It has been awhile since I have had the opportunity to sit down and interview a magician and this past week I had the pleasure to interview Garrett Thomas. I had seen him perform this past year at Magic Live in the close up show as well as in person at his booth at past conventions. However, this was the first time I really had a chance to sit down and pick his brain. And I have to say, this has been my favorite interview so far. We talked about how magic intertwines with his personal philosophy, identity, and how to live authentically and be vulnerable with an audience. We talked for over an hour so I am going to break this up into two parts. Click here to listen to part 1!
I didn’t have a chance to tell you this in person but I loved your performance during the close up show at Live. I think my favorite part was seeing the 8-ball getting produced from your wallet.
Yeah, that’s a running gag throughout my show and a lot of people want to learn it but it is something I cannot teach because the symbol of the 8-ball is deeper than it may appear and it is part of my character. My father was a billiard player and he played pool as a hustler. There is a lot of symbolism in it.
First off, I don’t call attention to it, it’s just something that’s in the way, and then oh yeah, it’s this thing I carry. I never wanted to have a “Magic Act”, I just wanted to be a magician. Early on when I would perform I would often break character and explain what was happening just to illustrate that magic was still happening even outside of the act. Now my act is centered around that breaking of character and is a conversation. So now the 8-ball is this organic thing that’s in my way that I keep finding in my wallet.
What I love about the production of the 8-ball is that the magic stops when I produce the 8-ball.The 8-ball is the symbol of infinity because of the number 8 on it, so when the 8-ball is out of the wallet the magic stops; it is just a wallet and an 8-ball. When it goes back into my wallet and into my back pocket it is in a constant state of magic.
I could never teach it until I retire my character.
How long have you used the 8-ball in your act?
Well I have a self portrait of when I was 18 and I have the 8-ball in it then. So I have probably been using it since I was 15 or 16.
I started getting serious about doing shows when I was 16. So I have this self portrait I did when I was 18 where I am surrounded by aliens but I am the alien. And in my hand is the 8-ball and I have my broken glasses. But the real me is in the background. In that picture there are ten aliens watching me perform but in essence I become the alien because I am the weird person in the room. This was my style, I did cards, cups and balls and everyone is losing their minds and the real me is tucked away in the background.
In that photo is this representing your insecurities?
Yes, a lot of people get into magic as a mask and it is something we as the magic community should be careful about. I now, do not teach children magic, if a kid is interested in magic I teach them juggling or a coin roll; I want to empower them, I want to give them something that builds their confidence instead of teaching them to hide. Magic can really quickly be used as a mask to empower yourself when you don’t feel powerful. If there is some childhood trauma or abuse you can use magic to distance yourself from the reality of life and it happens a lot in the magic community. I see adults who have still not gotten through that. Hopefully you grow out of that and become the magician, as did I, but it stemmed from my father never came to the baseball games or the football games but would wake me up at 3am and say wake up, wake up show my friends some magic. And no matter what kind of household you come from you always seek that attention so it instilled that obsession at an early age. So I became interested in magic at 6, serious about at 12 and performing shows at 16, and I haven’t stopped performing restaurant magic since I was 16 years old and I am out performing minimum 3 nights a week.
It seems like you are really passionate about performing magic and more specifically performing in restaurants.
It has now become so much a part of me I get weird when I am not performing. So when I go on vacation, which really I don’t go on vacation, because it just drives me mad to not give these moments. I have friends that ask don’t you want to go zip lining or sky diving and I say that’s great, if it’s there but I don’t need it. I could go and sky dive and have that moment of enjoy for myself or I could be out performing and have that same level of enjoyment and give the gift of magic to someone. What’s the greater good? And to me I love the adrenaline of performing magic and connecting with audiences. I have my bag with me all the time and I am always ready to do a show at any moment. Other magicians are looking at me wondering why I would do that.
I think a lot of other magicians do not want to be stopped at every moment and have to perform.
Yes, and they have a contract and want to be paid and so do I, but who am I when I see someone having a bad day and it costs me nothing to stop and spend twenty seconds of my time to help someone out so I am always ready because I never know who I may meet and may need a moment of my time.
I have really enjoyed interviewing magicians because so far everyone I have interviewed has had a passion for magic and speaks about it on a deeper level than this is just a trick or an illusion.
Picasso said, “Art is the lie that makes you realize the truth.” And to me, for you to understand the color black you have to have the color white, everything becomes true based on its contrast; for you to know what’s true you need to know what’s not true. So magic becomes the exaggeration of reality for you to understand what is real. Magic is an abstraction, it’s technically not magic, it’s abstract performance art. Salvador Dali never wanted you to believe there was a melting clock in the middle of the desert, he wanted you to experience it, so a magician isn’t supposed to sell you on anything supernatural, we put the word trick in it to tell you there is a way, it isn’t supernatural. Magic is a safe way to experience death without dying; it is a safe way to experience absurdities, chaos, and abstractions in an environment that is controlled, much like roller coasters are a way to experience a fall without a splat. As advanced emotional creatures we need more than just positive emotional experiences as long as it is safe. We are willing to push our boundaries and magic does that. Magic pushes our boundaries into absurdity and into abstraction and faced with that you learn more about yourself; to me that’s what every art form is about. Every art form is an excuse to meet another human being and in that exchange you learn more about yourself.
