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November 2008
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January 2009

30 entries from December 2008

A Very Catchpenny Christmas

We just returned from a wonderful night at the Catchpenny Club. Big props to Nicholas J Johnson and the team for finishing the year off in style with the biggest night of variety entertainment yet.

If you weren't there (and you may not have tried, but the house was chock full tonight!) here are some of the things you missed:

  • Nicholas serving up his "cured" ham.

  • Gordo the sword-swallowing, plate-spinning juggler - all at the same time.

  • El Kirschbaum's instant tying tie.

  • Contortions by Candlelight.

  • Mickey Wyld's reassuring a couple that marriage was only "a piece of paper".

  • Celia P and her tirade against seals.

  • "You're no good at karate!"

  • The Melbourne Ukulele Kollective's non Christmas carols.

  • Christmas Bingo and toxic Kool Mints.

  • Me throwing a duet at Nicholas.

  • Tom Stevens and Optimus Prime

  • Neil's Electrics, Neil's Electrics, Neil's Electrics...


The next Catchpenny Club is on January 13. Don't miss it!

(You can join their Facebook Group here)

A thousand thanks to Craig Mitchell


Sue-Anne and I just got back from seeing 'Billy Elliott - The Musical' here at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne.

A few weeks ago Craig Mitchell, from the College of Magic in South Africa (and Billy Elliott's number one fan), surprised us with tickets to see the show. He's been raving about it to us for years and now we both understand exactly why.

The show was phenomenal!

Anyone who's seen the movie knows what a great, uplifting story it is, well the musical stays true to the whole feel of the movie in a way I've never seen achieved by a stage adaptation before. This is not surprising either, as when it opened in 2005 on the West End it cost £5.5 million to make: around £3 million more than the film!

The acting was spot-on, not the overplayed theatrics we're used to from musicals. The sets were technically astonishing without upstaging the performances. The cast were fantastic - from their characterisation to their costuming everything and everyone was gritty and believable (especially the language!) The staging was some of the most creative work I've ever seen and the choreography reminded me in places of Bob Fosse in his prime.

There's no point telling you the story of the show - if you've seen the movie you know it already and if you haven't, enjoy the ride! All I can say is go and see it.

Craig will be thrilled to know that he has created two new ambassador's for the show! (Somehow, I think he knew that would happen).

Click here now to book your tickets. The show is only in town for 6 months so don't be surprised if it sells out very quickly - word does travel fast!

Another typical day

For those who think the life of a magician is glamorous... well, it has it's highs and lows. Yesterday was another typical example.

I had to fly to Sydney to do a corporate Christmas party. They'd had a disappointing experience with a magician last year so they were only willing to spend as little as possible. (Last year they booked Matt Hollywood, and at the last minute he said he couldn't come and sent a colleague as his replacement. The magician they got cost the same and did 20 minutes of what they described as "kid's party magic"). So, from the beginning, the pressure was on.

Big plus, the show was at the spectacular Altitude Restaurant in the Shangri La Hotel with astonishing views over Sydney Harbour. Not so great was the fact they forgot to book me a room in the hotel and I ended up staying at the Holiday Inn down near Paddy's Markets instead.

As the show was in the restaurant, I didn't expect to have a stage, but I did ask for one thing - a radio lapel mic. Unfortunately, though the venue had a built-in sound system with a hand held radio mic, Staging Connections quoted them an astonishing $750 to provide a radio lapel mic for the night. Not surprisingly the client decided not to go with the quote and instead brought in a portable single-speaker PA that probably cost around $750 to buy. Normally an absolute no-no in these situations, but as it turned out on the night it worked perfectly. I was worried when we did the sound-check and the client said "Does it go any louder?" When I told her that was as loud as it would go without feedback she said "Oh, but people will be talking during your show."

Where to do the show was a challenge too. The room was a split-level, horseshoe shape with columns here and there so there was no one place in the room you could stand and be seen by everyone. A challenging situation to say the least. As it turned out, when I did the show I did my own introduction and encouraged everyone to move to where they could see me and they were most obliging. It transformed the atmosphere from a formal dining experience to that of a comfortable private party at home.

