Thursday, November 19, 2009
It seems the older I get, the more I find myself realizing that all of the advice I’ve been given from other people in all of my 33 years, is starting to see the light of day. Motherly, fatherly, sisterly, friendly – ALL of the advice, sadly though, as of writing this, I can’t seem to think of one piece. It comes and goes and I am suddenly reminded of who told me what and try to use it to my advantage. I’m not a book smart individual, if anything, I have more street smarts and even that isn‘t saying a whole lot. I say street smarts because I was held up once at gunpoint. It was “smart” of me to listen to this guy who came in from the “street” waving a pistol. See? Street smart. And living in Los Angeles, I have been VERY fortunate to be able to meet anyone I’ve ever wanted to meet of the celebrity status. These meetings consist of me mumbling and somehow managing to ask for a picture. The pictures I don’t usually put on public display. Usually kept in a book that I look at occasionally to remind myself what a thrill it was at the time. It’s mostly full of comedians and magicians – people whose work I admire entirely. I know it sounds like I’m telling you two different things – good advice and celebrities, but stick with me. A few years ago, I came across some writings of a gentleman named Andy Nyman. Andy is from the UK (I’ve come to realize that most great comedians, actors and magicians are from the UK) and he is a well-respected actor by the public and an even more respected mentalist by magicians. I have his lecture notes, his DVD – I even have his picture up on my fridge as a sort of inspiration. Penn & Teller, Max Maven, Bruce Campbell and Theodore Annemann, by the way, surround his picture on my fridge, amongst others. His mind reading effects are quick, simple, mind numbing and puzzling. The only thing you really have to sell is yourself, which is how mind reading effects SHOULD be. He does it and he does it right. Not long ago, I had the chance to see Andy Nyman perform and lecture. My mouth was open every second. Here, in front of me, I have Andy Nyman working the crowd, making me laugh and leaving my dumfounded. A perfect day. It seems in my world as of late, life has been tossing me some curve balls. I assure you I have PLENTY to be thankful for and I don’t take it for granted like I did when I was younger. I have a lot of unanswered questions about myself, where I’m headed and what I need to do to succeed – succeed in life and other aspects of my life. When Andy was done with his performance and lecture, people were milling about, doing this and talking about that. I saw my window of opportunity and approached Mr. Nyman. In not so many words, I told him how much I loved his work, how much I respected his thinking – and I was being sincere. I wasn’t just saying it as I have with other people in the past. We talked a bit about mind reading stuff, other magicians, etc. He thanked me over and over again for my compliments. Maybe I had a genuine gleam in my eye when I told him everything I had said. Whatever it was, he looked at me right in the eyes and gave me one piece of advice that I’ll NEVER forget. It’s a piece of advice that would mean nothing to anyone except me. It wasn’t about magic, technique, a good book to read – nothing like that. Like I would expect a real mind reader to do, he seemed to know everything about me without me giving anything away. I’ve heard his piece of advice from people before and I don’t know if it was the heat of the moment or just meeting a highly respected mind reader or what, but it really, honestly and truly resonated with me for some reason. I’m not going to tell you what he said, because, again, I believe it to be just for me. It was a gift from Andy Nyman to me, Seth. He may have not known it and probably doesn’t even remember me, but for that 5 minutes of us talking, it’s a moment and a piece of advice I’LL remember for the rest of my life.
Monday, November 9, 2009
When I was 13 years old, the magic bug had already hit me. It was the summer before I started high school. Over weight (or “husky” as my family kindly put it), a love of stupid hats, a ton of monster movie trivia, a great collection of comic books and magic was all I seemed to have had or really, cared about. Not exactly the best tools to start your teenage years or what would become 4 years of hell. But, I didn’t know that at the time and probably just as well. Even as an adult, I’ve found that being blissfully unaware is usually the best. I was told in the middle of the 8th grade that our family would be making the trek to Branson, Missouri for a summer vacation. Branson, Missouri: The Las Vegas of the Midwest. Except, Branson didn’t have half naked show girls or… more half naked show girls. Branson had Ray Stevens and every truck stop sold items that would suggest some sort of hillbilly flair. A good example would be a rock on a string. A genuine “Hillbilly Thermometer” - hang it up outside! If it’s wet – it’s raining! If it’s white – it’s snowing! If it’s moving in all kinds of directions – well, you get the idea. But, I was game. This was a chance to see a TON of family all at once. The family that always accepted everyone despite anyone’s short-comings. A family group where I never felt I had to be anyone but me. And, like I said, with a healthy obsession of stupid hats, comics and magic (at least something in my life at that time was healthy), I knew it would be a blast.
