Magic Brian - 6/1/04

 

Q. At what age were you first introduced to magic?

 

A. Probably around 7 or 8yrs old. I saw a magician perform at a neighbor's birthday party. My father tells me that after the show I tried a card trick on him. I had him pick a card and put it back in the deck. I guess I tried to shuffle the deck because he said that I was dropping cards all over the place but somehow I was able to find his card. To this day I still have no idea how I did that trick.

 

Q. You were quite young when you began to take magic seriously and performing for birthday parties and other events. What was it like to be in your teens and actually get bookings?

 

A. The best part was that my partner and I had to be driven to our early gigs by our parents because I didn't have my drivers license yet. I was 15 and he was 12. I think it was weirder for him when we were doing a party for an 8yr. old 'cause he was only four years older than the kid. We even had business cards that said Abra and Cadabra (I was "Abra the master" and he was "Cadabra the apprentice"). Under our names it said Amateur Magicians which makes no sense because we were getting paid. I just felt like putting that on the cards so people knew that we weren't really good yet. Damn, I'm honest... and stupid!

 

Q. Is that what truly hooked you on turning your love of magic into a full time career or was it when you began to realize that adult audiences reacted the same when you hit college?

 

A. It was when I was in college that I was like "I don't have to just do this for kids?!? I can do stuff that I like to do!" Not just the kiddie tricks... that I made goofy. The shows we did were never like normal magic shows. In the beginning we wore t-shirts with our names ironed on to them and goofy hats. I wore a Kangol with a foam frog on it. When I look back it was totally ridiculous what we were doing in those shows. The kids had fun but I don't think they completely got the things we were doing.  So when I did some stuff for my peers and they were blown away I thought "Wow! there's a whole other market out there for me! I never thought I would completely stop doing magic before that, it just got me more excited about performing and especially performing the routines that I had been playing around with but couldn't get away with in kids shows.

 

Q. At some point traditional sideshow acts became part of your show. When exactly did that happen and what was it that made you want to add those acts to your show?

 

A. That came later on in my career but it was a natural thing for it to happen. I think it really happened when I started touring with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in '99. I became more aware of sideshow acts and realized that my show already had that flavor built into it. I had been swallowing razor blades for years as well as doing a comedy pincushion routine (an illusion not the real thing although I have done a bit of real pincushion as well). Adding the sideshow stuff wasn't real conscious, I wasn't thinking that I had to add sideshow to my act, these where just the things that I was interested in, to me it was just adding another routine.

 

Q. Although magic was part of the historical sideshows many sideshow performers of today frown upon performing magic instead of “real” acts. Have you ever run into sideshow performers that have looked down upon you for mixing the two?

 

A. Nope, never. I've only had a very positive response to my act from sideshow performers.

 

Q. What sideshow acts can you actually perform?

 

A. Blockhead, pin cushion, glass eating, bed of nails, glass walking, iron tongue (I use a gaff designed by Mephisto), straitjacket escape, my geek act and I kind of count my razor blade routine (although it's actually magic) and the pin cushion illusion that I do because it's very much in the spirit of sideshow.

 

Q. What sideshow acts do you regularly perform in your shows?

 

A. Blockhead, straitjacket, razorblades, pin cushion illusion, geek act. I throw in glass eating from time to time (I'd like to have teeth when I'm 60)

 

Q. Do you let your audience know what parts of your show are magic and what parts are real sideshow acts, or do you just combine them for entertainment value?

 

A. I let them decide for themselves what is real and what isn't. Sometimes it's obvious either through the routine that I've designed or because of the props (geek act for example). I don't think audiences really care, as long as they are entertained.

 

Q. When were you truly introduced to the sideshow industry and who was it with?

 

A. I was touring with the Bindlestiffs when I met first met Ward and Bobby. Hearing their stories just hooked me in. The next year we went on tour I got to meet Melvin and Johnny Meah. It was pretty incredible.

 

Q. Do you still work with the Bindlestiffs?

 

A. I do still work with them and hang out with them whenever I can.

 

Q. You once worked at Coney Island’s Sideshows By The Seashore. What did you perform?

 

A. I did a combination of things. I've done shows there a bunch of times but worked the actual sideshow just for one weekend filling in for Eak. I did a magic set at the start of the show, straitjacket and the electric chair.

 

Q. Do you plan on performing at Sideshows by The Seashore in the future?

 

A. I'm sure I'll find myself on that stage many more times. The summers are a little hard for me to actually work the sideshow because I'm usually performing in Europe but I rarely pass up the opportunity to work out there.

 

Q. In addition to Sideshows By The Seashore you also worked with the Hall & Christ World of Wonders. How did you get involved with that show?

 

A. I got involved in that through the Bindles. Ward called them asking for some of us to work with him at the Meadowlands. That year before I helped put up the tent. I had already met Ward at that point and he wanted me to do whatever shows I could while they were in NJ.

