How does a kid go from being a hobbyist magician to making a living as a funny motivational speaker? Here’s how it happened to me.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it all started with Joey McIntrye from NKOTB (That’s New Kids on the Block for you cra cra millenials). No, I didn’t have a crush on Joey. Yes, my sister did. My sister had all the NKOTB merch you can imagine, including several VHS tapes (the things we used to put in VCRs, and VCRs are those things that…never mind), which included exclusive backstage footage. And what did the New Kids do backstage? Despite what the tabloids said, they did magic tricks. At least Joey did this one particular time on the “Step by Step” VHS, and what he did would forever change the trajectory of my life (this is really hard to type with a straight face, but it’s all true)…
I was ten years old as I watched McIntyre-Man looked into the camera and show his hands completely empty. Then, he closed one hand into a fist, and with the other hand, reached into his fist and pulled out three colorful scarves, all tied together: red, yellow and blue. He then flamboyantly waved the scarves around before shoving them back into his closed fist. When he opened his hand once again? Poof! Gone! What!? How’d you do that Joey? Camera trick?
Fast forward one year. I was eleven as I watched Kansas City magician L.C. Collier on the cafeteria stage of Broken Arrow Elementary for a school assembly. When he asked for a volunteer and said he would pick the child who could make the ugliest face, guess who won? Yes, me, but you could’ve at least hesitated. After he invited me on stage, I watched in wonder as he pulled endless colorful paper streamers out of his mouth just inches from my face! Then he coiled them into a circle and placed them around my neck like a Hawaiian lei . Everyone was like “Aw-gross!” I was like “Awe-some.”
After he sat me back down, what trick did he close the show with? Joey’s scarves in the hand trick! That’s when I knew it wasn’t a camera trick. I had to find out the secret so I could learn to do the trick, amaze my friends, and forever be the coolest kid on the block. See what I did there?
That night, my amazing mother took me to the local library, after much begging, and we found a section of books on magic tricks. I checked out all twelve of them. I went through every single page that night. No scarves trick.
My initial disappointment quickly turned to fascination as I started seeing all kinds of wonderful things in those books. How to make rubber bands disappear, how to make pencils move…everything but how to get a girlfriend. Good luck with that one magic geek. Even NKOTB can’t help you there.
Before I knew it, I was becoming a magician and I didn’t even need to go out and buy any magic props. The books taught me to use ordinary objects from my mom’s junk drawer: dice, coins, playing cards…it was like David Copperfield never moved out of his mom’s basement. I would practice on my mom and on my mom and on my mom. I asked her if I could borrow her straightjacket for an escape when she was done with it.
I had a friend named Justin and his mom is the one who finally told me how Joey’s scarves trick works. I was like, “Justin’s mom has got it goin’ on.” And this is no joke – her name was Stacy. I now knew the scarf trick, but as G.I. JOE taught me, knowing is only half the battle (back off, I’m an 80s kid). I still needed the supplies to pull off the scarves.
Thanks to the phone book (I love how you millennials have no idea what I’m talking about right now), I discovered a magic shop here in Kansas City. I told my mom that I knew I had said I would never ask for anything after Nintendo, but I had one last request: “Can we please, please go to the magic shop?” We went, we bought stuff, and my coolness shot through the roof. Soon I was shoving plastic spikes through silver dollars. I had a finger guillotine (thank you spellcheck), and only one kid lost a finger. And you may know the Zig-Zag Woman illusion, where the magician puts a woman into a box and then breaks her into three parts and then puts her back together: well, I could do that with a piece of chalk. And, of course, I bought the scarves trick.
At my sixth grade talent show I was back on the same stage L.C. Collier pulled me onto the previous year, but this time I was running the show. I first performed the scarves trick, and then as my finale I threw one scarf into the air and transformed it into a cane. No way you saw that coming.
But this was only the beginning.
Through middle school and high school, magic was on again, off again. Sometimes I wouldn’t touch a deck of cards for three months, and other times I couldn’t put the cards down. I bought more small props and checked out books and VHS tapes from the library. I was slowly becoming Harry Potter minus the cool accent. I was like “Now You See Me” with acne.
Right when I graduated high school, David Blaine came on the scene. After him, magic was no longer for just dorks, it was for unashamed dorks. I had learned enough over the years that I could see through and duplicate many of Blaine’s tricks.
Between classes at Johnson County Community College, I did street magic on campus. I like to think I was less of a weirdo than David Blaine. I soon bought a VHS on how to steal people’s watches. The VHS had a disclaimer that “these techniques should not be used for real thievery,” blah blah blah whatever. I was never on campus without a deck of cards or a stranger’s watch in my pocket. I was honing my craft.
