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…