David Blaine’s act has always been intense, but his career has evolved from card magic on the street to more strange and macabre acts of self-sacrifice. At GeniiCon 2017, a rare chat between Blaine and Genii Magazine editor-in-chief Richard Kaufman revealed that this only marks phase one of his career’s journey.
Kaufman noticed that, while he began with his Street Magic television event, Blaine’s specials have progressively gotten more dangerous: getting buried alive, catching a bullet, eating frogs, and so on. His live show is the culmination of this, where he wanted to, in his words, “Put a show together where even if you’re tricking [the audience], you’re still giving a piece of yourself.”
“Street Magic was back when YouTube didn’t exist,” Blaine says. “Now I need to come up with tricks where the method is weirder than the trick…even if they figure out the secret, there’s still no way they wouldn’t want to see it.”
When Blaine performs these shows in front of thousands of people, he’s not performing tricks like a typical magician—he’s giving a piece of himself each and every time. He would perform for three days, take a day off, and repeat the cycle—every week of his show, Blaine effectively fasted for six days straight.
There’s no conventional magic in the show, but they’re not complex tricks, either. When he originally came up with the plan to float in a tank of water for ten minutes, he tried to do bizarre things underwater to keep the audience interested, like hold a fish or an eel in his mouth and release it, or smoke from a trick cigar. His friend convinced him that he didn’t need any of this—that the audience would be captivated simply by the act of holding his breath and the passage of time. And this process goes back to the three words Blaine carries with him whenever he crafts one of his death-defying tricks: “meaningful, interesting, and believable.” “You think you need all these big gags and tricks,” he says, “but it boils down to simplicity.“
It should come as no surprise that going without food for days at a time or swallowing live frogs can be incredibly painful, but it’s not something Blaine thinks about when he comes up with his ideas. “The idea comes first and you get excited,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking about the suffering part.” Blaine got salmonella poisoning several times while working on his frog swallowing act (his body is basically immune to the disease now because he’s had it so often), but it was all in service of having the sheer audacity of making frogs come out of his mouth.
The show isn’t rehearsed or scripted—it’s essentially a raw presentation of who David Blaine is and what he can do. And to him, it’s just the beginning. “Phase one was to make a show that was more physically ambitious than what I thought I could do…phase two is next.”