After the soundcheck at 6am I wasn't scheduled to perform until 9.20pm after the main course. (Even the client commented "You do a lot of waiting around don't you..") My private "dressing room" turned out to be a wobbly table in the kitchen corridoor. (A couple of hours later I got a chair as well.) So I went for a stroll down through Circular Quay and The Rocks before returning at 8pm for my dinner. One of the perks is that you, the performer, also get to enjoy the same quality meal the guests enjoy. (This doesn't always work though. Often, because we perform immediately after main course, the staff serve us after the guests, so we receive our meals a few minutes before we are due to go on. Unless, the venue is flexible with serving times as this one was, we usually don't get to eat at all).

As we approached 9.20pm and I finished loading my pockets eager to leave my corridoor, I received the news every performer hates... "We're running a little behind..." Now, the later the night, the drunker the guests and the harder the show is to perform. Late is not a good thing to be.

Eventually I went on at 9.50pm, 30 minutes late, and performed a full 45 minute show. I was planning my standard 30 minute show, but according to the contract the agent had written 45 minutes. Chatting to the client earlier they seemed flexible with show length but I could tell, after last year's experience, they were eager to receive value for money. During my stroll I'd purchased one or two extra magic props from the 7-11 and it was well worth the effort. With the exception of one person who sat with his back to me for the entire show (weird) everyone else was totally engaged and participated in the fun of the show. The client was delighted and I was pleased I'd restored her faith in magicians.

They say that half an hour on stage is as physically demanding as playing a full-game of football. It's also just as exhilirating, challenging and rewarding. As I slipped into a cab and headed back to my hotel I couldn't imagine a better way to spend my time.

Christmas Craziness

Last night I did a gig with comedian Ray Gilson, and it was a most unusual crowd.

They certainly had a good time, it was their office Christmas party and they loved the magic, they laughed at his comedy, but they showed it... differently... to most groups we work to.

Let's put it this way... many magicians who do 'Crazy Man's Hancuffs' will know that sometimes you get the odd person who just doesn't get it. Even though you pass one rubber band through the other several times, they don't see any magic.

A lot of the people in the group were like that, but then it went further... I do a false explanation where I snap a rubber band in half and restore it saying the band has velcro on it.

I had to stop and wait several times while entire tables searched all of the rubber bands for the velcro joins. Several people snapped a lot of the bands and were genuinely concerned when they couldn't get them back together.

Was it just them putting their trust in what I told them, or was it a lack of imagination that prevented them from "getting" the magic.

At least with my group it was only rubber bands.

Meanwhile in Winchelsea Mat Unwin, Brendan Croft, Chris Morant and co were doing a Magic Unlimited Horror Theme Night for Ripcurl. Brendan was doing strolling razorblade eating and on at least one occasion a spectator took a blade from him and put it in his own mouth! Talk about trust... or was it just alcohol? You'll have to read Brendan's blog because I'm sure he'll have a full run-down of the "Horror Night" very soon.

Can you believe people are still leaving it to the last minute to book their entertainment? Last week Sue-Anne had a lady call on Wednesday to book her for a show on Thursday... and someone who saw her on Thursday called on Friday wanting her to do a show next week!

Off to Sydney today for another Christmas party, then it's one final very busy week before a break before New Year's Eve.. phew!

The present and the past

After Sue-Anne and I got back from our respective gigs last night I was browsing the net when I came across two interesting articles that I'm pretty sure none of our blog readers would have seen before.

Cos First, one about Cosentino, who has just completed a national tour of theatres throughout Australia will his major stage illusion show 'Threshold'. This article was the cover story on the inflight magazine of Tiger Airways back in July. Very interesting story and some good pics too.

Then this one was a great surprise...


If that name means nothing to you, don't bother clicking the link, but if you were in magic in the 1970's and early 80's, or if you attended the 1980 national magic convention at the Southern Cross Hotel and remember an artist who nearly burned the hotel down... who performed on the public show where he was just as enthusiastically applauded by half the crowd as the other half booed and hissed... then take a look at this little gem of inside information I stumbled across last night dedicated to the mad man of magic Geoff Crozier.

Plus, here's a mini-bio I found too.

And if the article makes you curious... I've even found two clips of Crozier in action.

Prepare yourself..




(The only other known record of Crozier in action was a documentary filmed by Phil Noyce in 1971 called 'Good Afternoon'.)

Dennis Kale


Yesterday I did another Hoax Speaker/Magic Show. This one was for the Fundraising Institute of Australia's annual awards luncheon. I was introduced as the special guest speaker, Dennis Kale from 'Food For Thought'.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT is an initiative founded in 2007 by Rhonda Byrne, author of the international hit book 'The Secret'.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT has currently raised the awareness of the need for food in third world countries over 3000% and is about to be launched nationally in the UK through a series of philosophical gourmet recipe books.

