It’s not the typical late-night bar cry, but then the crowd gathered at the Wharf pub wasn’t there just to have a drink. Farmers, welders and nerds — a motley crew even by Vineyard standards — were all on hand Tuesday night to watch the premiere episode of the Discovery Channel’s newest series: Big Giant Swords.
Standing against the wall, wearing a black T-shirt and leather jacket, was the star of the show, Michael (Irish Mike) Craughwell, 32, of West Tisbury. Wife Amelia Smith was nearby, along with Jonny Rich, who works at the Grey Barn. Both are part of the Big Giant Swords cast, with Ms. Smith tapping into her inner beleaguered wife. “Daddy’s working,” she tells children Christopher and Nova at one point, as Mr. Craughwell tests a new sword in the background. Mr. Rich is the self-described “go-to guy” for finding locations to test new creations.
Blacksmith Jamie Rogers, assistant Erik Bang-Birge and apprentice Matthew Barton round out the sword-making team. Mike (AmeriMike) Robinson films the process and offers “sage” advice.
Just how you thought a guy who makes big swords (right) would dress. — Jeanna Shepard
Mr. Craughwell was as much in the dark about what the show would look like as anyone else. Though he was involved in weeks of filming over the summer, he hadn’t seen any edited footage other than the show’s previews.
“Oh, that’s me,” he said as the introduction rolled and the Wharf crowd began to cheer and clap.
“Life is too short to spend it doing something you hate,” the televised Mr. Craughwell said. A map of Martha’s Vineyard that resembled either a pirate map or a prop from Game of Thrones (opinions at the Wharf were mixed) appeared on screen, along with the all-important dramatic music.
Being a reality television star wasn’t the initial goal for Mr. Craughwell when he first brought together his welding skills and his love of all things fantasy to create custom-made swords. But the creations were enormous, weighing upwards of 30 pounds each and spanning up to eight feet in length. In 2007, he was commissioned to make a sword for the Final Fantasy 7 video game — the “Buster” sword was six feet long with a foot-wide blade.
Mr. Craughwell took his swords to YouTube, demonstrating each new creation’s somewhat unwieldy power as he smashed and broke things. With his brambly locks and beard, distinctive Irish brogue, deadpan humor and obvious passion for his craft, Mr. Craughwell was as interesting to watch as his swords were to look at. He quickly gained considerable internet fame. Even before the premiere of Big Giant Swords, his videos had more than six million views. The most recent upload, featuring Mr. Craughwell, Mr. Rich and a massive 106-pound axe, garnered 140,000 views in its first three days.
Thinkfactory Media, a production company that has created shows for AMC, the History Channel, Lifetime and MTV, saw potential in Mr. Craughwell’s story and reached out to him last year about a show. They shopped the idea to several networks, and it was picked up by Discovery.
Filming began over the summer and lasted until October, with television crews visiting the Dumptique, the charter school and Island Alpaca for location shoots. A request to film in Chilmark was denied by selectmen, who did not support the proposed plan to explode a fake bomb and use a trebuchet.
Mr. Craughwell and Ms. Smith put in long days during the filming, and at one point Mr. Craughwell got tendinitis from lifting and swinging his swords around. Their kids, Christopher and Nova, took all the commotion in stride, as they have their father’s chosen career.
“They think it’s normal,” Mr. Craughwell said.
There are six episodes of Big Giant Swords, each spotlighting both the artistry and shenanigans of Mr. Craughwell and his crew as they custom-craft two different weapons per episode. In the premiere, they are tasked with making a giant lightning bolt sword for a group of storm chasers, and creating a two-foot wide Chakram (a circular throwing weapon).
“I have to think the thing I’m making is cool,” Mr. Craughwell explains on the show.
But the great strength of the show is that it balances the absurd premise of building giant swords with presenting the talent and skill needed to do so. And once created, the swords speak for themselves.
“The swords are so ridiculous, they don’t have to coax or promote drama,” Mr. Craughwell said. “The swords generate it themselves.”
For example, it would be impossible to hoist a lighting bolt sword and not want to channel Zeus, perhaps by slicing through a large block of ice as it is tossed in the air. Which, of course, Mr. Craughwell did, on camera while wearing a toga.
During commercial breaks, friends came up to Mr. Craughwell with congratulations and praise.
“I think it’s doing a good job capturing your character,” one woman said. Someone else asked how long the show would be airing.
“Six weeks — and then who knows,” Mr. Craughwell said.
Big Giant Swords airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. Previous episodes can be viewed online at http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/big-giant-swords/videos/.