Strong Body, Focused Mind

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 1.37.15 PM

I was in great shape last January. For some reason I decided to into great shape for an engagement on my calendar – something I had never even considered doing before.

Why did I do so this time? One reason that it was a weeklong run at the Magic Castle and after all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.

By the end of the week I learned some interesting things. For one thing, the strength I’d built up from moderate, consistent distance running running and working out with babies effectively reduced the physical workload of performing. More pertinent, onstage it freed my min  to focus on more pertinent things, like what am I doing with my life?

Was is it worth it? This Magic Castle bootleg nicely conveys the incredible reserves of energy my act requires.

In 24 days I’ll need to again be physically strong for my mind’s sake. I’ll make it – but it starts today.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to

Happy Performers Make Happy Audiences

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 4.11.52 PM











The Orange County Magic & Comedy Showcase in Orange, California is remarkable: instead of limiting the amount of time performers spend on stage, its producer and emcee Joe Derry limits the number of performers. By leaving it to performers to self-police their time on stage, they are freed to spend all their focus on what they’re doing.

Everyone – including the audience – benefits tremendously.

“No one is prowling the back of the room with a watch and a flashlight, waiting to give you your two-minute light” explains Derry. The result is like a much-needed breath of fresh air: performers are relaxed and enjoy an unmistakable sense of camaraderie that’s virtually impossible with the assign-a-slot mindset that prevails at so many showcases.

When I was building up my stand-up comedy act at open-mics, giving performers “the light” was deemed a necessity – and few things go further to ensure that performers are put on ice from the moment they arrive.

By limiting the number of sign-ups instead of the amount of time they spend on stage, Derry’s showcase avoids another problem that famously vexes the format: an audience that consists mostly of sign-ups anxiously waiting their turn. At the OCMC showcase, the audience is comprised overwhelmingly of Orange county locals patently grateful to have a different (and free) magic show right in their own backyard each month.

Learning magic under the auspices of the Long Beach Mystics, Joe Derry knows that happy entertainers mean happy audiences: a lesson more bookers and show producers would do well to learn.

(In addition the monthly showcase, Joe also stars in his own weekly show, Merlin’s Magic & Comedy Dinner Theatre. Both are hosted by the Rib Trader restaurant).

Questions or comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to or watch me relate an awkward conversation I had on an elevator.

Backstage at the Magic Castle: a short, true story

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 7.43.45 PMOne night when my son was a toddler I had him with me backstage at the Magic Castle. It was unusual but not entirely unheard of: my wife was with me and assuming the yeoman work of caring for him but between shows I would sometimes take over for her.

It was while Lucas was in my care that one of the Magic Castle’s hosts, Marty, called out to me from an adjacent room. Dave? he wanted to know. Are you backstage? Do you have any guests to pre-seat for the next show?  “No” I said, loud enough for my voice to similarly carry through the wall. “Thank you, Marty”.

That settled, I had little Lucas accompany me into the stage-left restroom which at that time had walls every bit as thin as the walls the host and I had just been shouting through. There in the cramped restroom I attempted to keep Lucas’s eyes (and therefore his hands) away from the toilet by engaging him conversation as I washed my hands in the sink. “How’d you get so big? Hmm? Look how big you are! How’d you get so big?”

I carried on in a similar fashion for some time before finally exiting the bathroom, holding the door open for Lucas, damp paper towel in my free hand as I did so. And there, outside the restroom, is Marty, looking like a deer in headlights, unable to see Lucas or, for that matter, any thing other than me.

Marty quickly exited as I attempted to explain. “My son! My son is with me tonight!” But he was gone.

Marty, if you’re reading this, leave a comment in the section below. I feel bad.

Return to


Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 11.38.57 AM

One of the ancient Greek philosophers advises keeping your principles few and simple so that you may refer to them quickly in an emergency. This advice was very useful to me when I lost the coordination in my right arm after a head injury. One moment I could juggle five balls behind my back. The next? I’m unable to juggle even two with my right hand without getting big laughs.

But just as rain falls on both the righteous and the wicked, I also had my share of good luck. Good luck to grow up down the street from the Long Beach Mystics clubhouse, for example. Ostensibly a place for magicians to help each other hone their craft, the principles I learned are applicable to all the performing arts.

It was really about KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Beginning at around age 8, being in the Mystics inculcated in me the importance of presentation. I learned that those things performed on the stage which most move audiences are ultimately those things which move people in every day life: Generosity. Mastery. Spontaneity.

Most of us are not fortunate to have grown up surrounded by such practical wisdom in the performing arts. But the truth is, most aspiring performers have more to unlearn than to learn. Simplify. Ask yourself: Am I rambling? Is there a more-straightforward way to present this idea or ask for this raise? Is this joke too wordy? Am I beating around the bush?

The other advantage of keeping things simple is that it’s fun. Of course it can be taken too far and one should guard against doing so. Just as a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, sometimes  a painting or sculpture is complete.

