His name is Crazy Legs Conti. He lives in the East Village, doesn’t own a cell phone and wears shorts all year round. It’s not the name his parents gave him, but it’s his legal moniker and he won’t tell us why.
That he will tell us though, at length, is why he is a competitive eater. It’s not just the love of food, which is definitely there, but there’s a philosophical, almost spiritual side to his devotion to the sport.
“Is it a bizarre, strange, bewildering sport?” he asks. “Yes. Is it foolish? Not for me. I never seek to explain how the universe works. I just need to find my place in it.”
There was a time, in college, when he wore three varsity letters but admittedly spent a lot of time on the bench during basketball and football games as well as track meets.
Conti moved to NYC to work in the film industry and can also claim on his resume the roles of bouncer, nude model, window washer, strip club beverage manager, meat salesman, writer and director of three short films, and maitre’d (or, as he prefers, “maitre d’on’t).
It was in New Orleans (“my favorite American city,” he says) that he found his calling.
“I had always been a fan of the sport,” he recalls. “When I moved to New York in the 90s, I would read the Post every day and they would always cover Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. That was before ESPN aired it, when there were maybe 350 people in the audience.”
In 2002, Conti and his friends headed to the Big Easy to see the Super Bowl, but Crazy Legs couldn’t afford the ticket. While watching the game in a bar, drinking beer and eating oysters, he found out that he could eat for free across the street if he could break the record for oysters consumed in one sitting.
So he headed over to the Acme Oyster House and proceeded to devour 34 dozen of the little creatures on top of what he had already digested, raising the bar for future contenders.
“My stomach looked like I was pregnant and I had to stick close to the bathroom while I watched the rest of the game, which my hometown team, the Patriots, won. I got a standing ovation when I went back to Acme with my friends later!” Conti recalls. “I truly felt the love of this amazing city.”
“The president of Major League Eating brought me back for my first pro contest,” he continues. “I won my first meet with 32 dozen oysters in 10 minutes.”
Since then, he says, “you name it, I’ve eaten it in a contest.” Corn on the cob, pancakes with bacon, peanut butter and jelly, strawberry shortcake, deep-fried asparagus, cannoli, zeppole, Buffalo wings, hot dogs — the list goes on.
There’s some training involved, but not all of it is physical. Conti hits the gym, jogs across the Williamsburg Bridge and practices yoga, but he prepares mentally as well. Meditation plays a part as well as some “pre-visualization.”
“With every bite and chew,” he confides, “I think about the next competition. In one sense, I train every day.”
Conti can easily reel off the stats of his heroes and competitors and still marvels at the day he watched Takeru Kobayashi put away 50 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes at Coney Island.
Unfortunately, Conti did not qualify to compete at this year’s Fourth of July contest but that didn’t stop him from going, bearing homemade gifts for his fellow eaters and partying with them afterward.
“Victory is super important,” he muses, “but success is always there.”
When he does compete, and wins, he hands his trophy to the nearest kid and proceeds to spend his prize money on his “bar tab and morally casual women.”
Conti has travelled the world doing competitions for the entertainment of U.S. troops, in front of as many as 25,000 people in exotic places such as Japan, South Korea, Crete, Singapore, Thailand and Guam, to name a few.
“I’m a pacifist, but I support the troops,” he states. “It’s the greatest thing I’ve done as a human being.”
Next up is a banana cream pudding contest in Alabama, where he predicts that he will be wearing a “beatific smile,” as it’s one of his favorite foods.
Although the 51-year-old eater says he has the “stomach of a 22-year-old” and has no plans to “hang up the esophagus,” he has a couple of goals in mind for the future that are not related to digestibles.
“I want to live off my creative endeavors,” he explains. “I have stacks of screenplays ready to go. When I sell my first one, I’m getting a tattoo of all five Marx Brothers. And I really want to have a beer with Bill Murray.”
But wait, there’s more! Conti is the subject of the documentary “Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating ” and has self published a memoir entitled “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Eater.”
His website is crazylegsconti.com.