When Magic is a Real Darling

This popular Austin magician tells it like it appears to be

                  Ladies & gentlemen … Jack Darling!
                  Ladies & gentlemen … Jack Darling!

TV and concert producer Patrick Terry recently put together another spectacle of magic and humor in the wake of his sold-out Wondershow at the Vortex, but did this one succeed?

Terry, who we last mentioned in this article from a couple months ago, staged his latest show at the North Door, and, sure enough, it featured a couple of big names in the industry: Nick Lewin and Andrew Goldenhersh. So it was definitely something that invited a little media coverage, right?

But, no, we didn't go to see the show.

Rather, because we're so goddam canny, we sent an actual magician to check out the entertainment and let us know if it was worth shouting about.

The magician we sent was a local practitioner of the faux-magic arts, the always delightful Jack Darling. If you're going to lend any credence to what Darling has to say about The Magic Hour, though, first you probably want a particular pair of questions answered: 1) Who is this Jack Darling, and 2) why should you care?

We suggest that, before we get to any opining about The Magic Hour, this brief interview will reveal the answers to those questions …

Austin Chronicle: Jack, how’d you get into magic?

Jack Darling: My mom had a lot of circus-act people around while I was growing up. They were always coming in and out of our lives in certain ways.

AC: Okay, hold on, that throws me right there. How did your mom have … ?

JD: You want the honest answer?

AC: Sure.

JD: She was a drug dealer.

AC: She was a drug dealer?

JD: Yes.

AC: Oh, okay. Awesome.

JD: And we lived in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and she’d dated a couple of circus people, so she always kinda knew when the circuses would come in. But there was a guy, I told him I was having some problems with bullies, and he showed me how to eat broken glass – so I could show the neighborhood I was tough. And I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. So I broke a bottle and ate broken glass, and it kinda did freak the neighborhood out. And that’s how it sunk in, that you could do some amazing stuff with magic, and that was a way to deal with bullies. Because somebody sees you eat broken glass off the ground, glass that you just broke – that’s too weird.

AC: And from there you went on to, ah, less aggressive sorts of magic?

JD: Although I have performed the broken-glass eating in shows …

AC: The first time I saw you was at a fundraiser for The Hidden Room, where you did that bit with the cigarette.

JD: The floating cigarette.

AC: Which was hilarious! Are all your shows suffused with such humor?

JD: Yes.

AC: So, freaky stuff like broken-glass eating, but also humor.

JD: Yeah, because you can make the broken glass funny – and I’m not the first magician to do this, there’s another guy, he makes the eating, the crunching on the glass, the swallowing, and jokes about what might happen later ….

AC: Yow. And is there a type of magic that you specialize in?

JD: I love lots of props. Bigger props. A lot of people wanna play big, act small? I try to get the biggest objects and do fun things with them. So I would say, because I love running gags within a show, rubber chickens, any of that old stuff: I like to bring it in for physical comedy. I wouldn’t say I really specialize in anything, but if I can take an old trick and find my own funny spin on it? I try to do that. Even if I’m doing something serious, I still like to have elements of fun that come out – because I feel it goes down easier for an audience.

AC: So you’re definitely a magician who incorporates humor and not a stand-up comic who does some magic?

JD: Well, I mean, I’ve been doing a lot of stand-up shows recently, people allowing me to come in – because I do have certain punchlines. But they don’t call me a magician, they call me, like, “not a traditional comedian.” Which is pretty funny.

AC: Are you a member of the Society of American Magicians? Or, what is it, IBM?

JD: I’m a member of the Texas Association of Magicians now. I haven’t really entered any of those, ah, clubs necessarily. I think I’m going to be pushed into it now, by all the magicians that’ve found me and are like “Get over here!”  And I’ve been reluctant to join not for any reason other than I’ve been trying to find my own way for a while, trying not to watch too many people – so I can have my own voice? Because I feel like, once you enter these groups and you hang out with people a lot – like when I used to do spoken word – you start to sound like a lot of other people and you sort of lose your own voice. So, with magic, I’ve tried to learn what I can from the teachers, but not focus so much on the people around me. I’m starting to now, now that I’ve kind of found that voice, so I am starting to look at what other people are doing around town. Like that show I was just part of at Dozen Street.