 

Q. How did it feel to be working for one of the last touring sideshows?

 

A. It was pretty special. Even the year before when I was helping to put up the tent I was feeling lucky to be doing that. I was a tiny part of history. Just looking around at all the props and displays took me back. I'm proud to have been a part of it.

 

Q. What acts did you perform while working the World of Wonders?

 

A. Well, I did the bed of nails, ate glass, did magic, and the iron tongue.

 

Q. Currently you can be seen working with Tyler Fyre and Insectavora in the Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow. Where did you first meet Tyler?

 

A. I met Tyler in a bar. Not a strange place for either of us to be. I actually saw him a couple of years earlier when I went out to Coney to check out the show. He was doing the bally at the time, nothing on the inside. I went out there thinking about talking to Dick about working the show. When I met Tyler he had just replaced Frankie in the show, and I asked him about the possibility of doing some acts or talking the bally. We exchanged numbers but that summer I was on tour with the Bindlestiffs. That was probably 2000. In the winter of 2001 we were doing a western show here in NYC and I had some gig and couldn't do the show for a weekend. We called Tyler to fill in for my part in the show - that's when we really got to be friends. He asked me to fill in at the sideshow and we've been buddies ever since.

 

Q. How did you get involved with the Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow?

 

A. Tyler told me he wanted me to be a part of his show. He had worked out booking some shows at CBGB's with a live band playing behind us. That was really the start of me being a part of the show. I guess that was probably last Jan or Feb. 

 

Q. If the Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow turns into a full time touring show would you give up your solo career and just work that show?

 

A. I could never give up my solo career. I have always managed to be able to work solo and tour with a troop. I have a very successful street show that allows me to travel all over the world and I couldn't give that up.

 

Q. Speaking of your solo career you have performed just about everywhere including the overseas market. What is it like performing for audiences overseas as far as their reaction goes versus performing for US audiences?

 

A. Every place is different. Even audiences in different cities in the same country can be very different. Luckily almost everyone speaks English so when doing my shows throughout Europe I don't have to worry too much about language. You do have to speak slower and change some words and jokes around a bit but that's about it. When doing sideshow I have to present it a bit differently sometimes. In a lot of European countries they don't know what sideshow is, or what our type of carnival is so it's a matter of figuring out a way to explain that to them.

 

Q. Do you prefer one over the other?

 

A. I don't really prefer one over the other. It's actually very hard to compare them. It's very different because here, although I am doing street shows, I'm mostly working on stage whereas when I travel through Europe (or Australia) I am primarily working the street, and stage and street are two completely different animals. I love them both.

 

Q. Can you describe what your 2003 season was like?

 

A. Oh boy... Well, for starters I did over 100 street shows in five different countries (Scotland, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, USA) - I worked the Forged in Ink Tattoo convention with Lucky Devil, CBGB's, I did a lot of show the Bindles at the Palace Of Variety here in NYC and some gigs out of town, a few shows out at Coney Island, my own variety show that I produce here in NYC... some corporate and private shows plus all kinds of variety shows in different venues also in NYC... I'm sure I'm forgetting something. I'd say I've probably done about 300-350 shows last year.

 

Q. Do you foresee yourself repeating the same level or amount of performances for the 2004 season?

 

A. I'm already on pace to do more. In the four weeks I was in Australia I performed 31 street shows and have done five more of those since coming home. Plus we've done a few Lucky Devil shows and then there's my show that I produce once a month. I'm probably up to at least fifty shows by now.

 

Q. Where have you performed so far this year?

 

A. Australia (Adelaide Fringe Festival and Sydney), PA (Forged in Ink), NYC (all over in a few different shows)

 

Q. Do you have any solo tours already setup for 2004?

 

A. I'm either going up to Canada or back to Europe - probably Europe. I'm planning on doing the Edinburgh Fringe Festival again in August.

 

Q. With everything you have accomplished in your career thus far where do you see yourself in the next 5, 10, 15 years?

 

A. Damn this is a tough one... Obviously I'd like to continue with my success - more shows, better gigs, new routines. I am going to work on a fire eating act (can you believe I don't do one yet...???) and I don't know what else the future has in store for me. I'm really bad at looking way down the road, I'm a sort of a 'why worry about tomorrow when there is so much more to worry about today' kind of guy. Yeah, I know it's not a good way to go about things but I'm used to it. I try to plan the future out but I get too lazy. I have more fun seeing how things play out short term because I know in the end those decisions will affect my future. Take touring with the Bindles for example, If I hadn't done that I don't think I'd have had the experiences and know some of the people I know today. That was never something that I planned 5-10 yrs. ago. I just decided that it was time to go on tour with them so I did it.

