I do magic tricks and hammer nails up my nose. Image 1.

Laura Yan

Author, as told to

I do magic tricks and hammer nails up my nose. Image 2.

Arina Shabanova


In the latest installment of Hopes&Fears’ anonymous interview series, we had a heart-to-heart with a magician and human blockhead about his romantic challenges and the bad audiences.

I’m a magic audodidact. I got a magic kit for Christmas when I was 9-years-old. A lot of kids will get a magic kit for some occassion, like a birthday or a holiday. Most of them will play with it for a day, a week maybe, before ditching it to collect dust in their closets. I still have mine, and I still tinker with it. It’s the Harry Blackstone Master Magician set for the Master Magician, ages eight and up. I’ve been learning how to do magic on my own ever since.

For better or worse, magic is my calling. I’m also a sideshow artist, vaudevillian, an MC, and a host.

I didn’t start making magic a viable career choice until 2000. Before that, it was just a fun thing did at parties because I didn’t have social skills. I’m a shy introvert, so magic tricks were a way for me to break the ice without having to have a personality.

I do magic tricks and hammer nails up my nose. Image 3.

The credibility of

a human blockhead

I hate talking about magic because unless I show you, it’s, you know, “womp womp.” It’s sort of like trying to explain a painting or a dream without experiencing it. There’s an act I’ve been doing for sixteen years. It’s basically a sleight of hand routine with a 6-foot segment of rope. It’s a whole bunch of rope tricks strung together in about three-and-a-half minutes, except the audience doesn’t realize it’s taken me sixteen years to develop and perfect. That’s the one I love, and the one I’m known for.

I also do a real good blockhead act: you take a six-inch nail and hammer it into your face through your nostril, using an actual hammer. Mine is really funny. I saw a sideshow guy do it once, and I got the joke immediately. I begged him to teach me. People cringe in fear and revulsion, and get squeamish. But I think it’s hilarious.

If you understand the physics and biology involved, you’re pretty much safe. It would take me five minutes to teach you how to do it. It would take you five years to make it into an entertaining act.   

When I do sideshow, I don’t do magic, and vice versa. The magic is fake: it’s all tricks, sleight of hands, skills, misdirection, lies and duct tape. Sideshow is real: what you’re doing is actually happening. If I do a sideshow stunt, then I introduce magic, the stunt loses its credibility.

The richest magicians in the world, net worth:

 David Copperfield  $800 million

 Penn and Teller — $300 million (combined)

 Siegfried and Roy $120 million (combined)

 Lance Burton  $100 million

 Hans Klok  $25 million

 Criss Angel  $18 million

 David Blaine  $12 million

 Derren Brown  $7.5 million

Source: The Richest

Hecklers and true believers

My life is pretty routine and dull, interrupted by moments of excitement. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are my busiest nights. It could be a cabaret in town, a private party, a corporate event. I also have my own solo show that I’ll perform from time to time. I’m a parlor magician, so I like an audience.

My audience is a really good cross-section of New York. There are three types of audience members. The first type really appreciates magic. They understand that it’s an art form, and they like watching someone who’s really skilled do something amazing. I love those people.

Then you have two types of people who make up a minority, but they’re the loudest.

You have the True Believers, who believe that magic is real, and nothing you can say will change their mind. So if I do a mentalism trick, there’s going to be a person or two who will think that I have psychic powers. I could tell them up and down: “No, no, it’s fake, I’m a magician, it’s a trick, I could show you the book.” They would flat out not believe me because they think I’m protecting my industry secrets.        

Once, after a seemingly impossible mentalism routine, this woman got so freaked out that she wanted to know if I could contact her dead relative. I said, “No, I can’t. No one can.” She refused to believe me. She was all like: “No, no, you have the gift, and left, kind of upset with me.”

Then you’ll get the opposite: these curmudgeons who just refuse to be entertained by any kind of deception. They’re usually the violent hecklers: they’ll yell out, “I know how you did that! It’s up your sleeve!” I don’t get it. Like, why are you even here?


I do magic tricks and hammer nails up my nose. Image 4.

