcee at slideshows, fundraisers and film tours around the country are where his popularity and eccentricity are best defined. In an industry that traditionally brings images and stories in from the edge to elicit oohs and ahhs, he brings his own edge to the stage and throws in right in the audience’s face. As he proclaims himself, O’Neill has become the entertainer of the rock climbing world.
“I consider myself a very recalcitrant and unruly person,” O’Neill says. “People often like the stuff I do because it’s unexpected and fresh.”
O’Neill claims that “pissing off an audience” is what upsets him most in life, but he does anything but play it safe. Although most of his performances are filled with laughter and end with roaring applause, he has also been the bearer of the following adjectives: political, misogynist, selfish, egotistical and megalomaniac. He earned the title “sexist” after sliding under a female during a push-up contest during a presentation at-of all places-Harvard University. But O’Neill believes it’s worth the risk to spice up the outdoor entertainment industry’s traditionally straightforward tone.
“Just rock climbing bores you to death until you fall asleep or want to kill the presenter,” O’Neill says. “[My presentations] are more like stand-up comedy meets rock climbing.”
On September 22, O’Neill will make his first trip to Spokane with the Reel Rock Film Tour, a 43-stop show featuring two new climbing films-Dosage 4 and First Ascent. O’Neill, the executive producer of and a featured athlete in First Ascent, will be emceeing the event at The Met.
If past history is any indication, Spokanites might see O’Neill hanging off the side of the Riverfront Park clock tower while he’s in town. It’s no lie that O’Neill is something of a freak. His climbing career started as a kid in Philadelphia when he often went buildering at the tombstones and mausoleum walls of a local cemetery. These days O’Neill actually free solos hundreds of feet in the air on structures such as the Titan 1 Missile Silo in Colorado and the Pabst Brewery in Wisconsin, feats which have earned him the title “Urban Ape.” In First Ascent, O’Neill stars in a section he describes as “Urban Ape goes Hollywood.”
Though he may only monkey around Hollywood right now, O’Neill recently acted in a full-length Indie film that had nothing to do with climbing, playing a 37-year-old stoner, “which isn’t a very far stretch for me,” he says. Though he denies the possession of goals, it’s safe to say that O’Neill is progressing as an entertainer at-large.
Whether it be on a cliff face or a building, many of us would give anything to climb like O’Neill, but O’Neill has shown that climbing alone doesn’t satiate his spirit. He is of exceptional intelligence with a huge vocabulary and much more going on upstairs besides route beta. Combine that intellect with a knack for comedy and you’ve got a pretty inviting recipe-no matter what the topic.
When asked to describe the upcoming films, O’Neill’s response resembles a mantra for his life as a whole.
“The subject matter is climbing, but the storyline is human,” he says.
To reserve tickets for the Reel Rock Film Tour on September 22, contact Mountain Gear or visit TicketsWest.com. For more info on O’Neill or the Reel Rock Film Tour visit http://www.timmyoneill.com and http://www.reelrocktour.com.
After he presents the Reel Rock Film Tour show at the Met, Timmy O’Neill will be spending a couple of days recreating in the Spokane area. If you would like to hang out with Timmy, he asks that you call his cell phone at (303) 859-4111.