Magical Father’s Day

Actual Image of Us and our FatherFather’s Day is nigh.  It isn’t as popular as Mother’s Day but, to us, just as important.

It is wonderful time to remember how important fathers are in the development of their children generally and specifically for us.

Had it not been for our dad, we likely would never have found our life-long love of magic.  It was, after all, our pop who bought us The Ball and Vase from a magic store in our hometown of Oak Park, Illinois.  He taught us how to perform the miracle and encouraged us to bring it to kindergarten the next morning to show others.

He delighted in hearing about the crowd of fellow students who came to see the miracle and did not seem surprised to hear that the teacher took the trick from us.

Our dad was and is special.  He instilled in our little brain the notion that we can be exceptional and successful with practice and hard work in all things, magic included.

When our parents were going through a divorce, we were called upon to care for our siblings during the summer months while the adults were at work.  Dad promised that our pay for the three months of work would be rewarded by a trip to the Paul Diamond Magic and Fun Wagon at the Palm Beach Mall.  We thought about our booty all summer as we guided our brother and sisters through their days of camp and play and housecleaning.

On Labor Day weekend in 1972, our work was rewarded with a trip to the magic shop.  Our father waited patiently as we considered all of the offerings and quizzed the manager, Barry Gibbs, on what we should get.  Finally, with Mr. Gibbs’ direction, we decided on a magic book rather than a single trick.  That book changed the course of our life.  The Expert at the Card Table by the mysterious S.W. Erdnase cost $3.50 and soon became our source of inspiration and frustration as we tried to master the moves described and illustrated.

Dad selected thousands of cards for us, bought us our first Show Suit, took pride in our winning the state close-up championship, drove us to shows, television studios, magic stores and magic club meetings.  He never once thought our love of magic was a “hobby” and always encouraged us to practice and perform as if we were a true professional – although our voice had not yet changed.

He was and is a great critic.  We recall one afternoon in Chicago – many years later – when he sat through our stab at impromptu stand-up.  He listened carefully and helped us tune the jokes for a comedy career that never happened but was fun in the planning.

It must be a tough decision to allow your eldest child to travel to far away conventions alone or with his teenage friends to spend long hours “hanging out” with strangers in hotels.  But our dad trusted us and the instincts he hoped we had developed.  And when we failed to live up to those standards for behavior, he counseled us and forgave us.  He provided a powerful lesson in that response.

We are blessed to have him with us still.  As is required of all parents from the Midwest, he has been relocated to the Gulf Coast of Florida.  We are pretty sure that is a law.  He remains our counselor, supporter and confessor.  His love was never absent or in doubt.

Father’s Day is nigh and so is our father, always.

Performing Magic for the Tipsy without Judging

Inside Magic Image of Drunk AudienceSteve Martin, the magician and comedian, said one of the reasons he quit touring was because he hated performing for drunks.  There may have been other reasons as well but if that was the only rationale for getting off the road and living the life of a Hollywood star, we would understand.

We have performed for many audiences with one or two drunk members – some even outside of our own home and family reunions.  It never really bothered us philosophically or practically.  Our proud Irish heritage comes with a built-in ability to work with and around the inebriated.

Friday night we performed for about a dozen folks who were all at the same moderate-to-high level of intoxication.  They were an otherwise delightful and attractive crowd.  Ladies in their finest and men in their “I don’t want to dress up, but she’s all dressed up so I will do it but I won’t like it” best.  All but one of the guests were clutching their drink glasses as they watched with varying degrees of interest.

Our routine runs just about 18 minutes.  From the opening joke to the final card reveal, it clocks pretty much the same each time we perform it.  Sure there could be some spontaneous, momentary detour that adds a half-minute but we never go beyond 20 minutes.  Friday night, that 18 minutes lasted almost 30 minutes as we dealt with well-intentioned heckling, requests to “do it again but slower” and the restart of a trick because the audience member forgot her choice.

We know we should be indignant about the experience.  We should take to these virtual pages to complain about the group, throw shade their way for enjoying themselves on a Friday night in a manner that lengthened our show and ruined our rehearsed routine and made a mess of the timing.  But we just can’t.

They were, as we mentioned, all at the same approximate level of dysfunction.  No one was belligerent or offensive.  They were very complimentary of our skills during and after the performance and no one became physically ill on or near us.   Yes, the act lasted longer but perhaps in their time reference, it worked out to be 18 minutes.  Sure, they did not laugh right after we said our lines but they usually caught up with the joke within a minute or two – occasionally  repeating the line aloud as they laughed.

We are not condoning or encouraging irresponsible behavior or rude drunkenness.  We have performed for rude drunks and did not enjoy the experience at all – not even a little.  We have had altered audience members attempt to take cards from us or demand we follow their instructions as we perform.  That isn’t fun.