Then onto Kansas State. Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity let me in because of my special powers since they thought it would bring more girls to the parties. My skills continued to grow…with magic, not with girls. College was a budding magician’s dream: talent shows, fraternity parties, weekend retreats, and even some paid staff and campus events. Sometimes I was getting paid to steal watches! Thank goodness for ebay.
When I graduated K-State with my family studies degree, I had a few choices: become a rocket scientist, get my masters’s in marriage and family therapy, or become a professional magician. Hmm, save marriages or do magic? Don’t you judge me.
Magic it was. So back to living with mom and dad. Their one consoling thought during this time was that I told them if the magic thing didn’t work out, I would go for the Master’s degree. Yeah right.
And therein lied an interesting juncture in my life. I was accomplished as a magician, but I didn’t have a business. Aspiring magicians have asked me how to start out getting work. I think this is true for anything in life: when you want it bad enough, you just figure it out.
Here’s what I knew: magicians work in restaurants hopping table to table and performing while people waited for their food. So I hit up restaurants. I walked into forty different restaurants and landed a whopping two. Oddly enough, they were competing Cajun restaurants, only a few miles apart, and one was Copeland’s of New Orleans owned by NFL great Neil Smith. He was a really nice guy to me once. This is where I got my start. I would perform at each table on weekend nights, mic drop my home made business card with typos on the table, and walk away. That was in the beginning of 2004.
The phone started ringing and before I knew it, I was performing at birthday parties, school carnivals, daycares and even some corporate parties. I performed at Broken Arrow several times, on the same stage as L.C. Collier. I became the one spitting up colorful streamers and draping them around the necks of delighted kids. To this day there’s still a playing card stuck to the ceiling of that cafeteria from one a trick I did over a decade ago. I eventually met L.C. Collier at a Kansas City magician’s meeting of the nerds and told him he was a big reason I became a magician. He apologized. I forgave.
I soon proved to my parents, and myself, that this entertainment thing was a legit job with a sustainable income. After a couple of years I quit my part time after-school daycare job (at Broken Arrow, of all places), and went at magic full time.
Somewhere along the way I lost my boyhood love for magic, but that love has always been replaced by a new pursuit that I can use in my profession. My various passions have included close up magic, balloon animals, stage magic, mentalism, motivational speaking, parody songs with the ukulele, soccer freestyle, and my latest love: stand up comedy. I have the advantage of using each of these talents to connect with my audiences and annoy my neighbors. Tomorrow I’m sure I will have a new passion, maybe politics. Lord help us.
Just for kicks, years later I went back and watched that New Kids video of Joey doing the scarves trick. Yes, we still had the video. Hey, some things are hard to let go of. Anyway, as it turns out, from the perspective of a working magician, Joey had terrible form doing the trick. And I don’t know why I didn’t think of this when I was 11, but if you watch part of the trick in slow motion, you can totally figure out how the trick is done. The magician’s guild will be mad at me for that one, because I’m sure you’re going to run out to K-Mart now and buy the NKOTB “Step by Step” VHS and watch the trick in slow motion on your VCR and figure out the secret to the trick. Or you could just buy the VHS from me. Hey, we should get together so you can do that. I’m just kidding, I’ll never part with it.
Joey’s terrible form taught me a great lesson. You don’t have to be perfect to make an impact on someone. You just have to share your “magic.”
As a perfectionist, this realization came as a gigantic relief. It always bugged me because I couldn’t do things perfectly. This was true for every challenge I ever took on in life: piano, drumline, singing, soccer, baseball, weightlifting, leadership roles, fathering, husbanding, social media use for my business, entertaining, speaking, and obviously writing (I can’t even spell wordz right). But learning that others could be inspired by my performance despite and because of my imperfections … that’s pretty cool. It has given me a peace to not fret over not being perfect.
Incidentally, a few years into my career as a professional entertainer, a good friend challenged me with thinking about adding motivational speaking to what I offer. He said, there is a message in what you do … you just have to find out what that message is. I took that challenge to heart and as a result, found many business and life lessons in my magic and in my sense of humor. I never thought the inspiration for my core message would trace all the way back to Joey McIntyre.
Now, as a funny motivational speaker, I make a living off of pointing out my failures to others and encouraging them to share their magic in business and in life. Whether their “magic” is their smile, outgoing personality, heart to serve, or ability to yodel, sharing one’s magic changes lives and leads to happiness, fulfillment and success. Moreover, I emphasize that the magic of humor is a key ingredient for success in a broad range of business topics, including leadership, customer service, sales, innovation, creativity and teamwork. My passion is making people laugh while teaching how to use humor as a useful life skill. That’s what being a humorist is all about.
That’s my back story. For all of this, NKOTB, I say thank you. Now seriously please, Joey, Jordan, Jon, Donnie, Danny, do us all a favor and retire already. You have shared your magic. Now it’s time to share your magic and disappear.