#940: The Sleepy Magician

June 13th, 2018

“People ask why I bring my bag,” the magician said, gently tapping the toiletry kit he had set on the stage’s lone chair. “It’s just some personal possessions in case I get deported.”

The joke was, of course, found in the color of the magician’s skin and the sing-song Tapatío accent with which he charmed the crowd. It was a dark joke told lightly. It was masterful.

It wouldn’t be the last time the sleepy magician amazed.

In Andersonville, off Clark Street, through a fake laundromat dryer, through a fake fireplace opened by moving a book, then through a bar and past the greeter, the Chicago Magic Lounge offers wonders and a small plate menu Monday through Saturday, with a matinee for kids on Sundays.

It’s in part an homage to Chicago’s magical heritage, part a response to a weekly stage show at Uptown Underground that got big enough to need its own venue, emcee slash artist in residence slash keyboardist for the night John Sturk told the audience in his warmup-act patter. Close-up magic performers and waiters milled the room offering cards and magic-themed specialty cocktails (the drink “How Houdini Died” is a punch — too soon, man).

Then Mago Gozner took the stage, put a toiletry kit on a chair and made a joke about deportation.

Guadalajara-born, suburban-dwelling Gozner was dressed all in black when he took the stage. Gray-haired and straight-faced, he had a wry, sleepy demeanor as he turned to tell the audience terrible jokes.

“It’s my first time performing here,” he said before taking a step two feet to his left. “Last night, I performed here.”

If I could capture one thing in this repetition of events, it wouldn’t be the magic. It wouldn’t be the paper heart he had a woman rip up, only for him to restore it to fullness. It wouldn’t be the cards that seemed to pull up each time as the one the selected audience participant called or the rope that cut, rehealed and cut itself again.

What made the show great and what I fear no words could catch would be that sleepy demeanor with which he worked the crowd. When the woman selected from the crowd ripped the paper heart in half, he dabbed the obvious follow-up gag “You broke my heart” with a touch of real sadness. He exhibited slight frustration that a separate woman he asked to shuffle an invisible deck of cards forgot to mime taking them out of the box first.

He had her fling the invisible deck back across the room while he narrated its progression flipping through the air, spiraling into then out of an audience member’s pocket and then into a brown paper bag he was holding. It was a goofy gag, a momentary joint make-believe where we pretended to watch a deck of cards fly across the room while servers refilled How Houdinis.

A real deck landed in the bag. He pulled it out, took the cards out of the box — he remembered — and the only card faced forward was the exact one the woman named.

“I’ll tell you how it was done,” he said, giggling like a proud dad about to tell his daughter her first knock knock joke. “When it was flying through the air, I look.”

Stage magic is amazing because it is. It is, by definition, what amazes, be it a card trick, a self-healing rope or finding yourself with a hand full of foam rabbit when you had expected clown noses. Magic that doesn’t amaze is just prop comedy.

But what’s amazing to me is how authentic the enjoyment is. With some notable exceptions, stage magic can be dorky, and the performers at the Magic Lounge fit that bill. The night was full of dad jokes and randomly selected cards that tended to be aces, pretty women assistants pulled from the audience and three-piece suits with wacky ties.

The best turn those conceits on their heads. Gozner’s stagecraft was sublime in a way a louder, broader entertainer couldn’t have mustered. The jokes were the same, the tricks were the familiar cards and cut ropes — even if what he did with those props was all him.

But it was that wry, sleepy tone in a thick Mexican accent that sold the audience on a truthful enjoyment of a night of lies.

Meet Chicago magic mainstay Mr. Ash

Meet magician Jeanette Andrews, an exception named above

And, just for fun, a leather and kink museum

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You are currently reading #940: The Sleepy Magician by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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