Similarly, making something more complex has its allures and naturally is often appropriate. But it’s accompanied by the nagging sensation that you should be streamlining rather than adding, chances are that nagging sensation is right.

One Mystic Memory

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 1.54.41 PMMy cousin James Tate has near total recall of our mutual childhood. Names, places, things said by whom, seemingly everything. I always think I’m satisfied with the amount of memories I have, assuming, as I think it’s safe to do, that I’ll be adding more all the time. So long as the amount I lose isn’t greater than the amount of new memories I put in, I figure I’m doing okay.

One memory I was recollecting for absolutely no apparent reason was a lecture that Mark Kalin gave when he became fed-up with the music-editing amateurism and ignorance among too many of his fellow Mystics. He wasn’t angry at us personally, that was always obvious. He was simply becoming frustrated with problem and then he did something too few of us do: he started something.

He might’ve shrugged his shoulders and moved on. I suppose he could have mentioned his frustration Stan or Caveney and left it at that. But then there he stood in front of us anxious few, with the then-cutting-edge technology beside him like magic props: a “record player” and a “cassette recorder“.

I specifically remember Mark instructing us of a trick which I would employ many times: splicing music from one symbol crash to another for an easy edit. Simply depress the record key at the beginning of the crash and then resume recording (from the new source) at the second-half of another symbol crash.

I vaguely remember in those days the infuriating and insoluble problem of recording yourself pushing down the record button. Or maybe I just made that up because I’m in a fighting mood. Being part of the Long Beach Mystics meant being surrounded by guys who were always in a fighting mood.

It was great.

Return to


The Flattering Stalker


In Hollywood there’s a saying: stalking is the sincerest form of flattery.

There’s a certain private club in Hollywood I perform at where business cards are regularly exchanged and the weekend crowds can be excessively drunk. Apparently I gave my business card to one of the latter because every Friday night at 3 a.m. after that my wife and I would be wakened by a 3 a.m. phone call each Friday from somebody shouting over his buddies to tell me how much he loved my performance at The Magic Castle.

Return to


How I Got This Way

(This article originally appeared at eJuggle, the official publication of the International Jugglers’ Association).

My biggest stroke of luck was to grow up a short distance from a magic club called The Long Beach Mystics.

The Long Beach (largest non-county seat city in the U.S!) that my parents grew up in was sometimes called “The Des Moines of the west coast” because of it’s lack of what we now call “diversity”. But by the time I was born diversity had already arrived and would really begin to unpack over the next decade.

With large black, Mexican, Armenian, Vietnamese and numerous South Pacific Islander populations, Long Beach, by the time I got to high schoool, was home to the largest Cambodian population of any city outside of Cambodia. Our section of the city, though, still resembled the strictly suburban version of itself from the 1950’s. I could hope our backyard fence and be in famously Republican Orange County in ten minutes.

The clubhouse of the Mystics was a little over a mile beyond the Orange County line in Los Alamitos, a fact that seemed to cause no one any confusion or consternation. The magic shop in front was just that – a front – because the real magic took place in the back. Passing the glass counter of card and coin tricks and entering the door beyond it revealed a room of about equal size as the magic shop. It was a very little theater and one that served our purpose: bravely walking on stage to perform our routines, receive feedback and implement what worked. Rinse, wash, repeat.

If the club’s philosophy had a bias it was undoubtedly and unapologetically providing entertainment value. I don’t recall much talk about how to fool other magicians. Making a trick a lot more fickle in order to make it a little more entertaining was frowned upon. As I write these words I am impressed at how this last lesson has informed my minimalist approach to performing. Keep It Simple, Stupid. This was the popular refrain when one of us got so wrapped up in the technical aspects of a trick or routine that we began to lose sight of what mattered most: the audience’s enjoyment. During my first few years as a Mystic, I evolved from magician to juggler yet the same principles applies. The question “Wouldn’t it be more impressive to juggle five balls instead of four when I do this gag?” was met with the same skeptical silence that movie directors should receive when they ask “How can we employ this new technology?”

Once, after seeing us perform a show featuring shoddy music editing, Mark Kalin was moved to give a lecture teaching the techniques of avoiding such amateur mistakes. Passion.

As I grew into my teens, these lessons stayed with me, although I would gradually and characteristically take credit for them myself. It was not until two decades later, when I began performing regularly at The Magic Castle , that others made me realize what, exactly, I had my hands on as a kid.

“I didn’t know you were a Mystic!” I am told by incredulous magicians after seeing The Mystics – A 50 Year Legacy. After viewing the dvd (featuring a heavily-sedated interview which I do not recall giving), I was humbled by the awesome generosity of mentors like Stan Allen, Kevin James, Mike Caveney, Randy Pryor, Dana Daniels and many others: they wanted me to be great.

I was in good hands with The Long Beach Mystics – thanks, guys.