The Magic Castle–Then and Now.
Here is a cool picture of the billboard at the Magic Castle from 1977. I was alternating shows in the Close-Up Gallery with my dear friend Jules Lenier. In the Cabaret (this was long pre Palace of Mystery days) were Peter Pit, Dale Salwak and Robert Harbin. My wife Susan and I have argued for years because she insisted she had seen Robert Harbin do his charming construction/performance of the Zig Zag Lady at the Castle. I said it wasn’t possible or I would most certainly have seen him there, now as I look at the show times I realize she was right and I was wrong.
It really doesn’t seem possible but it has been 26 years since I last played the Magic Castle. Over a quarter of a century since I had my free prime rib dinner! I wonder what made me decide to do it again?
I certainly don’t regret my decision to stop performing at the Castle, it was the start of an incredibly productive, profitable and creative phase of my life and career. It was very easy to become a ‘Castle magician’ and this really did limit ones thinking about the rest of the entertainment world. When you work primarily for magicians, or around magicians, you begin to adapt/adopt a magician’s thought process to the work you are doing. You start to add little things that magicians will enjoy–even if complicates or obscures things for the lay public. Sometimes it works the other way around and you remove things that are old hat to your magic buddies but actually mean a lot to non-magicians.
Making audiences laugh at the Castle was/is too easy– they are lovely crowds of people who are there to enjoy magic and are more than eager to have a good laugh as they do so. They usually give the performer the benefit of the doubt and laugh more easily than the kind of slightly more judgmental folk you often bump into in less specialized circles.
The best part of playing the Castle is the big bucks they pay you, well maybe not! The great part about the Castle is getting to do those 21 shows in a week and now I’m not joking. If you can’t get a routine up and running and moving towards perfection after that many shows, in that space of time–you just might be in the wrong business! I cut my eyeteeth and carved out many of the routines that have earned me a fine living over the years. I am truly grateful to the Magic Castle for that opportunity.
What have I learned in my ‘post Castle’ years? I have learned how to present a non-stop 60 minute show that moves so quickly and seamlessly that it seems like 30. I have learned how to win over audiences who not only are indifferent to magic but even somewhat hostile to it. I have learned the techniques and ethics of the comedy world. I have seen the United States and most of the rest of the world–traveling in style and as a true ‘Road Warrior.’ Not a bad list and it only scratches the surface. I couldn’t have learned any of these things if I hadn’t flown from the safety of the MC nest.
As I enter the next phase of my work I am excited to perform for magicians again and I’m enjoying lecturing and writing about the performance of strong comedy magic. It feels good–there is a satisfactory feeling of passing on some knowledge and sharing my discoveries. I am past the age limit where I am likely to be much affected by what magicians think about what I do or say. I like that.
When Jack Goldfinger asked me about working a week at the Castle, I thought about it and said yes. Of course, if Jack said, “Come on Nick, let’s fly to the moon.” I would probably just start flapping my arms.” Jack is one of the wisest, funniest, coolest cats it has ever been my pleasure to know.
So, November 28th through December 4th I will be working the early shift in the ‘Close-Up Gallery.’ Most people these days think of me as a stand-up comedy performer but I spent many a week in the Gallery and even got nominated as close-up magician of the year a couple of times. It will be a real return home.
I don’t have any real desire to perform my comedy magic show at the Magic Castle, I have nothing to prove and a lot of funny lines to loose. The thought of being in a jewel box showroom and performing some sleight-of-hand and card tricks—-now that’s different! I can set myself some goals and work on regaining some slightly rusted skills. I can’t wait to see the show progressing and improving each day.
I hope all my old friends, and any of my readers who haven’t met me, will stop on by and say hullo. I might be another 26 years before I do it again!