I think it was that summer, at the beautiful Sammy Lane, where I learned to swear like an adult - a tool that has served me well over the years. Looking back, I honestly think that was the summer that started to shape me to the man I am today (though, I’ve never considered myself manly). Little did I know then, that a certain book, waiting for me in Branson, hidden, calling my name, would also change the course of my life.
Every day we were there, it seemed like the days got longer and longer. This was a great thing. Want to go swimming? We did. Want to go fishing? It’s a 30 second walk to the lake. The nights were longer. Everyone would meet up at someone’s cabin and the food, laughs and my constant, “… pick a card, ANY card” NEVER ended. Now, there was a comic book store that I HAD to get to. No reason – it wasn’t famous or anything, but it was a comic book store. That’s all I, and you, needed to know. If NO ONE else promised me a trip to the comic book store, it was my Auntie Anne who did. The girls (and there are a TON of girls in my family) decided to go shopping in town. “Let’s go, Sethie! The comic book store is waiting and I have money burning in my pocket!” Auntie Anne yelled at me. Now, despite my love of comics, this store was SHIT. Utterly, repulsive, still warm, SHIT. Some miserable, doughy mouthed ass-face behind the counter couldn’t answer ANY of my questions. And, since there wasn’t any kind of novelty/magic shop around, I walked out wearing my Todd MacFarlane Spiderman t-shirt, bummed. We all walked around and I eventually spotted a used bookstore. The girls’ went to Banana Republic and I was allowed to go to the bookstore and meet up later. Auntie Anne KNEW I was bummed. She gave me $20.00, smiled and said “… knock yourself out, Bub.” Gee. Thanks. Knock myself out at a used bookstore. Did anyone understand me? I walked in – it smelled and looked like an old bookstore should. “Excuse me, do you have any magic books?” Now, THIS lady was nice! She walked me over, showed me the 10 magic books they had. I’ve found that all used bookstores only have 10 magic books. Ever. Great. 9 books I already have. But then, I saw a book with cursive writing on it’s spine tucked in between the others. I pulled it out – “Penn & Teller’s Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends”. Now THIS was a fucking book! Cruel tricks for dear friends? How could I NOT look into this? I went up, paid the $9.00 and left. This book was the beginning and end of everything I’ve since learned about and from magic. I also marked a life long love of Penn & Teller. I read that book cover to cover. I’ll save you the details of what I learned from Penn & Teller that summer. But I will tell you this: I truly believe that discovering Penn & Teller changed my life. From my sense of what was funny to me, comedic timing, the idea that beautiful magic comes from being entirely quiet on stage to being as loud and bloody as you can get. Ideas, values and a sense of doing what you want and only what you want in life. I got those, and to this day STILL get those, kinds of values and life lessons from my family, but at 13 years old, no one understood me, but Penn & Teller DID understand me. I know that sounds as cheesy as Velveeta, but it’s true. To this day, no one inspires me more in the show business profession than two guys who have learned to do a few cool things, Penn Jillette and his partner Teller. I had the chance to meet them and they were as polite, nice, cheerful and funny as I had hoped they would be. They understand they aren’t out saving lives at a hospital, they realize they are just two guys who LOVE entertaining and they give it back to their fans 10 times over. If I ever DO become famous, how could I not aspire to be just that? So, in some ways, that summer, I feel I did become a man. I just didn’t think it would be from two guys in a used bookstore in Branson, Missouri…
Sunday, October 25, 2009
When you finally have it figured out what you’re good at, what you’re hobbies are, etc., you can easily spot out others in the same field and you know instantly whether or not you love them or they just aren’t your cup of tea. A few years ago, whilst browsing through the World Wide Web, I was looking for a DVD on Geek stunts – pounding a 6-inch nail up your nose, swallowing razor blades, eating glass, you know, the COOL stuff. The kind of stuff that makes people nauseous. To my surprise, there was a DVD specifically called “Geek Magic” by a gentleman named Tomas Medina. My local Magic Shop had it in stock and for only $20.00 (which is MUCH cheaper than most Magic DVD’s), that was quite a deal. I took it home