 

Q. Looking back at everywhere you've performed and the number of performances you’ve done one question comes to mind. How do you get so many bookings?

 

A. I've been at it for a long time, therefore people have gotten to know me and my act and they want me to work with them, for them, etc. I also make a lot of calls, following up with people, bugging them (but not to the point of annoying them - it's a fine line), putting myself out there and taking chances. I rarely turn down an opportunity to work in someone's show because for one thing, it's what I love to do and also you never know who could be watching you and that's where your next gig could come from.

 

Q. The next question is how can you deal with the amount of bookings you get physically and mentally?

 

A. I get antsy if I'm not working. When I'm traveling through Europe doing my street show I work everyday doing as many shows as I can and that's hard both physically and mentally because I'm not doing 5-10 or even 15 min. Typically the show is 45-1hr and you are going all out the whole time - you have to because if you have a bad transition or people don't think what you're doing is entertaining or funny they'll walk away and you don't get paid (well, by them). But I'm out there because I want to work.  The more shows I do the easier it becomes. You can kind of get into a zone. I also try to eat right (if I can) and try to workout if I can although my show in itself is a workout. The most street shows I've done in one day is five. A few in the afternoon and a few at night. It's a grind, but a different kind of grind than a stage show or in the sideshow. There is no way you can do as many shows on the street as you can on the inside. It's not just the toll it takes physically but I don't think there is a place in the world where you can do 15-20 street shows in a row (that's about 15-20 hrs. of performing with the same energy). As far as other shows go, whether it be stage, sideshow, or corporate or private events, I say bring 'em on! The more the better. The only thing that gets me down when doing shows are the audiences. You just can't please some people. But really, the hardest part about doing shows - no matter how many you do - is getting there and getting home. The performance part is the easiest and most fun. It's the traveling that is hard and a lot of times boring and lonely, especially when traveling alone.

 

Q. Your show seems to consist of a little sideshow, a little comedy and a lot of magic but what do you actually do in your show?

 

A. Well, that's a difficult thing. I think my show is really about my personality and presentation. I had wanted to do stand-up comedy when I was younger and thought that because I could do magic it would be easier to combine the two because if the audience didn't think I was funny they'd at least think the magic was cool. That was kind of how I went into it. I also wouldn't say I do a lot of magic. There is a thread of magic throughout the show (depending on the show you see me doing), like on the street I do very little magic. Basically it's about the straitjacket and chains and that's not magic, it's an escape. I do a little trick in the beginning of the show which is seen by just the first few people that I've gathered, then I do a trick with a guy that I end up exposing at the end of the routine, then pretty much the rest of the show is the escape. So for those people it's not much of a magic show at all. If you were to see me on stage, depending on the show I was in, you may see a lot of magic, you may see a little magic and a little sideshow, or you may see only sideshow. You may see me perform as Dr. Frangible, a snake oil salesmen with an English accent and a strange way about him. He does some magic and attempts to demonstrate the powers of his Electric Lumberjack Juice, but it all seems to go very badly for him while at the same time becoming extremely entertaining to everyone watching. But in all situations an audience member can expect to laugh a lot, be completely surprised and hopefully have their idea of what a magician is completely change. I like that about my act, that I change people's ideas about magic and magicians. They usually expect some flashy guy do things with birds and smoke and big boxes. I go out there and make them laugh by pulling a bird wing out of a magic bag the whole while telling them that they will help me produce a beautiful bird that will fly out and land on someone's shoulder. Suddenly it's like, "Oops, it's a wing of a bird, but it's important to remember that we tried! " I set them up for their normal expectation (magician produces a bird) then surprise them with something completely different (a nasty looking pigeon wing). I like to open with that routine because I think it gets them ready for the type of show I do. I will also sometimes open with my floating bottle routine; I use a real beer bottle that I place on my table, then I have a very glitzy, magic looking scarf which I hold in my hands cover the bottle. Suddenly it's floating behind the scarf, above the scarf, all over the place. I start to try and drink the beer but the bottle is floating around and I can't grab it because I'm holding the scarf... In the end I'm able to take a sip of the beer surprising everyone - basically fooling them twice. I won't explain it here, you'll have to see me in person to find out the surprise ending.

 

Q. The last question and maybe the most important is who is Magic Brian?

 

A. Wooo, that's a good one... I guess I'm a guy who figured out how to make people laugh at really stupid things. Who figured out how to take magic and make it different, present it in a different way while still retaining the tradition and history of it. Making people laugh and surprising them, fooling them is so much fun to me. I'm that class clown in the corner of the room who's kind of shy at first but when he's around his friends does some really weird shit acting really silly making them laugh 'till it hurts. Just being a big goof ball... and getting paid for it.

Interview by Derek Rose

 

For more information on Magic Brian visit: www.magicbrian.com

To contact Magic Brian you can email him at: bjb@magicbrian.com

 

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