Everything we do, every person we meet, everything we love and everything we hate is all a part of the puzzle that is our identity. That is why I want all of my exchanges to be authentic and when you do something different people have to reevaluate self.
For example we all have our favorite songs so it becomes harder and harder to find music that moves you because you know who you are in relation to music so we often need something innovative and different. When a magician does something that is new and absurd it gives a fourth dimension experience and you have to reevaluate because it happened but it didn’t happen as you saw it. So you have to adjust your idea of self and truth based on this thing that happened but didn’t happen.
Magic is an active art, not passive, you have to be a part of the experience in order to follow it. If you are not fully paying attention and keeping track of the story before you then magic will not happen. Now you see magicians adding stories to their act so they have to keep up with a moving story as well as the trick itself which forces the audience to have to pay attention to a lot of moving parts. Michael Weber said in his lecture, “The best story wins.” And now I am seeing generations of magicians adding stories into their magic but what he really meant is he who is the best story wins. The reason that guys like Blaine and Houdini won is because they as individuals were the best story; they didn’t tell a story they were the story. And when you are with someone you want to be the story they tell tomorrow.
You make a really great point because I have never said this to anyone but my least favorite magic has been the performances that involve a story and I have never been able to put into words why. I feel like I immediately shut down.
The thing is a story could be palatable if it was done properly. For example, if a director had the women poison a drink every time a new character walked on stage, half the audience would miss that the drink got poisoned because they had two things going on simultaneously. By having two spotlights you leave it to the audience to choose to pay attention to one or the other because you can’t watch both. So when you do a story while you are moving the audience has to choose one of them to ignore. Are they going to ignore a story that is probably fake or, are they going to ignore the moves? And in most cases the story becomes annoying because you have to ignore the story in order to focus on all the moves because if you miss one of the moves you miss the magic. So I have rule: don’t move while talking and don’t talk while moving. Another rule of thumb: if the effect works without the story eliminate the story. If anything works without any part eliminate it. If you can do the trick in one phase instead of four, eliminate the other three phases! Simplify, simplify, simplify.
The magicians that incorporate stories well are the ones who are story tellers by nature so the stories are representative of their identity where as it is obvious when a magician is incorporating a story because they saw it done so now they’ve added it to their act but it doesn’t really work for them; it isn’t representative of their own unique personality, they are just copying at that point. To me, the best magicians are offering something new and unique because they are performing from a place of authenticity which in and of itself is new.
To go back to what I said about art, as the observer you, to learn more about yourself, you have to seek out that which is authentic. The audience comes to you honestly, they come to you as you, and when you represent yourself authentically, it’s perfect. That exchange goes back and forth and it’s an honest exchange. If you want to present a character that’s not you, you had better study acting! To create a character that’s also authentic you have to nail it in that it is a representation of yourself or if it is something entirely different you have to nail it so well that it becomes authentic. For example comedy magic it two art forms combined so you have to be completely proficient in magic and completely proficient in comedy for that to be an authentic experience for the audience. If you want to do comedy magic it can’t be fifty percent comedy and fifty percent magic, it has to be one hundred percent for both. The only guys that succeed at comedy magic are guys like Mac King and Penn and Teller because they recognize that they are doing one hundred percent comedy and one hundred percent magic and they don’t let overlap too much. There is a time place for it to overlap but for the most part those guys are doing something funny and then something magical. I see a lot of guys out there that think, “I’m not really great at magic so I am going to just add a joke.” That’s not going to work! You can’t add in another art form to fill in the cracks that you don’t want to fix.
Because then it becomes a crutch. (For the reader: Vinny Grosso gives a great lecture on how not to use comedy as a crutch when performing magic!)
Exactly! You are setting yourself up for a huge struggle, a huge disappointment and definite failure. You might get paid for a couple shows but overall you are not getting hire back and more importantly you are not creating a lasting connection with people because you are coming at it half hearted.
You have mostly answered this question however we had a question submitted to us from one of our listeners that asked, “Where does comedy and magic intersect?”
Artistically they do intersect thematically in that we have a set up and a punch line and a set up and an effect. So there are a lot of similar struggles that a comedian faces and a magician faces in structure and as a magician if you find a comedian that will talk to you … because most comedians hate magicians.
Really?! I did not know that!
Yeah, most comedians hate magicians because they think magicians will steal every joke they tell … which is true.
-Tune in next week for the second half of the interview!