Monday, December 3, 2012


Continuing the Tiger Father’s look at his visit to America and the impact he had upon it.

WE met some lovely people in the USA. As we were travelling in an RV, most of them were French and German. This was a bit weird, but it was good to see them getting along.

American RV owners must prefer to sit still, gazing at the ocean/lake/woods, for their vacation’s duration. We and other foreigners were the ones hopping from one tourist site to the next.

The place where we did sit still for 10 days was, fairly oddly, Las Vegas. It was here where I made my deepest friendships– with a fellow roulette player one night, whose name I didn’t quite catch, and with a man called Dave.

Dave and I met one night at a casino magic show. In fact, he was the one doing the magic show. Whenever he flies to another country, he’s one of the few people I know who must list his occupation as “magician”. It turns out he’s quite good. His last name was Copperfield.

Meeting him in person gave the chance to see another side of the man the public doesn’t usually see. I also learned how he performs his most famous trick. I shall reveal this later in this column, as part of my calling as a journalist without fear or favour for personal friendships. It will also be done at some risk, for there are many legal threats pointed towards those daring to reveal a magician’s secrets. Still, most of these are written in very small writing on the back of the ticket, so I can say I didn’t see them.

My wife and children. As I still
like to point out, they only met a
big poster of David Copperfield.

It’s a funny old game, magic. I’ve never been much of a fan. My wife, Stef, loves the stuff. It may be an escapist antidote to a scientific career as a doctor, but in any event she once tried to hypnotise me. Of course she later blamed this exercise’s abject failure on me, as I had not been in an appropriate mindset. This I took to mean I wasn’t of a mind to run around the house like a chicken screaming “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!” or some such.

Call me a cynic, but I can’t be bothered with magic. Others like to observe the illusionist’s craft, and see how well tricks are performed. I won’t spend the mental energy dissecting something I know is a set-up. It’s linked to why I never read fiction. I can’t get away from the fact someone’s just made the whole thing up.

I’m the same with cop shows. Once, Stef was called away during Law & Order to feed a baby. When she returned I realised I was part of a TV demographic known as the couch companion: one who sits beside a loved one staring straight ahead while her favourite show is on.

“What happened? What happened?” she gasped.

“Aaah,” I said, “someone committed a crime. These guys are trying to figure out who. And I bet they will.”

With magic, I know there’s a trick in there somewhere. I could spend a lot of time trying to figure it out, but I know it can be figured out, thus there’s no real allure. As a reporter, the knack was in knowing I was being lied to, and in trying not to be hoodwinked. In a sense, all magicians are liars. I hate being duped, so I’m not going to play along.

Sport, by contrast, is unscripted. Except of course when it is scripted, perhaps by a bookmaker. But we never find that out until months later anyway.

We hooked into magic in its spiritual home,
Vegas. First we saw Nathan Burton, seen here
afterwards with our daughter Lani. At least
the kids thought he was cool. To me, the
America's Got Talent discovery seemed to
pace about like everything was about to go
horribly wrong. Stef got to play here. She
had to nominate a breakfast cereal, which
was doubtless going to appear in a locked
box. She tried the obscure, saying Raisin
But sure enough, that's what appeared
when the box was opened, thanks for a false
bottom or top or side or something. At least
we got to keep the cereal. Later, Stef realised
she had thought we were seeing the renowned
Lance Burton, related to Nathan by neither
blood nor skill.

Next was the Mac King Comedy Magic
Show. He played before about 50 of us
in a matinee and was fantastic,
performing quality tricks while poking
fun at the whole magic thing. His attempt
at making himself invisible by means of
an "invisibility suit" was worth the trip
to Vegas.

Swept up by magic, we added an unscheduled show. This would be one of the biggies. And this is how I met Davo. I’d never been a volunteer from the audience before. This all changed in a show which wasn’t quite as expected.

The David Copperfield of worldwide fame had seemed a mystical, swarthy type. On stage he was a bit more real. A bit too real. He should have been all sweeping arm movements and a single raised eyebrow, like, say, a shadowy Persian prince. Instead he was more prone to nudges and winks, like, say, Benny Hill.

