Close-up magic is my personal favorite genre of illusion; while I enjoy the huge set-pieces of stage magic and the mind-bending qualities of mentalism, there’s something about seeing something small but incredible happen only a few feet in front of you. In this episode of the BBC documentary miniseries History of Magic, great magicians like Channing Pollock, Fay Presto, and the late Paul Daniels give their insights into the why’s and how’s of great close-up magic. Spend your lazy Sunday learning about the wonders that can be conjured through simple human dexterity, and if you want more, check out their episode on disappearing magic, too.
The loss of Harry Anderson has reverberated through the magic and entertainment community this past week, with illusionists, actors, and other artists remembering the laughs he brought to everyone’s lives. For this week’s Lazy Sunday, I’m going to let Anderson’s effervescent charisma and impressive sleight of hand do all the talking, and post some of my favorite videos I’ve found kicking around the internet:
Here’s a compilation of Late Show With David Letterman appearances Anderson made back in the 1980’s, where Harry shows off “bad” card tricks and his hustling skills in a three-card Monte routine:
Here he is performing on the 1988 revival of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour:
Here’s his 1986 Showtime special, Hello, Sucker, which includes his infamous needle-through-arm trick:
Watch him make a table float for Johnny Carson:
Here, he punishes a guinea pig when it fails to perform his acrobatic tricks for Saturday Night Live!:
And of course, Harry’s signature “Grappler” routine:
Marc Maron has interviewed an impressive variety of talented and intelligent individuals over the years on WTF, a podcast he began back in 2009. This week, Maron sat down for interviews with two distinct practitioners and lovers of magic: Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Alexander.
In episode 903, which originally published back on April 2, 2018, Harris talks about growing up in New Mexico, going to Jack Nicholson’s house, seeing magic at the state fair (always get the Indian fry bread), and the human element behind magic. The discussion begins around the 27 minute mark, and you can download the episode directly here.
Then, on episode 904, which originally published on April 5, 2018, Maron talks with Jason Alexander, who talks about his time on Seinfeld in addition to learning magic as a child to cope with his own awkwardness, performing at the Magic Castle, and how much his wife hates his own obsession with magic. There’s also an inordinate amount of talk about the McDLT, which Alexander shilled for in this aggressively 80’s commercial. You can download the episode here.
(Shout out to reader Peter for the tip!)
I can’t help but smile every time I watch a Doug Henning performance. His boundless enthusiasm and infectious positivity can soften the heart of even the most cynical of us all. This lazy Sunday, spend an hour and a half watching his first-ever World of Magic special, in which he attempts to replicate Houdini’s infamous water-tank escape – and maybe even try to beat his record while he’s at it.
Magicians often say that engineers are the hardest people to fool because they’re the ones always trying to figure out how the heck all the tricks are supposed to work. In this video recorded back in December 2015, Colin Cloud and David Williamson stop by the Google offices in London to perform some magic and from their Illusionists tour and, hopefully, blow a few minds as well. After their routines, they even sit down for 20 minutes to chat about their inspiration for their own work and their tour. Spend your lazy Sunday watching two of magic’s best try to fool some of the brightest minds in tech.
And if you’re looking for more, check out David Williamson’s talk at Magic Live last year, or watch Colin Cloud predict tweets on America’s Got Talent.
The 1990s had a ton of great documentaries and specials about the art and history of magic. Like this series, entitled Mysteries of Magic, from Unapix Entertainment. The three-part series took a dive into the history of magic, magicians, and illusions, featuring loads of archival footage of greats like Houdini and Cardini. Spliced in between the history lessons are interviews with modern performers like Lance Burton and Teller (giving some of his first on-screen interviews ever), as well as performances from their own television specials and stage shows. Spend your lazy Sunday watching some of the best magic the 90s had to offer in the three parts below:
Dai Vernon was one of the greatest card manipulators who ever lived (learn more about his life in this great documentary), and Korean magician Ed Kwon recently paid tribute to his life and work at the Magic Castle back in December. Spend your lazy Sunday watching his full 20-minute routine from his performance there, where he controls an entire round of poker with impeccable style and elegance.
James Randi is still the world’s ultimate skeptic; a magician who has spent his career debunking supernatural and psychic claims all over the world. He’s appeared on the Tonight Show, where he exposed faith healer Peter Popoff, he’s worked with Penn & Teller on their skeptic-based documentary show Bullshit!, and even founded the James Randi Educational Fund, which hosts a challenge that will award anyone who can demonstrate supernatural ability under scientific criteria $1 million (no one has won the award).
Back in 1993, Randi helped to produce an hour-long special called Secrets of the Psychics for PBS documentary show Nova. The documentary explores his relationship with psychic claims as a magician, his own methods for debunking fraud, as well as his famous battles with Uri Geller and Peter Popoff. Take an hour out of your lazy Sunday to watch reason prevail against fraud in the video embedded above.
From 1989-1990, British television network ITV aired two seasons of a show called The Best of Magic. Hosted by Geoffrey Durham, Simon Mayo, and Anthea Turner, the show did exactly what it says on the tin: each episode showed off the best names of magic of the era, including the likes of Max Maven, Juan Tamariz, Eugene Burger, The Pendragons, Lance Burton, and more. A total of 12 60-minute episodes were produced, and you can watch them all thanks to uploads from YouTube user World Greatest Magicians. Spend your lazy Sunday watching the first three episodes in the video above, and if you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, watch the rest of the show in the videos embedded below.
By 1990, Penn & Teller had already cemented their status as the “Bad Boys of Magic” as they deconstructed tricks and performed with a darkly comic twist. Their special Don’t Try This At Home was featured on public access TV channels across the country, and compiled quite a few of their routines, along with a few new ones (like the video debut of their Invisible Box Trick). Spend your Lazy Sunday watching Penn & Teller, eat fire, teach a room full of people how to make a hankie disappear, watch the world’s most violent marshmallow act, and more.