There are few sub-species of humanity more ridiculous than the successful TV magician. Here Alex Casey chronicles the most successful practitioners of what is somehow not a dying art. //
I have always had a bit of a soft spot for television magic shows. Maybe it’s the hairstyles, maybe it’s the showmanship, maybe it’s wasting forty hours watching Dynamo: Magician Impossible frame-by-frame with my Mum trying to figure out how he got that scarf through that goddamn phone. Who doesn’t love watching a lovely bit of magic as the world around us gets grimmer by the day? Whether it’s wars, elections, bills, or the weather – a little man levitating in sparkly gear is the perfect reminder that the world is ridiculous and nothing really matters.
Television magic isn’t even really the term for it, because everything on television is sort of magic. The kid from Two and A Half Men suddenly grows 6ft tall at the end of the intro song. Food in a Minute meals are actually made in a minute. Mike Hosking continues to be on television five nights a week. Television defies belief everyday. But then there’s the “real” TV magic, the kind that has flicked an endless coloured scarf in face of cool for decades and made way for an amazing type of TV personality – the TV magician. Are you watching closely? Then let us summarise the top wizards of television Hocus Pocus.
The founding father of television magic, David Copperfield started his TV specials in 1977 and has gone on to become the most commercially successful magician in history. He owns 11 islands in the Bahamas, including The Islands of Copperfield Bay. He has claimed that one of the islands contains the fountain of youth.
Best Trick: He only made the whole entire Statue of Liberty disappear in front of hundreds of people. What the hell have you done with your life?
Worst Trick: One of his assistants got sucked into the giant blades of a rotating fan in his Vegas show and broke both their arms.
What to watch: His 1978 special hosted by Orson Welles is particularly dazzling. It features a trick where Copperfield throws a mouse at his Mum and she turns into a sexy lass. He also dresses up as Mrs Bates from Psycho and stabs a lady. My theory: Copperfield has major Mommy issues.
The withered poster boy for classic BBC magic who started with his own show in 1979. Famous for his catchphrase “You’ll like this… not a lot, but you’ll like it.” Master of levitation and card tricks featuring chimpanzee volunteers that you wouldn’t get away with today. Daniels wore wigs for most of his career, recently selling one on Ebay for £1000 and donating the money to charity. He also has his own illustrious online magic store. And, obviously, a wig shop.
Best trick: Famous for his speed-of-light commentated Chop Cup trick, which took him over 300 performances to perfect.
Worst trick: Was hospitalised after he got hit in the head by a flying pizza that was thrown at him by a puppet called Sooty. He’s also a climate change denier.
What to Watch: Paul Daniels talking about magic on Da Ali G Show, dressed amazingly as Ali G
Famous modern debunker of all things supernatural and magical, Brown maintains that nothing he does is paranormal. I think he’s lying though, because the sharpness of that goatee is something truly out of this world. In his spare time, Brown is the patron of a Parrot Zoo.
Best trick: He famously predicted all six of the British Lottery numbers somehow. I echo the thoughts of Karl Pilkington in wondering why he didn’t just retire after that and live off Lotto forever. It’s almost like… it wasn’t true…
Worst trick: Dezza once hypnotised a woman into thinking that she was dead in a car accident and had become a ghost. He was criticised for both trivialising car accidents and giving the woman a lifetime of psychological trauma.
What to watch: Try this one at home where he tries to magic you into your chair. Please comment if it works for you, I’ve tried it about 200 times.
The Israeli illusionist famous for bending things with his mind, and global expert on all things to do with bending. He owns a Cadillac that is adorned with thousands of spoons that he has bent with his magic mind, including celeb spoons from the Spice Girls and Winston Churchill. He bought Lamb Island off the coast of Scotland because he reckons it has 3,500 year-old Egyptian treasure buried on it. To strengthen the mystical powers of the island, he buried a crystal orb on the island. The orb once belonged to Albert Einstein. Magicians can do whatever they like.
Best Trick: Has to be the psychic spoon bending, hands down. Guy must be a real pain to have at a dinner party.
Worst Trick: Tried to sue IKEA for selling legs with bent legs called the ‘Uri’ line. He lost.
What to watch: Veteran Geller somehow mystically owning the face of the new generation, Criss Angel.
The most watched magician on the internet since the late 2000s, this shock-magic Mind Freak star now spends all his time in Vegas. That’s where they all end up. Chilling with Cher. He is also famously the lead singer of the industrial band Angeldust, who produced the soundtrack and rousing theme song for his television series.
Best Trick: He’s got so many. I’m particularly fond of the one where he walks along broken glass whilst being slowly pursued by a steamroller (a lot like this bit in Austin Powers) but unfortunately falls over in the broken glass, and gets steamrolled.
Worst Trick: He hosts WWE Raw more often than not, and spends most of his time being weird to ladies, pulling threads through his head and shutting up Jillian with magic.
What to Watch: Oh, you know. Just this little time when he BROUGHT A BIRD BACK TO LIFE
Dynamo is the new sexy British bad boy of magic, transfixing Mums and celebs alike. A true magic rag-to-riches story, Dynamo taught himself magic as a child whilst his Dad was in and out of prison, and the kids at his school were bullying him about his Crohn’s disease. It’s the perfect storm of tragedy. And look at him now, he’s mates with NAS.
Best Trick: Dynamo levitated alongside a double-decker bus in London wearing a vest because Pepsi.
Worst Trick: Sir Dynamo appeared on the finalé of Strictly Come Dancing and did a lot of unwarranted hip-hop dancing for some reason.
What to Watch: Check out this urban Jesus walking into the middle of the Thames
And of course, we saved the best till last. You can’t talk about magicians on television without mentioning the bronzed Segway-ing illusionist of Arrested Development.
As if we were going to leave out the guy in the $6300 suit, come on! With his illusions always signalled by the opening synth of “The Final Countdown” G.O.B shows us that there is little to no line between the absurdity of real magicians and fake magicians.
Best Trick: Magic doesn’t pay the bills, so G.O.B. is constantly pursuing other financial endeavours. It’s when he finds a marriage of the two that sparks/coins really fly.
Worst Trick: There are countless failed tricks on the show. Accidentally burying himself in his father’s grave. Endlessly ripping off his shirt to reveal the wrong card that his volunteer is holding. Cutting a lady in half that has suspiciously masculine legs and feet. But what pleases me most is the running gag that he tries to slip magic into everyday conversations, and consistently fails to deliver anything.
What to watch: The ultimate compilation
And all of Arrested Development, obviously.