A piece for the Guardian on Louis Cole, who eats strange things
A YouTube channel called Food for Louis reached 1m hits on one of its videos last week. Louis Cole is a shaggy-haired 28-year-old living in Roehampton, south west London. Since he started posting videos last May, Cole has filmed himself eating, among other things, 21 live locusts, a raw bull’s heart, a turkey leg crawling with maggots (the “Christmas special”, that one), a rotting dead frog , a “mouseshake” (10 dead mice blitzed in a blender), a large, live lizard from the Brazilian jungle, a live tarantula, live crayfish, live scorpion and, most controversially to judge by the “dislikes” and comments, “my pet goldfish”.
After the bush tucker trials of I’m a Celebrity, Bourdain with his balut,Bear Grylls and Fear Factor, the British public is now familiar with this kind of stunt eating. But Cole takes things rather further. I don’t know which is worse: the dead lizard spasming as it pokes out of his mouth, the way he grips four tarantula legs in each hand before biting the creature’s head off, the crayfish pinching his tongue, or the money shot of the mashed-up scorpion, disconcertingly resembling beef stroganoff. No, I do know which is the worst: the ragworms. Cole manages three of these, each a little under a foot long. They bite him back when he puts them in his mouth. As he delivers the coup de grace and begins to crunch, his gag reflex is so strong that a half-chewed ragworm corpse splatters out of his mouth. Undeterred, he slurps it back in like a ribbon of fettuccine.
If it all sounds idiotic, pointless and embarrassingly laddish, the most surprising thing about Cole is that he doesn’t talk or act like an extra from Jackass. He’s softly-spoken and rather unassuming in person. Before he started earning what he tells me is “enough to survive on” making his YouTube videos, he spent five years as a community worker helping to run an organisation that sought to protect inner city children from gangs. He has taken troubled youths to countries such as Zambia, and says it was terrible when one London council ended its association with him after it became aware of his YouTube channel.
Cole started eating strange things for dares a few years ago. “My mates would get me to eat a spider,” he says. “I never had any problem with it.” He began with the easy stuff – a wasp, a rotten apple – before graduating to more challenging delicacies.