Who Was That Guy in the Toga With Madonna? And What Was He Doing?

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 5 2012 10:38 PM

Who Was That Guy in the Toga With Madonna? And What Was He Doing?

138324506
Andy Lewis, aka Sketchy Andy, performs with Madonna during the Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Among the many odd moments in Madonna's epic, Roman Empire-themed halftime performance at this year's Super Bowl, perhaps the oddest came when the Voguing queen walked up next to what appeared to be a makeshift limbo pole or maybe a low-lying tightrope and watched a man who looked like he maybe could have been Will Ferrell or possibly a younger and svelter Richard Simmons (someone, in any case, with a lot of hair) bounce up and down as though that little rope was a trampoline. Oh, and he was wearing a toga.

What in the world was going on?

Advertisement

Well, the short answer is: slacklining. Or, if you want to get technical and specific, tricklining. According to California's Adventure Sports Journal, slacklining was invented in the early 1980s by two rock climbers:

While rope walking has been around for thousands of years, the familiar art of slacklining along a taut length of tubular nylon webbing was invented in the early 1980s by two Yosemite rock climbers, Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington. The pair picked up on the idea after walking along loose chain fences on rainy days in the Valley. Hooked on the challenge, they strung up old climbing webbing between trees around their campsites at Camp 4, the traditional campground for Yosemite climbers for over 40 years. Voilà! The slackline was born.

Voilà indeed. As you may have guessed, the Super Bowl halftime cameo was a big moment for the young sport of slacklining—and for the talented, curly-haired slackliner who got the spotlight: Andy Lewis, aka Sketchy Andy. If, like me, you had never heard of slacklining before, you may be surprised to learn that Sketch Andy has a sponsor: Gibbon Slacklines. Given what I have written so far about the sport's history, you may be less surprised to learn that said sponsor is based in Boulder, Colorado, where the sport is reportedly popular.

In any case, if the halftime show didn't give you enough of Sketchy Andy's slacklining virtuosity, here's a clip of some of his derring-do, much of which makes performing at the Super Bowl look like a piece of cake.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.