AC: So, Patrick Terry’s Magic Hour – what’d you think of that?

JD: I enjoyed it. Any time you can see more than one magician is good, because then you get more of a sense of the different kinds of magic you can have. All three of those guys – Nick Lewin, Patrick Terry, Andrew Goldenhersh – they were very different in the way they presented their tricks, how they dealt with audience members. I wish more things like that could happen here. But, in this city, I think it’s hard. We’re not Vegas, where there’s just so many more people coming in to see the city, to see the shows and whatever else they can. Most of the audiences I perform for here, you’re either getting fifty or, at the most, three to four hundred people – and you’ve got to do a lot of marketing to get that, it’s a tough sell. And some people might not even know that they’d like magic, because, ah, their uncle has been pulling a quarter out of their ear for too long, and they’re just annoyed, you know? Or they think it’s outdated. But there’s so much fresh stuff that’s happening, so many performers weaving these amazing stories, and it’s unfortunate that people don’t get it. People come to the shows and they’re like, “I didn’t think I would like magic,” you know? But, c’mon, it’s such a fun form to play with!

So that's some cred established there, we reckon, O Reader – especially since we've seen Darling do his funny and mystifying stuff onstage – Turning Tricks with The Darlings at FronteraFest, and so on – and we can rely on what they call An Informed Professional Opinion from the blondely thistle-haired prestidigitator.

Now, we've already gone on about producer and magician Patrick Terry in this article we mentioned above, so here we're going to end with Jack Darling weighing in on the other two Magic Hour performers, that his assessment might enhance whatever you may've heard from your non-magic friends:

On Nick Lewin: He opened the show and first he did the handkerchief trick, the color-changing handkerchief. Which is a trick that everybody’s seen, but his take on it, his sense of humor – he’s a funny guy. What I most liked about him was he had gags which I can appreciate, and he’d do sleight-of-hand things and then he’d be like, “Sleight of hand!” He was just really big, and the audience interaction was great … All of Lewin’s material, it just seemed so fresh. I know he must’ve done some of these things a million times – I’ve seen some clips – but it seemed not rote at all. He did a beautiful jazz routine with The Broken And Restored String, where he’s breaking string and breaking string, and he rolls all the pieces up, he’s got jazz playing in the background, and then the way he reveals the restored string, the way it kind of moves to the music and then, boom!, it was restored – it was just awesome. The whole experience of watching him as a performer? I’d give him a ten, he was great.

On Andrew Goldenhersh: Goldenhersh starts off with that butterfly tattoo of his, and it’s beautiful, it’s unassuming – it was a real nice effect, just a beautiful way to start. I loved it. And what else I loved about him, he does that fake thumb thing – where you fake pulling your thumb off and then you put it back on? And he’s like, “Yeah, I’ll bet your uncle did that for you,” making a joke of it, you know? He starts with that, bringing in the whole childhood element. And then he gets a volunteer from the audience, and he’s pulling coins from her ear, dropping them into a pail – but the coins keep getting bigger and bigger … and just the way he structured that whole sequence, like “Here’s some corny, cliche tricks” and then he, you know, he keeps ramping it up until the end – which just slays you, knocks it out of the ballpark. The audience went nuts, it was huge. And then he does the Houdini straitjacket. And just, just making everything fun again, you know? Taking what we expect from magic and then playing with it, putting his own spin on it, quoting George Carlin, dealing with the volunteers. One of the guys who came up to put him into the straitjacket was obviously drunk, such a pain in the ass, and Andrew just dealt with the guy so smoothly and professionally, and – ah, he was fantastic.

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