and watched it. I laughed… I was disgusted… I was excited ALL at once! Tomas was an amazing instructor on the DVD and soon, I found myself ordering his lecture notes, his Cardiologist Deck and DVD, his “At the Table” DVD – whatever I could get my hands on. Soon after, I heard he might be heading out to LA for a wedding and MAYBE a lecture. How could I possibly convince a Magician from Chicago that lecturing out here would be entirely worth his time? Finally, I figured it out. I bought a fake severed hand, plopped it in a Ziploc baggie and filled it with nasty, chunky, syrupy blood and included a note that basically said, “… I would give my left hand if you would come out here and lecture. This is actually my sister’s left hand, but she’s a righty, so it’s okay.” And wouldn’t you know it, he sent me a TON of cool tuff – autographed all of his DVD covers, lecture notes – ALL the cool stuff. When he came out to LA, I attended his lecture and it was hands down one of the funniest and most exciting lectures I’ve ever attended. He touched on everything – his character, which tickled me senseless. Basically, it’s just him – he doesn’t have a character he performs as, which, being as funny as it was, was great to hear. He showed us some of the greatest effects using the Matrix principle (YouTube ”Matrix”, non-magicians), how to shove Tic Tacs in our noses and eye sockets and out of our mouths. Afterwards, the owner of the Magic Shop, Brent, a writer for the television shows 24 and The Closer, Duppie, a Dai Vernon student, Howard, all around great guy Anthony, myself, Tomas and his girlfriend all went out to eat where all we did was laugh with and at one another. If someone you like is ever in your area, go see them. Screw the price. Life really is too short…
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Theodore Annemann. You probably don't recognize that name. And, no reason you should, I suppose. But to magicians, he is a God. In the late 1930's and 40's, in an age when magicians were astounding audiences with larger than life illusions on even larger stages, Annemann could walk into a room and with only a few slips of paper and a pen and bring men to their knees and make women cry. He was that good. He was a mind reader. He was a sleight of hand expert, and by some accounts on some occasions, an asshole.The author of dozens of books and countless effects, his methods are still being used today. In later years, he performed an effect that magicians past had died performing, The Bullet Catch. Somebody signs a bullet and puts it in a gun and, standing at a distance, fires the gun at Annemann who would dramatically fall to his knees, stand up and spit the still marked bullet into the spectators hand. At the age of 35, apparently battling drug abuse and stage fright, he performed the greatest disappearing act ever. You'd be left out if you didn't at least watch him actually catch a bullet. Enjoy.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
My mind reading act has been taking up all of my time – ALL of it. This is a bit of a problem. I’ve neglected most everything in my life just to get a solid 30 minutes that can be broken up into smaller pieces should time be an issue (that is, if I only get 5 minutes or 12 minutes, etc.). I’ve been taking routines from elsewhere and breaking them down to the effect itself. Once I’ve found the point of it being JUST the effect, I start building around it. Adding a move here, taking it away and replacing it with something else, writing something substantial to go along with it and so on. In addition to that, I’ve tried to come up with an idea or two on my own, that is, a trick I’ve created myself, one that NO ONE has ever seen. And when I do, it’s a great feeling. The downside to that is, reading a book from the 1950’s and seeing the exact effect I came up with in black and white. An effect that has already been thought of – and worse that that? The effect is BETTER! Oh well with that. I always try to think that at least I came up with it on my own and that proves to me that I’m using my brain to create. When that happens, and it has a few times, I try to shake the feeling of “Is the world against me? Or am I against the world?” But again, I did think of it on my own, but so did somebody else 50 years ago. Moving on! Everything is fitting into a briefcase so it can be a commando act. Anywhere, anytime. And I found a sound system with a great review by a pro (whom I hold their opinion highly) for half the price of the one I was looking at, so it’s only $150.00. Other than that, things are moving along. I'll have four new posts in the next day or so, so...