Unlike other similar charities, FOOD FOR THOUGHT doesn't focus on money as the solution to all problems, but rather the awareness of the problem being a solution in itself. As such, through the sales of merchandise, books and an upcoming television series, FOOD FOR THOUGHT aims to have 95% of the Western World thinking about solutions to the current food crisis by the year 2011.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT offers many different revenue streams for fund-raising partners including branded merchandise, seminars and celebrity cooking demonstrations.

I received a warm round of applause, moved up to the lectern and began by giving the history of 'Food For Thought'. I spoke about how people have been throwing money at world hunger for years, and nothing has changed. Raising money was not the solution, we need to raise awareness. Here's an excerpt from the speech.

We are developing a TV series in the UK with Jamie Oliver called FOOD FOR THOUGHT, and at the end of each episode he'll teach viewers how to make a gourmet dish using ingredients found in third world countries
Telemarketing. In the UK we ran a series of tests for four weeks where Telemarketers called people at home, during dinner time, and simply talked to them about world hunger. They didn't try to solicit any donations or sell them anything, they simply made them aware that, while they were sitting down to eat, almost two thirds of the world's population hadn't eaten for days. The best thing is, because we're not selling anything, we can call people on the DO NOT CALL register so we get a complete blanket coverage.
In order to increase awareness of world hunger we have a range of Food For Thought branded merchandise already in production. Everything from T-Towels and Fridge Magnets to a limited edition set of Jamie Oliver cookware. We are intially concentrating on the area of food and food preparation products, and we are courting other celebrity chefs including Gabriel Gate and Peter Russell Clarke to bring out a series of Food For Thought cookbooks. We've had a great deal of interest from Nestle as well and they are developing a Food For Thought protein bar which tastes absolutely delicious. But eventually we want to expand our merchandise to other goods as many, many companies have expressed interest in licensing the Food For Thought brand.
We're also very eager to partner with other organisations, especially charities, so that we can all benefit for the Income Tax Exemption laws.
Our goal is to have Food For Thought products in every home in the Western World by 2011. And we believe that if we can achieve that, a solution to World Hunger will arise before the year 2015.

As I discovered afterwards, some people were sitting quietly thinking to themselves "This HAS to be a joke...", others were eagerly taking notes", one man came up to me afterwards and said that he provided fundraising software for a company just like that in the 1990s, the World Hunger Project. They operated out of Sydney and aimed to eliminate world poverty through Transcendental Meditation by the year 2000. When they paid him, their cheque bounced.

Maybe I needed to go a lot further with my absurd claims about 'Food For Thought'!

By the time I began toasting 'Food For Thought' up on stage, and produced a can of Pepsi from my shoe, an 8ft straw and vanished a Coke bottle, most of the audience realised it was a hoax.

I announced "Everything you've seen and heard for the last 15 minutes, including Dennis Kale and Food For Thought, has been an illusion," then introduced myself and went into the remainder of the show, which thematically linked up with things I said and did at the very beginning.

The show went over very well and it looks like more hoax characters are on the way!

To those people who thought I was over-reacting

With the post I wrote on November 20 'Yes I'm cheesed off' some people left comments saying that I should "get real" and it didn't really matter. We just received a feedback form from the agent where the client complained that I "did quite a few of the same tricks as Matt Hollywood who we had last year." Their feeling - "Not good."

We will most likely be never booked by that client again as a result of this. As one person commented on the "cheesed off" post, maybe that's Matt's goal.

So again I say why do the same tricks you KNOW your colleagues/competitors are doing in the same market? I really hope Matt gets similar feedback when he entertains groups who've seen me before. Maybe then he'd wake up to himself and add something of his own to his show.

I didn't make it!

Last night was the grand opening of the Hocus Pocus exhibition and, unfortunately, I didn't make it. I got a very last minute gig in Canberra.

What made it even more challenging was the fact that yesterday's gig was a hoax speaker/magic show.

I had to fly in at 11am yesterday, and pretty much write my speech on the plane! (More about the usual Qantas fun at the end of this post).

When arrived I headed straight to a hairdressers and got them to trim my traditionally windswept look to a sharp, executive haircut. I even had a brief meeting with the client in the hairdresser's chair!

