New Question: Why do you deserve to be Jewish Guy of the Year?
Editor’s note: Don’t miss the video below.
It’s not often that people meet a professional magician. So when we did, and discovered he was an active member of the Jewish community to boot, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Click to “Like” Benjamin on Facebook.
You decided at a very early age that you wanted to become a magician? How did you come to that conclusion? Was it hard having to convince people that your dream was legitimate at such a young age? Specifically, how did your Jewish parents take it that you didn’t want to go the traditional doctor/lawyer route?
I was an entertainer by age three. I was into making people laugh and doing character voices and I was learning magic.
Getting where I am now has been a journey through various passions. When I was young, my parents advised me not to be an aerospace engineer because they had seen vast swings in that industry. So, I chose my other, more stable passion – Magic!
It may be surprising, but even during the last three recessions, more and more people have been hiring me for entertainment! There is a constant demand for great memories, exciting experiences, live entertainment, and great feelings.
People today still ask me, “What is your other job?” when, I have entertained 26,000 people since September and have book-keepers, lawyers, CPA’s, graphic designers, printers, marketing professionals… about 13 people working on various projects for me – just to keep up with my work!
My parents first reacted with mass resistance. Fundamentally, because they were concerned that I be able to support myself and that they didn’t know how to help me. Later, they knew I was the only college student with a personal assistant and that I paid my last year and a half of college by singing and doing my magic… and they have become my biggest supporters. We talk business daily and my father is the most active member of my road crew. My father and I loaded in all the equipment together when I booked two shows at the National Theater.
My parents never told me which career to choose. They just wanted me to be successful. I had thought I was going to be a fourth generation optometrist and do magic on the side. When, I finished pre-med and considered med-school, many doctors (who hire me regularly) saw what I was earning and the positive impact on people and said – stick to magic! One doctor literally said, “You might be the next Houdini! I’ve never seen people have so much fun!” He pointed out that, although it was not medicine, it was a different kind of healing that in some ways they couldn’t come close to.
By looking at the faces of audience members, I remember always that I am providing the one thing that motivates many of people’s choices. People want to be happy. They want great feelings. They want to laugh. They want to experience the joy and wonder that magic provides. They are not hiring me because I’m a magician – they are hiring me because of the benefits of the experience I provide.
My challenge now is that I am weaving into the show not just comedy, magic, mentalism, and illusions, but also choreography, dance, and song, and I am synthesizing an experience based on the best, most moving elements I can find from every form of live entertainment. And my standard is songs that create that tingle in your spine…a sense of magic. Synthesizing that into one show is highly complex.
There is no one route. It is a personal and artistic journey of discovery. My path was to surround myself with the most talented people possible and to develop as much talent and knowledge as possible. For about 10 years, Irvin Kershner, (Director of “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”) mentored me on every side of my work. From directing my show, to showing me visual composition while going through art museums, honing my comedy, even helping me choose my classes in college, Kersh, and others – including the Magician who inspired me when I saw him on TV as a kid and another great illusionist – all help advance my show.
Some ask, “Did you go to college?” Yes! And more than most! I studied entrepreneurial business, theater, communications, acting, and dance, became a singer, and received my degree in social-psychology (the science of human interaction – very useful on stage to understand group dynamics!). I learned things every single day in college that I applied immediately to my career and still use today. I then completed three years of professional acting conservatory. That totaled 10 years of education after high-school. All I do depends on that knowledge and the experience from performing in every situation.
Every single day is a learning experience. Some examples… last Saturday I had to consider what comedy would be best while performing at the Nigerian Embassy. (Pssst… threatening to turn a Nigerian man into a goat… very funny.) Also, I’m constantly shaping how I reach people who hire me for shows. Even, (gasp) how to log receipts for tax deductions!
Who knew that my pre-med and science background was going to help me develop a niche performing at medical conferences? Yeah – I didn’t guess that either!
It is important to remember what a magician is training for. You can’t go into your car and get your magic. This is about an emotional experience. Moving the audience emotionally… like a great story… or song does. I don’t actually do magic. I create the feelings of magic within the audience. The learning process of mining material for the gems that will excite, inspire, and entertain an audience is endless.
What is your favorite thing about doing magic? What has been one of your favorite shows to put on?
My favorite thing is the extraordinary communication with the audience. I’m involved in one of the most complex interactions possible with large groups of very diverse audiences. The audience changes all the time and I meet truly extraordinary people. Imagine going to work and playing peek-a-boo with 130 preschoolers simultaneously before a show, then performing at a luncheon for Comcast. A few days later levitating a bar mitzvah child into adulthood. Then, appearing at dozens of synagogues for Hannukah shows, Purim shows… every type of audience everywhere! That is the excitement.