Friday, July 31, 2009
One thing I’ve never been able to figure out is why other performers knock other performers. It just seems too easy and it doesn’t do any good for anybody. The worst part is, usually the person doing the knocking is jealous because the person they’re knocking has more success. Well, there’s a great reason to be pissy at somebody! Here is a good example. I enjoy seeing Criss Angel, but I’m not a huge Criss Angel fan. But you wouldn’t know it talking to me. What’s the point? The few times I have met him, he was nothing but generous and patient with what time he had. I asked a few questions a little more complicated than the girl next to me who was screaming to get a picture, but he took the time to answer them and give me what I thought were answers with substance. It wasn’t some coy or cute stock answer. And his latest show, BeLIEve hasn’t been getting the best reviews, but here is what I feel most magicians need to realize. He has a hit show on A&E and he has his own Vegas show. He’s making money doing what he loves! Who are these magicians? Usually just magic enthusiasts who spend hours on end rehearsing an already tired half assed act only to show it to friends at work or on the golf course. Magic enthusiasts who have never put on an actual show of their own NOT realizing what it takes to do that. They’re bitter and jealous armchair critics who have managed to learn a shuttle pass. Big whoop. The point is, whatever it is you do for a living or are trying to do, don’t knock someone else for his or her success. Knock them because they cut you off on the freeway. Besides, when you finally are a success, you won’t have any burnt bridges.
The other day, someone asked me for some advice for getting into magic and I feel I am the last person anyone should ask advice from. I don’t think I’ve given any advice to anyone about anything worth writing down, but in an effort to satisfy anyone asking or wanted to ask, my first and only recommendation would be investing $20.00 in “Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic”. When you see it, you may think it’s for children, but I’ll tell you that mine is the most worn out book in my library. Dog-eared, noted in the margins, highlighted areas, and scraps of paper in certain sections – I still use it at least once a week. It has everything in it to get you started to see what best suits you. Coin magic, card magic, mind reading, silk magic and it even has easy to build illusions! Once you get that figured out, and it may take awhile, hit the internet. One great place is to sign up on The Magic Café. It has a million sections and people on there are usually very supportive. Look for DVD’s and research them. I can’t tell you how many DVD’s and books I would have loved to have bought, only to read a few detailed reviews and realize, maybe not for me. And anyone will tell you this, but practice absolutely makes perfect. I carry around bits and pieces of various magic pieces that I spend practicing walking down the street or just sitting at a stoplight or even in the grocery store line. Find a performer you really enjoy and watch how their act is broken down. Where the beats are at, how long they spend on an effect – why what works for them, works. Then create your OWN act. Write, write, write and then re-write all of it. What you say is sometimes the most crucial part of ones act, and even what you DON’T say is the most important. And don’t take your audience for granted. That’s hard, but they aren’t stupid. And, the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten is this: videotape yourself and if you like what you see, so will the audience. If there is one part you don’t like, work it out until it IS something you like. Both you and your audience will appreciate it in the end. Pick three tricks and work on them until you can do them in your sleep. Then, move on to another three. You’ll be surprised how many great effects you can do with just that small formula. Lastly, get out there and do it. Doesn’t matter where, just do it. Your best critic is your audience. NOT you. And don’t worry about failure. You will fail. Next time, just fail better! You’ll get the hang of it. Any other questions, ask Copperfield. He’s doing something right…