Oo'er - it's David Cop-a-feel! He was a surprisingly saucy
fellow. But while his gags were trite, his illusions were
alright, I guess.

I like this guy - David Blaine. He performs great sleight
of hand tricks on the street for passers-by, and looks like
a nice wholesome boy a girl might take home to mother. 

The great Martin St. James - so old school that under his name in this ad
it says 'The Mental Continental'.

After 90 minutes or so at the MGM Grand, finally it was my turn. Coppo needed volunteers for his grand finale, and to select them he kicked several large physio balls into the audience. Those who caught them could go up, but only if they spoke English. Half the fun was seeing several Asian men standing there gleefully holding balls not knowing what the hell was going on.

I, being tall, caught one of them, and had to go meet a terse stagehand at the side of the theatre. I’m sure she was ex-CIA.

“Are you willing to participate?” she said.


“Do you speak English?”


“Do you have children here tonight?”


“Are they being cared for?”


“Are you a member of the press?”

“Aaah … no.”

Well, at least I hadn’t been a full time journalist for a while. Surprisingly for the US, she didn’t ask if I was a terrorist. Still, maybe she sensed something. For while the other 15 volunteers were allowed to go up, I got special treatment.

“Now we’re going to have to need for you to stand over here,” she said in perfect American, ushering me into a side doorway. “Another man will come and take your ball and give you a special one. Then you’re going to go up and give that to David himself.”

I felt thrilled, standing out of everyone’s view. As this was magic, I was the only one who knew where I was at that moment. I was waiting for my mystery man, and about to meet David Copperfield. AND I seemingly held the key to his big trick.

With much bustle on stage, my man appeared, took my ball, and gave me another. Only this one was deflated. He whispered that I’d have to “hand it to David like this”, and held it as if holding a dead chicken by the neck.

Dave approached my corner of the stage and my man said “Go!” The thought crossed my mind: What if my magic ball “went off” and I disappeared? I hadn’t said goodbye to my kids, or seen Seaworld. Then I thought: What if I was a complete bastard and threw it into the crowd?

Instead I obediently walked up to the household name himself (though it turns out it’s not his real one) and handed him the special ball. He said, and I’ll never forget this, “Thanks”. Then he walked away.

The other volunteers were led into a square tent in mid-stage, from which, it was promised, they would disappear. Like part of the flock at Jonestown, I was all set to go in, until another stagehand said: “No, no. You’ll be standing on this black cross right here.”

I stood by two other volunteers. We realised we were mere decoys to block lines of sight from the audience. You could have trained monkeys to be us. I kept trying to see what was going on in the busy tent. Next, we were given bar stools to sit on. It was then I looked down and remembered one crucial thing: I wasn’t wearing any shoes.

I like to get comfortable at shows, and had taken my boots off. There hadn’t been time to put them back on, so I’d gone on stage in only my shorts, T-shirt, and pale-green socks. As I sat at the front of the stage, I’m sure I looked a bit of a weirdo. I know this, because my wife told me so later.

As they led us to our stools, the movement in the tent had stopped. Those inside had disappeared while our attention was diverted. A moment later they appeared at the back of the auditorium.

And voila, it was over. My time on stage, my time with Davy, had ended.

As for my deflated ball, I think it had nothing to do with it. I’d felt I was handpicked to meet the great man. In fact, the stagehands might have noticed my lack of footwear, and that I walk with a limp from an old broken leg, which makes disappearing fast pretty difficult. But I’d played a role. I’m convinced my ball’s function was to semaphore a secret message to David. That message was: “DON’T PUT THIS SHOELESS GIMP IN THE TENT!”

And how he do the trick? I can now at last reveal that he did it by using a good old fashioned, tried and tested staple of this sort of thing: He used magic.

1 comment:

  1. Magic done well in limited quantities is good entertainment I find.

    There was a really good bloke on 'France has got Talent' last week. He was playing with fire which I'm sure he'd have got a bollocking for if his mum had been in the audience.