From college campuses to the White House, magician and TV host Justin Willman has wowed audiences with his charming brand of cool magic wrapped in good-natured fun. He’ll bring his latest bag of tricks and jokes to the Victoria Theatre on Friday.
His his aptly titled Tricked Out Tour is presented as a Star Attractions courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association.
Since his humble upbringing in St. Louis, where he learned card tricks at age 12 as an alternative to physical therapy following a bicycle injury, Willman, host of the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” for the past eight seasons, has perfected his unusual skills as an entertainer. Inspired by numerous magicians during his childhood, he is proud to distinguish himself as an artist willing to step outside the box with a contemporary, personable style.
“David Copperfield, Harry Blackstone and Lance Burton made me want to be a magician growing up and are great at what they do, but they play it straight,” he said. “But it’s 2013. Since magic is such an old-fashioned art form, you run the risk of alienating people if you play it straight. Some people are still cynical about magic. We all know there’s a trick in magic, but if you play it so seriously as if it’s not a trick you can turn some people off. That’s why I like to embrace a sense of irony and make it clear there’s a tongue-in-cheek nature to it. But I also want to approach my magic from a comedic standpoint. I’m always trying to figure out how to make the magic as funny as it is amazing. My approach is to take the best of the ‘classics’ and do it in a very self-aware manner, which invites everybody in.”
When he’s not racking his brain to formulate tricks that haven’t been done before, which he considers a daunting task that is particularly difficult when determining what the final result will be, Willman enjoys creating transitions in his show that reveal his stand-up comedian sensibilities. His frequent TV appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” have also pleasantly showcased his comedic talents.
“I’m in awe of stand-up comedians,” he said. “Being able to get up on stage and entertain people without any props is, I think, every magician’s ultimate dream. For me, magic has always been a fascination, so it works well trying to weave the comedy into the magic. In my show, I might go five to 10 minutes without doing a trick, using stand-up to get from Point A to Point B in my story as opposed to just telling jokes.”
The national exposure gained from appearing alongside DeGeneres and Leno is certainly a major launching pad for any entertainer, but one of Willman’s proudest moments occurred in 2011 when he performed for President Obama at the White House Halloween party. The invitation stemmed from his reputation of appealing to adults while being family-friendly.
“It was so surreal and one of my favorite experiences ever,” he said. “It was so casual. Everyone was so sweet. It was just a living room concert. President Obama started a standing ovation, which was awesome, and was kind of like a positive heckler throughout the show. Stuff would happen and he would say, ‘Where did that bowling ball come from?’ or ‘How in the heck did you do that?’ Everyone got a kick out of the president getting a kick out of the show. After something amazing would happen, I noticed people looking his way to see how he would react. He was the best.”
Looking ahead, Willman continues to pursue more television prospects. He is currently pitching a few projects in the hopes of landing his own magic series.