From there I went to the National Convention Centre and watched as two Senior Executives from Accenture gave their staff monthly updates, and then they introduced Steve Taylor, Senior Executive in HR from Melbourne... me.

I'd decided to give them a little shake up by explaining that, with the imminent launch of the all-politics TV channel A-SPAN, we'd negotiated a deal where cameras would be brought into the workspaces at Accenture to show Australia the real "behind the scenes" working of the company as part of the ATO's daily show. Over the Christmas break their offices were going to be transformed with chill-out lounges, relaxation zones, and a skate ramp. And in order to dispel the stereotype that IT people were all "socially inept nerds", there would be some changes in staff as well. We'd be focusing on under 28s with those less "camera-friendly" people being given more exciting jobs elsewhere in the company.

Surprisingly, even when I borrowed a $50 bill, cut it up and threw it away to illustrate how ineffectual budget slashing was, and even after I produced a can of Pepsi from my shoe... many still thought I was from HR.

One person told me afterwards "We just thought you were a really cool Senior Executive".

After I revealed the entire Steve Taylor character to be an illusion, there were some very relieved faces though, and afterwards I mingled with everyone over drinks performing close up magic (still dressed in my "executive look", yuk!)

The client said that normally at these functions the staff stay for one quick drink then go, but this time they all stayed for well over an hour! So, as the main aim of the event was to get the staff to start to bondand get to know each other, it was a big success.

Qantas - well, as you expect, the flight from Melbourne to Canberra was about 30 minutes late... but the flight back was actually on time! (Though, the flight leaving one hour before me was delayed about an hour and a half so people on that Canberra to Melbourne flight got home 30 minutes after me!)

And I fluked it on a flight that served lunch, but I have to show you a picture of what Qantas considers a good lunch nowdays.


Note, you get water, a small piece of chocolate and a "vegetarian roll" which is made on one of those rolls they put on your side plate at dinner. Maybe it was a "hoax lunch"?

Another busy weekend

On Friday I had to fly up to Bundaberg to entertain at the Bundaberg Sugar's Christmas party. Just the usual delayed departure from Qantas on the way up, but on the way back the flight was delayed because the truck that was supposed to tow the plane of the departure gate broke down. That was a new one!

Up in Bundaberg I had a minor faux pas. During the Toast Routine I produced a can of soda and the volunteer and I then drank a toast together to Bundaberg Sugar. Because some people are diabetic we always use Pepsi Max. As soon as I produced it one of the guests yelled out "Hey, there's no sugar in that!"

Meanwhile, Sue-Anne was back in Melbourne running an 'Al Cappuccino Gangster Night' with Lee Cohen and Enzo Ficco at the Grand Hyatt. The night was, appropriately, a roaring success with a ton of people getting up on the dancefloor to learn the Charleston. Of course, Al threatening them with his machine gun did encourage the few who were initially reluctant.

The next day I was up at 5.30am to fly back to Melbourne where we did a private 40th birthday near the airport and I finally got home around 5pm in time to spend three hours at home before heading off to do an hour of close up on the roof of the Adelphi Hotel. The venue is called Deck 10 and one of the great things about our line of work is we get to visit so many unusual and interesting places, and the views and ambience of Deck 10 are great.

At the airport, one odd thing I noticed was at Hungry Jacks. They're having a massive competition where you can win a $7,000 Fijian holiday. To win you simply fill in an entry form with your name, address, mobile etc. Then there's a box you can check at the bottom which says:

  • By ticking this box you will receive further fantastic holiday offers and you consent for an indefinite period of time for the Promoter to contact you by telephone and you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions as stated on the back of this form.

So, unless you are keen to attract more telemarketing you probably wouldn't check that box.

But wait... if you turn the form over at the start of the 33 terms and conditions in ultra-fine print, it says:

  • Entrants must also agree for the Promoters, third parties and their respective agencies to contact the entrant, including but not limited to, telephone, SMS, email or mail. Entry is conditional on the entrants acceptance of these conditions.

So this is less a competition and more a way to get around the 'Do Not Call' anti-telemarketing legislation. Even if you are registered on the 'Do Not Call' list, anyone who buys this list created by the Hungry Jack's competition will have you permission to phone you.

So think twice before entering Hungry Jack's great giveaway. Odds are you probably won't win the trip, but you will get a lot more wonderful offers!