The money’s right

I charge by time, not by act. I set my own rates. Sometimes, if there’s a gig I don’t want to do, I will quote a huge number that makes me nervous to say out loud, hoping to scare them off. The trick is to quote a number that’s both high enough to be outside of their budget, but not so high that they feel like I’m mocking them or blowing them off.

I once made $5000 off of one gig. It was for a huge cybertech company at a security convention where they had a big booth. They wanted a magician to draw in attendees and get them on the mailing list. I didn’t want to do it. I hate those things, I hate being a fishing lure.

So I gave them the full pitch: “This is perfect, it’s right up my alley, I can tailor thing just for you, I do this sort of thing all the time, I’ll bring all my own materials.” The whole nine yards. I said: “I’m going to do all of this, you’re going to provide transportation costs, and it’s going to be $5000.” Thinking they’d come back with something like, “Sounds great, but we just can’t swing it.” They didn’t even blink. Immediate email after. Immediate. I probably could’ve asked for ten!

I do this kind of thing all the time. It either backfires or pays off, depending on your point of view.

Freak accidents are surprisingly rare in magic, but they do happen: 

October 31, 1926: Master illusionist Harry Houdini died of peritonitis at Detroit's Grace Hospital. Legend has it that the death was caused by a McGill University student who delivered several surprise blows to Houdini's abdomen in his dressing room at the Princess Theater in Montreal before a performance. 

Source: Wikipedia

On April 15, 1984: Tommy Cooper, a Welsh comic and magician, collapsed and died of a heart attack on national television, as he filmed Live from Her Majesty's, a variety show. Audience members 

Source: Wikipedia


I do magic tricks and hammer nails up my nose. Image 5.

“I don’t date magicians”

There was a whole line of women in my dating life who refused to date me because I was a magician. This was online dating. I had it on my profile and I wasn’t getting any interest. So I messaged a few women and I got a few responses back saying: “Sorry, I don’t date magicians.”

I decided I wasn’t going to tell them what I did until the first coffee date. I met one woman face to face, and then it eventually came around to what do you do. I told her, and she was like… “Ohhhh. Nope. I don’t mess with magicians.” I asked her why, and she said, “I don’t want to be lied to.” 

I was like: you realize that I don’t actually lie? It’s like when you watch a theatrical production of Hamlet, you’re not standing up protesting: “That man isn’t actually Hamlet!” It’s theater. It’s a suspension of disbelief. It’s entertainment.  

But I started to get a complex: like, maybe I chose the wrong profession and I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life. Or maybe there’s one asshole magician out there who’s ruining it for everybody.

Then I stopped online dating. The women I meet in real life are fascinated by what I do.

And, they're pretty bad when they do:

On October 3, 2003: Roy Horn (of the duo Siegfried and Roy) was bitten in the neck by a female tiger during a sold-out show at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Roy sustained major blood loss and, later, suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. The big cat, Montecore, was spared on his orders.

Source: CNN

On December 17, 2008: Celebrity magician David Copperfield's assistant was rushed to the hospital after being sucked into an industrial fan and mauled by its spinning blades during a live show at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. He survived.

Source: The Daily Mail

You never know

who’s watching

I’m constantly thinking about magic. When good composers walk the city, they hear music in car horns and construction noise. When good painters walk across the park, they see color and form and shape in trees and buildings. When I walk across the city, I see unique ways to make something vanish or appear, or make something float that nobody would expect could float. 99% of it is just junk in my brain, but every now and then there will be that one idea.

The development process is constant because magic is so fucking hard.

I’m working on an act right now that’s a year away from being stage-ready. I won’t know if I like it for another year after that, which means I have to live with it for two years before I get to decide whether I want to keep performing it.

I’ve had acts that just utterly, completely fail. I just have to admit this trick’s not going to work. Thank you very much and good night. I’ve done that so many times I’ve lost count. It doesn’t happen as much anymore. Nowadays, if something fucks up, there’s usually a Plan B. It’s not exactly what I wanted to happen, but the audience doesn’t know the difference anyway.

Back when I was starting out, I was terrible. I barely got a reaction, let alone applause. You just have to keep at it, which is true of most careers.

It’s not enough to be good. The most important thing is to be consistent. To make sure you keep getting stage time no matter what because you never know who’s watching.