I really enjoyed two sold out shows at the Eldorado Casino in Louisiana, for 1200 Vietnamese people at each show, entertaining alongside the world’s most famous Vietnamese singers. No one in the audience had ever seen a magician before. When I floated my wand through the air, the roar was so loud I thought the building was on fire.
I love doing corporate entertainment. And a favorite show was for a medical association for 200 hospital CEO’s and doctors where the show was on message with their conference. Now I am hired as a specialist for on-message, medical conference entertainment and all types of conferences.
Imagine entertaining at a hospice summer camp for kids who lost a parent and having a counselor walk up after the show and say, “See that little guy over there… he hasn’t smiled or said a word to anyone since his mother died […] and he is running around bouncing off the walls laughing, playing with the other kids.”
Or entertaining a bald eight year old boy who has an IV coming out of his arm but is joking around with me at Children’s Hospital. Nurses come by every few minutes… “Time for your next treatment,” “Are you ready for your pills…” “We are going to have to stick you again…” And it dawns on me: this eight year old boy had been a patient for more than a year, not a child. And in my time with him I watched all of that melt away – literally by magic. And before I left, he looked me straight in the eye, took my hand, smiled, and gave me a hug. He felt like a child again.
How on Earth could I pick a favorite performance?!
Judaism rejects sorcery. You are very active in the Jewish community. Why do you think shows like yours would be appropriate and good for a Jewish audience? What are some ways you can think of to make a show Jewish-themed?
Well, first, sorcery features spells cast by someone supposedly exercising supernatural powers through the aid of evil spirits. (See dictionary.com) Sorcery is literally synonymous with witchcraft. I don’t exactly divine the occult forces in my show.
I am an illusionist. I create the illusion that something is possible. I am a comedy-magician (a great disguise for a witch). And, beyond that, I’m not even a trickster as most people who call themselves magicians are. As a magician, my product is to create the feeling of magic inside the audience. Not to fool them. Not to puzzle them. The same feeling of magic a child has when they let go of a balloon and it flies all over the place.
Bringing adults, children, and people from around the world – sometimes at huge conferences – to that child-like sense of joy and wonder that shakes them free of the jaded mindset that many walk around in… that is my art. Some magicians call it “greening,” because we leave a trail of people whose faces are all lit up and they remain that way and spread those feelings to others.
As a person who has led nearly every kind of Jewish service, I weave Jewish values into certain shows. I help the audience get to the essence of what they are celebrating. My “Magic in Disguise” Purim show reminds people to find their real selves; “The Miracles of Hannukah” show reminds people to see the miracles around them every day. My show for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah reminds people why the moment they are celebrating is significant, no small thing when many non-Jews in attendance think a bar mitzvah is like a big sweet sixteen party.
Rabbis and synagogues hire me as a main attraction to get people to their events and to expand on the theme of the event. Most Chabad houses and many synagogues in the region have hired me many times.
Since we’re talking about Jewish stuff, I’ll go ahead and ask one of our standard questions: Which Jewish holiday is your favorite and why?
Actually, Yom Kippur… because of how it empowers me to cut loose. Sound a little backwards? Well, imagine having to trust yourself entertaining tens of thousands of people a year as an improvisational comedian. Yom Kippur allows me such an awareness of my behaviors and words that even though much of my comedy comes out so fast that I hear it for the first time with the audience, I can trust, wholeheartedly, what I will say.
It creates a filter one step before my conscious mind that keeps me to a standard I believe in – and I take Yom Kippur very seriously. These values guide me in every business decision and personal decision. But, most Jewish holidays including Shabbat, which helps me get into the right spirit to entertain, are of critical importance to me and always have been.
If people want to book you, how should they go about that?
First, click “like” at www.magiconfacebook.com to watch videos and see things that I post. That page is made to be an entertaining experience for you. People get ideas of where my show fits over time, not necessarily in the first moment they learn of my existence. Keep in touch over that Facebook page. Post on the wall. I’d love to chat there.
If you have a job, your employer is the kind of person who hires me! I am the secret weapon HR people use to raise morale, get people excited, show appreciation, celebrate company anniversaries, and celebrate big successes.
So, for corporate entertainment, conferences, trade shows, association events, product launches, and more visit www.yourcorporatemagic.com I also entertain for client appreciation events, networking events, grand openings, you name it. (Pssst… don’t tell your HR people you know a magician. Tell them you know a corporate entertainer who would be awesome at the next event. When people hear “magician,” they have a hard time picturing what I actually offer. I provide entertainment… that is all they need to know before they call.)
Call me for any other family or Jewish event and I will direct you to the right materials.