Everything for the new mind reading act is starting to come together very nicely. I’ve broken it down so I can do 5 minutes, 8 minutes and 20 minutes. And if I put it all together, I can have an easy 25 to 30 minute show. Easy as in time – nothing easy as far as technique. It is, after all, mind reading. Now in addition to the act itself, I’ve created a new “Seth Everett” logo, which I managed to work out and strangely LOVE. I say “strangely” because the last few I’ve had I wasn’t exactly fond of. They served their purpose and now, this one, I’m excited to display. The good folks at CBM Photography Studios gave me some GREAT looking headshots, which I’ll be using to promote, and soon, I’ll have a poster I’ll be using for postcards and such. The poster I’m really looking forward to. I figured out a way to design it so that I have a few of my loves on there without being too obvious. It’s the overall tone that I love. Once all of that gets done, then it’s time to hit the road. I’ve managed to secure a handful of open shows and a couple of paying gigs, which I am totally stoked for. And the best part of it all? It all fits in a briefcase. So now my entire act is “commando”. It can go wherever I go without any size limitations. My first show will be at the end of September which will give me time to re-write a few pieces (though, I’m ALWAYS re-writing), make sure all the blocking is taken care of and give me time to find a proper sound system. Since I’m always using my hands, it’s hard to do this with a traditional hand held mic. I’ll be using my own amplifier and will have the ability to use the “Garth Brooks” type of mic and have a hand held for back up. The entire system will also have the ability to play music, which I haven’t seen too many mentalists use, which always puzzled me. When I decided to use music, I could only think of one song that is entirely creepy without being overbearing. It’s on a loop and will play quietly through the entire act. The system will run about $300.00, which isn’t a lot considering, but it’s still $300.00… so if anyone out there loves me… I also have a small program should the venue require it and I have some pitch books to sell at the end if anyone is so inclined. Now, why the END of September? Like I said, I still have a few things left to take care of and my youngest sister is getting married in the beginning of September, so the end is absolute best. OH! And best of all, my website should be up by then, full of videos, pictures, testimonials and cool swag for you to buy!
Thursday, July 16, 2009
I have a million different tricks I’ve bought over the years. I only buy them when I think I can use them. When I finally get a trick home and rip into it like it was a Christmas present, I lose a bit or wonder when I read the instructions. It’s usually filled with thoughts like, “That’s how you do it?” and “That’s not very exciting.” The trick itself isn’t meant to be exciting. What’s meant to be exciting is the way I present it to YOU. Being let down by how a magic trick is accomplished is a feeling I’m numb to. I will NEVER be amazed at how a trick is done. I save the amazement for when I see a trick I’ve never seen before and it blows me away. If I don’t think that trick will work for me, I don’t ask how it was done. I’d rather see that and remember it knocking me out. When you are told or shown how a trick is done, you WILL be disappointed. Trust me. There is NOTHING exciting about the secret behind a great trick.
If on the other hand you DO want to know how a trick is done, don’t ask a magician. Go to the magic store and buy it for yourself. When you get home and tear into it and read the instructions, only then maybe can you understand the let down of the secret, but more importantly, appreciate the performance that the magician puts into the trick.
Listen to me, save yourself the money and please, don’t ask how it was done – the trick is told when the trick is sold.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you HAVE to know how it was done. Leave it to the magician to fool YOU. And if they’re any good, you’ll enjoy wondering about it hours after you’ve left.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
I saw a magician tonight that made my skin crawl. I make no claims to be the world’s greatest, however, I do have a little constructive criticism. Here is what happened. The magician gave the spectator a deck of cards. He said in a moment, he was going to have the spectator shuffle the deck of cards, go through some motions and freely select a card. Very simple and direct, but NOT before the magician was going to write down a prediction. The magician wrote down the prediction and placed it under a glass tumbler, so we could see it the whole time. So far so good. The spectator shuffled the deck, followed the magicians instructions and eventually chose a card. The magician then made the point that he (the spectator) had a completely fair choice in picking his card. And here is, where I believe, the trick went sour. The magician asked the spectator to turn her card over. It was the Nine of Spades. The magician grinned and said, “… let’s see what my prediction was… what do you know? I wrote the Nine of Spades.”
