“What kept me in [magic] is that I have no other skills,” Ben Seidman says with a chuckle. Considering he just gave a performance at Magi-Fest 2018 that caused an entire room full of magicians to give him a standing ovation, it might be the only skill he needs.
Seidman’s magic has spectacle, yes; the big moments that make you say holy crap, how did he do that? But it’s in how those moments build and connect with sleight of hand, an absurd amount of audience involvement, a dash of mentalism, and a hilarious stand-up routine that makes his magic special. GeniiOnline got a chance to speak with Seidman after watching his set at Magi-Fest this year, and we talked with him about getting into magic, working with Criss Angel, and what happens when things go wrong.
“What drew me to it was at first, like many people, just seeing that first moment of magic which happened when I was six,” Seidman says. “Someone pulled something out of my mom’s ear and that was it for me. I was hooked.” He began to more seriously engage with magic, though, on the set of Green Eggs and Ham: The Operetta at a children’s theater company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin called First Stage (he was a soprano, in case you were wondering).
It was there that he met Tim Catlett, who was a technical designer for the show and had at one time worked for David Copperfield. “He taught me a thing that was too difficult for me to learn [on my own], intentionally,” Seidman explained. “I learned it, the next day showed it to him, and he taught me a new trick every day for the entire duration of the production. That was what set me up.”
Several years later, Seidman got a job at the Piafolous Magic Shop in Milwaukee, then he, in his words, “made the executive decision to major in theater [and] not have a back-up plan.”
It seems to have paid off for him, because by the time he was a 22-year-old senior in college, he’d already started working with Criss Angel as a creative consultant on Mindfreak. Seidman would invent tricks, and Criss would perform them both on-stage and on the TV show.
“It was an awesome experience,” says Seidman. “He and I agreed on some things but also disagreed on many, and so that also helped formulate my opinions about the magic that I wanted to perform for myself. We’re just very different people creatively and also in life.
“That dictated how I approach my own magic in some ways, but also how I approach the idea of celebrity. I used to think that that was a thing that I really wanted, and then seeing what it’s like to be in the limelight that much made me – didn’t make me say I would be forever unhappy if I had it, but it made me not want to try to achieve it in the same way. It made me realize that there are things that are much more important than it. I mean, I knew that there were before, but in that scenario I got to see how hard it is when – a lot of people talk smack about him, but he does some things very, very brilliantly and it is very hard when you are a person who has hundreds if not thousands of people who are trying to get something from you every single day. That has its own difficulties.”
Ben appears to have taken those lessons to heart and applied them to his routine, as his sense of humor and approach to magic couldn’t be further from the dark, gothic sensibilities of Mindfreak. Seidman’s illusions are playful, his jokes are self-deprecating yet mostly clean with just enough edginess to keep things a bit spicy.
To craft his magic, Seidman quickly learned that beginning with the ending was the best way to design a trick. “Start with what you think is the craziest thing possible that you want to do,” he explains, “and then if you have to make compromises in what you can actually do, do that. But try not to.”
You can see this approach play out in his routine, when Ben manages to slide a $20 bill out of a volunteer’s pocket and safety pin it to their back in one swift move, all without them noticing.
In shooting for those big, mind-blowing moments, sometimes things will inevitably go wrong, but to Seidman, that’s what makes live performance so interesting. “Well, it’s not fun when everything goes smoothly every time, all of the time, right?” Seidman asks. “That’s Groundhog Day…There are multiple tricks in my act, like the safety pin routine, all someone has to do is, essentially, they could turn to the side, you know, 30 degrees and that trick is over. So it keeps me on my toes, and that’s fun for me.”
As for his comedy, Seidman wants to make people laugh without offending them—which is a lot harder than it sounds.
“I don’t ever want to offend people, ever,” he explains. “My goal has been to offend people on zero occasions. That being said, I have offended some people. But some people are offended by things that aren’t offensive, they just think they should be offended and therefore they are.
“The religious material is a prime example,” he says, referencing a relatively benign joke he makes during his set about being the worst Jew ever. “To my knowledge – and I’ve run this by a lot of religious people, religious scholars, members of the clergy, so many different denominations of so many different religions, ‘Is anything I’m saying offensive?’ – and everyone who is intelligent has said ‘No, none of that is. In fact, you say some very positive things.’ I will still have people who say ‘I don’t like the fact that you even brought up Jesus,’ and I say, ‘Well, you just brought up Jesus.’ That’s just going to happen, and I don’t want to offend people, but I also am not going to take out things that I know aren’t really offensive to someone who is actually listening to what I’m saying.”
He clearly hasn’t offended too many people, as he’s currently the resident magician at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (the only magician to have ever received that honor), he’s been seen on Penn & Teller: Fool Us and two different Travel Channel specials, and performs all over the world, on cruises, at colleges, and for corporate gigs. And for Ben, it’s right where he wants to be.
“Doing comedy magic is the closest thing to my actual voice on my best day,” Seidman says, “the person who I am when I’m the happiest with myself is making people laugh around me…When I’m laughing and I’m making other people laugh, I’m the happiest that I am. For me, it was the only way.”