Afternoon Chat with Magician Shawn McMaster

McMaster performed Valentine's Day weekend 2011Before Shawn took the stage Saturday evening this past Valentine's Day weekend, we snagged a few minutes of his time for an interview. Get to know this very funny magician. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter, or check out his website at -- you can also catch great video clips on his YouTube page. Enjoy the interview!

Tell us about yourself. What kind of magic do you do? Comedy magic. Comedy has always been a big part of my life, having been raised in a very funny household. That sounds kind of weird doesn't it? Haha.  My parents, well of the two, my father had the better sense of humor but my mom could pretty much hold her own, so my sister and I were sort of raised in that atmosphere. It naturally transitioned over into magic once I started doing magic full time. I tried to do a serious magic act once, one act, and it was a great act but I shouldn't have been performing it. I mean, it was set to music and it was a silent manipulation type thing. Picture me doing silk handkerchief type manipulations and things like that? It just died a horrible death.

How did you get into magic? It's the same story that you hear from everybody, where it was a magic set I got for Christmas. But the interesting thing is that, I have thought back since that time, I have thought back to whether or not I have ever had any previous exposure to magic leading up to that gift of a magic set, and I can't remember ever seeing magic on television or a magician in person, or even reading about a magician.

All it was, was a tradition between my sister and I where we'd go through the department store catalog every year at Christmas. We'd go through the toy section, and all we would do was make a list of stuff that looked cool, stuff that we wanted, and we knew we weren't going to get it all, but here's this list that you can pull from, and it just happen to be the year that Mattel put out a really cool magic set. It was an all vinyl covered briefcase type thing – it was the late 60s so it was swirly patterned, and it had a picture of a magician with a rabbit on it. When you opened it up, flipped out that sides and snapped it, you had a table, and you could perform on top of the table. It just happened to be something I put on the list as a 'hey, I think this is pretty cool' and it just happened to be one of the things my parents pulled from the list to give me, and that started the whole thing. It's been a part of my life ever since.

Who would you say is the magician that has inspired you the most, and why? An early influence was Carl Ballentine, which is interesting because Carl never performed a magic trick in his life. His act was always a gigantic joke. He would always start to do tricks but they would always go wrong and he'd never pick them up and finish 'em. He was just a comedian playing the part of this bumbling magician. It caught on and he was huge. I remember watching him – I must have been nine or ten – and memorizing his act, line for line because it made me laugh so much. I remember performing it for my friends in my garage, Carl Ballentine's act at nine years old.

As time progressed, Harry Anderson was certainly an influence of mine in my late teens. He was on Night Court in the late 80s, so he was performing at The Magic Castle before he became a television star in the early 80s and he was on Saturday Night Live doing the needle through the arm. That was an eyeopening experience for me because he had this wiseguy kind of character, and you can kind of see that still in what I do. Not that I try to copy him, but I emulated him very early on and then my character kind of morphed into what it is now. But you can still see traces of that, and you can see traces of Carl Ballentine in my act as well.

Those two are the earliest influences. Penn and Teller tend to inspire me even to this day. They are great magicians, great thinkers and funny. I like them too. I have to say that Doug Henning was an influence too. He inspired a whole bunch of magicians, and I have to say he has been an influence on me as well.

What has been your most favorite magic memory to date or a show that stands out to you? Well, there are different memories I have for different reasons. I am not saying this to blow smoke towards you guys, but the very first time I was here was a memorable experience because I had heard of the theater, I didn't know much about it, I didn't know much about you guys and I didn't know what I was coming into. But the response I got from the audience and the warm response I got from you guys, from the management overall, that was a memorable time for me. That's why I enjoy coming back here so often. That's what's so great about this place. Not only the people running it, but the people that are in the audience that you attract. That's a memorable experience.

Also, the first time I walked through the curtains in the parlor at The Magic Castle during the first week I performed there. I had done other shows there and they had asked me to do overflow shows before, but actually working a week for The Magic Castle was memorable.

What's the most important thing about magic that you'd like the public to know? That it is not children's entertainment strictly. The trouble with magic and the general public is, there are so many people out there that haven't seen even just close-up magic. They are only used to the magic on stage, and a lot of times even then they haven't seen that type of magic except for on television. Immediately, when you mention magicians, what are they going to think of? They are going to think of kids entertainment.

When you see a magician in a movie or a television show, what are they? Magicians are bumbling fools, but not as part of an act, they are trying to be competent magicians, or they are doing birthday parties on the level of clowns – no offense to clowns out there – or they are just villains.

That's typically how you see magicians portrayed with few exceptions. You have Bill Bixby in the 70s who was a crime-solving magician, which was an awesome television show by the way, but didn't last long enough. It was a victim of the writer's strike in the 70s and it just got pushed aside. I love it still to this day.

Magic is just as valid as any other art form. Just like dance, you rehearse your moves over and over again, and the movements have to be put into some cohesive presentation that inspires and entertains people. Magic is the same way. There is a lot of rehearsing and attention to angles, details of your act and your character. People don't realize that. That's the problem. It's the preconceived notions of magic, but if they come here and see the magic that is on this stage, they will see quality magic by magicians who know what they are doing. Magic can be fun, entertaining, and can make you think and provoke emotion.

Gerry Griffin