Do you see or feel what the issue I have is?
The trick itself maybe took 1m 30s. Everything was great until the VERY end. The magician, KNOWING what he wrote, waited until the card was revealed, THEN he showed his prediction. After the spectator turned the card over, the magician smiled (a smile that will give me nightmares) a cocky, stupid smile and said “… let’s see what my prediction was…”. Well it’s been less than 2 minutes since you started the trick! Don’t act like you DON’T know what you wrote down, you JUST did it! Now I feel like the magician is being arrogant. Like he knows he’s right, but wants some sort of self satisfaction from the spectator.
When I make a prediction, here is what I do. I wait BEFORE they turn the card over. I take the prediction myself, or let them take it so they know there isn’t any funny business going on, and read it aloud. THEN I have them turn the card over, or however the prediction trick is supposed to work. So now it feels like (to the both of us) that maybe I wasn’t sure what prediction I wrote would be correct, so, when the prediction is read and when the card is turned over we BOTH have an experience of “WOW!” The prediction was correct. We both get to enjoy it, me because there was a chance I could have been wrong, but wasn’t and the spectator feels that he genuinely didn’t know my prediction would be correct either, but it was!
If that were ME tonight, that’s how I would have done it. But it wasn’t.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I’ve been asked more than once, “Why mindreading?” A valid question, as there are SO many aspects of magic. There’s the big stage illusions, close-up magic, bar magic, animal magic, escape artistry, etc.
I’ve performed it all, privately and publicly. I was fortunate enough to have my first public performance at the Omaha Orpheum Theatre when I was 17. It was a huge task and a, literally, prop heavy act. It was my magic partner, David, our assistant Katey and myself. After that show, we all sort of left each other in one way or another. We grew up and grew apart.
After that it was mostly close-up magic, really cool effects using everyday objects. And then there was the standard cups and balls routine, rope magic, etc. It wasn’t really exciting, though. I suppose in retrospect, it WAS exciting, but my heart wasn’t into it, thus making it, again, not very exciting.
I went back to the stage stuff, just on a bit of a smaller scale, known as Parlor Magic. Again, as much as I loved performing, I just wasn’t into it. A bit of backtracking here, in high school, all I worshipped Penn & Teller. In a book they wrote, they said there was a guy named James Randi, whom, if James Randi had never existed, there would be no Penn & Teller. In the 70’s, James Randi became well known for “exposing” Uri Geller, the famous psychic who bent spoons with his mind (let me repeat that, bending spoons with his mind – exciting, huh? Exactly…), able to draw pictures that had been previously sealed in and envelope – you get the idea. James Randi wrote a book that basically said, that while he (James Randi) cannot prove whether or not Geller was indeed psychic or not, he could duplicate everything Geller does by means of sleight of hand. And he did. I fell in love with that. Not even sure why, but I did, It wasn’t until years later that I heard a quote used by a few magicians that, for whatever reason, made everything fall into place and made sense. More on that later…
Well, the Parlor stuff wasn’t working for me. Trying to find myself as a performer, I decided to go over all the books I had and I kept going back to James Randi’s book, “The Truth About Uri Geller”. It suddenly hit me, mentalism had everything I wanted in an act. Misdirection, double speak, intuition, a bit of creepiness, etc. It became sort of how I started viewing stand-up and my jokes. With stand-up, I quit writing what I thought other people wanted to hear and started thinking of jokes that would make ME laugh if I heard them. That’s a hard pill to swallow because you want to please everyone. Same with mentalism. And this is where that magicians quote played a pivotal role on my wanting to perform mindreading. When you see a girl climb into a box, the box opens and she's gone, you have an idea or two as to how it was done. But to have someone walk up to you and reveal to you your dead grandmothers name or who your first kiss was, that is much more intimate and much more mysterious.