We don’t want to romanticize the experience.  It wasn’t as if we were performing for a private party in a salon owned by Jay Gatsby where the champagne flowed and all were imbued with an ebullient joie de vivre without the painful bloating and gas.  These were people who were having a nice evening and came together to see a show they seemed to enjoy.  The performer didn’t mind working his act a little differently – a little slower in some respects – to help them enjoy what they were seeing.  No harm, no foul from our point of view.

Plus, we were finally able to confidently perform really tough (for us) card sleights without the slightest fear of being detected.  It was good for all concerned. Does that mean we are enabling bad behavior?  We don’t think so.  We’re just happy to have had the chance to perform for people who seemed happy to have us perform for them.

The Magic Castle Looks Back on Johnny Carson’s Magic

The Magic CastleThe Magic Castle had a great presentation last night tracing the late Johnny Carson’s life-long appreciation of magic.

Dick Carson is an Emmy Award winning television director and the younger brother of the performer known as The Great Carsoni and proved be a great historian on the topic.

Dean Dill, Brian Gillis and the incomparable Mark Wilson came on after Dick Carson’s segment to share their experiences as performers on the iconic late night mainstay.  Mr. Gillis and Mr. Dill were also called  to provide the star personal tutorials in his Malibu home.

It was a great night to again enjoy the very unique talent Mr. Carson shared with the nation for so many decades.

Although Mr. Carson was very modest about his magic abilities, his talents were anything but modest.  He performed difficult sleights with polish and skill.  So many great magicians got their big break on Mr. Carson’s show and his support of the local (Los Angeles) magic community in general (and The Magic Castle specifically) was constant through the years.

One of the commentators observed he has never been replaced.  We agree.

Houdini Teaches Us How to Be More Manly

Inside Magic Image of Harry HoudiniSomeone smart once wrote, “Pride goeth before the Fall.”  We think that has something to do about not wearing white shoes after Labor Day but haven’t had the time to run a Google search on it yet.

We have been too  busy learning how to be far more manly that we have been heretofore.  We try to be manly every chance we get (not that often) but even when we try our rather effeminate laugh gets in the way.

Imagine our joy, then, when we found the website The Art of Manliness.  Imagine our double joy, even more, when we found their article Lessons in Manliness from Harry Houdini.

Houdini was (and is) a role model for our development.  He was into the exercise craze before it was even a craze or socially acceptable.  He didn’t drink, smoke, use drugs and worked hard at everything he tried.  Perhaps that is why he remains such an important figure in the public consciousness almost 100 years after his untimely death.

The advice derived from his robust approach to life is applicable to non-magicians and even non-males.  Maybe the article should have been titled “Lessons in Personliness from Harry Houdini” or maybe not.  Probably not.

Check out the full article and be inspired in your pursuit of goals important to you.

Penn Jillette’s Tribute to Lou Reed

Inside Magic Image of Penn & TellerLou Reed was not a magician but his friend and Inside Magic Favorite Penn Jillette’s moving tribute to the musician and innovator deserves mention on these august, virtual pages.

We are regular listeners to the Penn’s Sunday School weekly podcast and relish the time we spend with the taller of the magic duo Penn & Teller and his sidekick, and former juggler with Master Magician Lance Burton, Michael Goudeau.  The show is rarely structured and that is just fine with us.

One of the great joys of our youth was listening to the great magicians who visited our favorite magic shops.  Whether we were working or just loitering, we lived on their stories (even those repeated and embellished over time) and looked forward to learning from them.  We were not anxious to demonstrate our skills or try to compete with the professionals who stopped by Paul Diamond’s Magic & Fun Wagon (later just The Magic & Fun Wagon) in the newly built Palm Beach Mall, or A & B Magic owned by our mentors Ari DiArmona and Barry Gibbs.  We were content to listen and ask for more information or background.

It must be difficult for younger magicians to learn from their more seasoned elders without brick-and-mortar stores in which they can linger or act as a clerk/demonstrator/gofer.  Perhaps podcasts like Penn’s Sunday School can help meet this need.

Penn’s stories about the formation of Penn & Teller (we learned this week it was originally “Penn Jillette and/or Teller”) are fascinating, riveting.  On those rare occasions when Teller joins the podcast, his stories keep us spellbound.  Teller, for instance, shared a story of why he practices every trick thoroughly, to the point of a full dress rehearsal.  His description of his production of a previously live animal was hysterical and wonderful.

Folks who have seen Penn either on stage at The Rio, on television or in one of their many shows across the country, realize he is not restrained by conventions of good taste or polite discourse.  He is honest and, at times, not appropriate for children or the easily offended.  It must say something about us that we have no problem with his style, message or language.

Penn is also a profoundly sentimental person.  His recent books have recounted his emotional reaction to the loss of his father, mother and sister.  He comes across as sincere and for all of his bravado and bluster, he is also very human.

His tribute to Lou Reed is still available as a download from PennsSundaySchool.com and worth your time.  We were never really into Lou Reed but have found a new appreciation for his music and his work thanks to the heartfelt sharing of Penn Jillette.