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Entertainer mixes illusion, humor

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Indianapolis’ Johnny Magic hears a lot of talk about his apparent ability to make various items disappear. But parents praise him for one trick perhaps above all others: making distractions go poof.

He laughed about that very matter during a recent chat about his free, one-hour First Fridays for Families show set for 6 p.m. Friday at The Commons in Columbus.

“I get a lot of feedback on my ability to hold the attention of even the wild and crazy kids,” he said.

He does that with fast-paced humor polished on the stand-up stage and an ease with illusions that he has perfected since performing at friends’ pre-teen birthday parties as “Johnny the Magnificent.”

The key to his success with an elementary-school age audience is simple.

“I don’t want to talk down to them,” he said. “Basically, I treat them as young adults.”

Make that young adults with a searing sense of the silly.

He will apply a fake nose and glasses as international cook Chef Foodini, who wouldn’t know a spatula from spats or a souffle from a soup.

Audiences from church groups of 40 to community-wide groups of more than 2,000 like his recipe for goofiness.

“I generally stay in character and eventually am just as amazed at everything that happens as they are,” he said.

He’s smart enough to intersperse props for some of his laughs, such as when he performs CPR on Rocky the Raccoon. His audiences know Rocky isn’t real, but they sometimes are unsure about some of his right-before-their-eyes stunts.

Consequently, children and even parents often want more than illusions. Sometimes, they want answers on how he just made this or that appear, such as an eight-foot straw from a small bag.

Magic quickly pulls out one response like a trusty scarf.

“Can you keep a secret?” he will ask.

“Yes,” they usually eagerly respond.

“Well, so can I,” he says with a wink.

Though the performer aims nearly everything he does at a younger audience, there is plenty for parents and other family members to enjoy.

Washington state insurance executive Ben Conner described Magic’s show as being like a Pixar film. “It is built and delivered for children, but there are so many aspects that make it entertaining for adults,” Conner said.

No matter the age, and no matter that he sometimes finds himself far from the stage, he finds that people never tire of trickery.

“People just light up,” he said. “So I always keep some magic on me.”

For now, that means a wallet that bursts into flames, giving a whole new meaning to money burning a hole in his pocket.

He especially enjoys one part of his shows — the time afterward, when young magicians-to-be come to him with their imagination in one hand and hopes and dreams in the other. He always encourages them to learn tricks, even if their only audience will be mom and dad.

As he sees it, illusions teach social skills, confidence and hand-eye coordination.

“For me, those moments one-on-one with the kids are great,” he said.

The 29-year-old performer, inspired most by Steve Martin and Jim Carrey, already travels the world from the Dominican Republic to Japan, and has wowed notables from Indiana first lady Karen Pence to ex-NFL great Michael Strahan with his schtick. But he dreams of arena shows, licensing deals, you name it. Besides, his motto is “Larger Than Life.” And he wants to make certain his illusions never grow so big that they upstage the general entertainer in him.

“I want to make sure that I could put away my magic and still draw and keep a crowd,” he said. “A lot of performers are magicians who entertain. But I’m an entertainer who also does magic.”

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