Suddenly, every book and DVD I was buying was on mindreading. I sold most of my large props or tucked them away in storage and basically started brand new. And ironically, I haven’t bought many props over the years. My briefcase that holds everything I need for a good 40-50 minute show. That’s better than trying to get to a gig with a van full of props that I would have to lug around (and I DID do that and it is a pain in the ass!). That, and if my briefcase goes missing, I can get everything I need at Staples. Index cards, pencils, tape, a marker and a giant drawing pad. Done. I love mentalism/mindreading and I’m excited doing it, I’ve blown people away revealing their thoughts and that makes for a great show for me and an audience of 1 or 100.
Obsessions will follow you wherever you go. Narrowing it down to three things, for me it’s this: magic, horror movies and the circus. Somehow, I think they all run into one another. At an age when most guys my age were out playing football, riding bikes and throwing rocks at passing cars, I was inside, happily alternating my television time between re-runs of The Twilight Zone and Penn & Teller Go Public and practicing my False Transfers and Zarrow Shuffles. I also spent a lot of time at the Bellevue Public Library going through old magic books (the same goddamn 6 books, over and over) copying down magicians names and looking up any old magazine articles on them. I found Ricky Jay and bought his book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (see below) – somewhere in my head, the thrill of reading about human oddities struck a nerve and I have hunted down every book, every magazine article and documentaries on the subject, since. Being lucky enough to live in Los Angeles as an adult, still, one of my favorite things to do is to visit the Ripley’s Museum on Hollywood Boulevard, and while not exactly a circus museum, it’s still home to stories and pictures of the strange world of human and otherwise oddities. I could live there.
In January of this year, I went back home to Omaha for a Christmas visit and in my time there, made the trek to Ottumwa, IA to visit my Grandfather, who somehow becomes funnier with age. It was late Friday night and we were sitting in the living room, talking with the TV on, flipping back and forth between the news and The X-Files. Like it always does with me, the subject of magic and circus came up and out of left field, my Grandpa said something that came out in slow motion. “You know, we had a relative in the circus.” My world froze. “WE had a relative in the circus and you’re only JUST now getting around to telling me?” I wanted to strangle him and hug him at the same time. My own Grandfather. “Oh, yeah… the circus. Ringling Brothers.” Again, I was breathless. “Well, what was she? Was she a trapeze artist? Did she get fired out of a cannon – my God, was she the lady that rides around the ring standing up on a horse? Again, why in the hell are you JUST now telling me?” My patience and breath was getting shorter. “Nah, they don’t have these things anymore –“ at this point, my Grandpa was doing this thing with his hand where he shakes it back forth, trying to remember something, “… it’s considered inappropriate. She was in the… Freak Show. She was the Fat Lady” That’s it. I was done. If I had died then, I would have died happy. A relative, in the FREAK SHOW! He went on to tell me that her name was Dolly and at one point in his life, she came through town for a visit and his parents were nervous because they didn’t have anywhere for her to sit. Good times. In my head, this was all I needed to know. So somewhere, all of these books, DVD’s, copied magazine articles – it’s all been justified. I cannot do justice in explaining who Dolly actually was, but this website seems to have nailed it:
I am of circus blood. And I couldn’t be happier.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I’m not even too sure why, but when the magic bug hit me (like most magicians) it hit HARD. And somewhere in my early teens, I came across what I believe to be the worlds greatest card magician, Ricky Jay. I read EVERYTHING I could find on Ricky. And this was in high school right before everyone had internet. I had to go to the Bellevue Public Library and riffle through old magazines and books, picking up pieces here and there (this is also how I came to discover sleight of hand tips and tricks and secrets on mindreading) and finally striking gold on an article in The New Yorker. This had everything about Ricky there was to know. In the article, Ricky came off as sort of a curmudgeon. I was even more fascinated. The author wrote about effects he saw Ricky perform. Effects that had to be seen to believe. Astounding feats of sleight of hand, misdirection on a godly like level – everything I wanted to do. Try as I might, I could never find in any of the magic books I owned how he did them, and probably, rightfully so. Ricky even wrote a book called Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. It was all about human oddities – a torso who learned how to paint beautiful pieces of art using his mouth, gentlemen who would enter a giant flaming oven with a piece of raw steak and emerge with the steak cooked perfectly. This led to an obsession with circuses and human oddities and carnivals that I cannot shake. An “underground” magician who, from what I understood, didn’t take to lightly to other magicians. I’m not sure if he’s ever quoted as saying this, but the word “hacks” seems to come to mind. Never in my life, I knew, would I ever have a chance to meet this mysterious man. Until…
Last year, my pal Paulie Benz invited me to go see a movie with our friends Krista and Dante at the Arc Light at the Galleria in Sherman Oaks. Every time we went, we always laughed because this was the mall in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. We had our dinner at P.F. Changs, saw our movie and like clockwork, at the end of the movie, I made a bee line for the restroom. I did my business and walked over to wash my hands. Something caught my eye – 2 sinks down from me, the man himself, Ricky Jay, was washing HIS hands as well. Those hands! Those hands that, when holding a deck of cards, seemed to glow! I freaked. I didn’t know what to do. Do I say something to him? Do I scream his name across the other sink? I didn’t want to embarrass him or myself.
I ran into the lobby and found my group. I remember Krista laughing and saying I looked super pale. All I could muster was Ricky Jay was in the bathroom and I wanted to say hi, but I think he wouldn’t be happy if I did – if that sounds grammatically incorrect, that’s about what it sounded like when I was trying to explain who Ricky Jay was. Paul said he had his I-Phone on him and we should catch up to him and get a picture. I protested. No way. He won’t do it. I looked over at Paul and gave him this look of confusion. What was I going or supposed to do?!?!? Paul looked right at me and said, “You’ll never have this opportunity again. Make it happen.” Following his Jedi like enthusiasm, I walked over and said, “Mr. Jay, I’m a huge fan of yours. Would you mind if I got a quick picture?” He was shocked. He looked bummed. He mumbled something and said, “I don’t know… sure.” All the way home was me yelling, and eventually laughing, at Paul, Krista and Dante because they kept (on purpose) saying his name wrong. “Seth, was it Jimmy Jay?”, “What was his name again? It sounds confusing”. And that was that. I got a picture with a living legend.
Maybe if he knew how happy that made me, he would have smiled, too.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I've booked a small number of shows to try out some new material for some bigger shows. That was hard... what's harder now is, is coming up with more material. I'm going through every Mentalism book, every Mentalism DVD I have pulling small pieces here and there and adding my own twist to whatever I can in an attempt to create a whole new act. It's a difficult process trying to figure out what works for me - difficult, but fun.
What the books and DVD's can tell you but not teach you is confidence, which I am convinced is 90% of what makes a good mentalist, a good mentalist. Anyone can learn anything when it's something you can use your hands to do. Some better than others. But confidence, that just comes with experience. I don't lack confidence when it's routines I can do in my sleep, but to present something brand new? It's easy to lose when you keep thinking, "Did I just screw that up? Did they just see that?".
I'm keeping the Second Sight act as part of the show, that's ALWAYS been my favorite routine. Half dollars covering my eyes, being held by 5 pieces of duct tape covering my eyes, the bridge of my nose and just above my eyes and on top of that, an opaque blindfold. Then, hopefully, I can describe what people have in their pockets, what they are holding in their hands and messages written after everything is covering my eyes. Right now, I'm working on a routine where 3 people write down 3 different things on 3 different pieces of paper. While the paper is still folded (you really can't see through them - they're just cut up pieces of index cards), I tell the people exactly what they have written, holding the folded pieces of paper in front of them and immediately handing it to them only to have them open it and verify to the audience that what I had predicted what they wrote is, in fact, 100% accurate. Hardest thing I have ever done, but I know I'm onto something because I don't mind (read: enjoy) spending the time learning it, getting the patter down for it, re-learning it, etc.
In the meantime, to keep me occupied in between figuring everything out, inspired by Richiardi, The Amazing Jonathan and Tomas Medina, I've started the art of eating razor blades. I take a balled up piece of thread, 5 seperate razors and swallow everything whole and have them emerge with each razor threaded on the thread and bloody... enjoy...