Kevin James is on the Edge
By Gary Buckley
Genii, August 1994
Over the past 2-1/2 years, youve had a two year run at the famed Crazy Horse in Paris, France and now you are a featured performer in Jeff Kutashs Splash 94, at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. What are the biggest factors in your recent success?
Having a good attitude. Jeff Kutash saw us in Paris. We knew that he was in the audience. We didnt get to talk to him after the show, but we immediately put together the best press package weve ever done in our lives, so as soon as he got back to Vegas it was on his desk. Thats how we got the job in Splash. Being ready to take advantage of the opportunity is very important.
What would you say are the major components of your show?
Well, our major focus is personality. We try to have very strong magic and comedy, with the emphasis on personality. We want to be endearing to the audience. Likeable, and at the same time, shocking. We are always trying to develop new characters and find ways of telegraphing more information about our characters to the audience. It is quite a challenge to get your point across in twelve minutes.
Do you see a benefit to working with someone as opposed to doing a solo act?
You have so much that you can bring to the performance and hopefully your partner is an expert at what they do and has other talents that they can bring. The downside is you dont make as much money. But youre bringing more value to your show.
Both your current show and the ideas that youre talking about involve a lot more than magic. If you had to describe that show, what would you call it?
The imagery that were trying to portray is kind of a living cartoon
a bizarre world with an anything can happen type of reality. I want the audience to be extremely surprised and sometimes shocked, while disarming them with laughter. We want to create a unique and strong ensemble cast.
What suggestions would you give to others as they begin putting together a routine or a full show?
The most difficult thing to develop when youre putting together a magic act is a good character. Im still not happy with mine. Im always fine- tuning it. You have to find out if youre going to be funny, serious, a nice guy, or a jerk. There are so many different characters. Its unlimited. The nuances that you can provide your character. Whatever it is, really think about it first, because it is going to help you stay in tune with your effects and it will almost make your act write itself. Youll immediately think my character can or cant handle that prop. Or my character would or wouldnt do that to a flower or a bird. I remember when I was a kid, Copperfield came and lectured for the Long Beach Mystics. He said the most important thing you could do was dare to be bad. Dont try to have it perfect before you get out and do it. Its okay if it sucks because you need to find out in order to change it. Dont be afraid to try something new. It might work and it might not. Its part of the growth process.
Youve involved significantly with your performance style. Describe the different types of magic that youve performed, the style that youve used and why you changed or evolved?
I did an act with Nicholas Night in the mid- 80s called RFX. We were trying to appeal to the youth of the world. There were a lot of good ideas in it. We were working in small clubs and split the money, then we moved on to solo projects in order to survive. I have no regrets about that at all, it was a wonderful growth time. I think that we both benefited from it. The next phase was kind of Mad Max of Magic. I had bleached-blond hair, teased way out. I tried to be dynamic, using the elements of danger, weapons, like daggers and swords. Then I tried to combine it with beauty-oriented elements, like roses. Things that I felt post-Armageddon magician would have. That reached a certain level of success, but not what I wanted. I began doing more stand-up comedy, talking magic. Thats when I was working at Crackers, pulling a duck out of a guys jacket. I still had an edge. I would tear the ducks head off, and put it back on. It added to the shock element. I was kind of a stand-up comedian-/magician with an edge. I still tried to keep my magic as strong as possible. I developed the Floating Rose during this period. Then I met Antonio and eventually my character became even more accessible to the general public. Basically, all Ive done is drop all the crap and its just more of me on stage. Its not really a character, just a stage version of who I really am. That seems to be working the best for me.. It is not such a confining can-do comedy. I can be serious, romantic, or touching. I created a snowstorm effect in 1987, where I try to emotionally connect with the audience, and at the same time, give them information about my past. I say that I am from Michigan and that the first time I saw snow as a child was the most magical moment of my entire childhood. It was delightful, and I know that all of these people in the audience at one time, or another, have seen snow fall. For the first time that you do, it is a magical experience. Its pure magic. So, now I am trying to tap into those personal joyful memories. Now they associate those memories with you, whether they know it, or not. Now I have much broader boundaries and I Like It.
Theres a lot of discussion going on about ethics in magic. As an inventor, what are your thoughts?
I came up with the amputated arm illusion, and let me just say that the toy industry is twenty-times more ruthless than the magic industry. They are very good at stealing. Your patent is only as your ability to enforce it. The best thing that you can do against this kind of garbage is to stay two or three ideas ahead of the thieves.
It sounds like creativity is the key to a lot of the things that we have talked about. Would you go into some detail on creativity and what are your thoughts behind it?
Well, you can be creative in different ways: creative financing, creative promotional packages not just new tricks. One of my goals is to be commercially successful, and the great thing about the environment now in magic, is that creative people are starting to get rewarded. Penn & Tellers success is fantastic. They are very creative guys and I love to see that happen. Joel Hodgson is a very creative guy and he is doing very well. I think that it is only going to benefit the entire magic community if more and more unique approaches, characters and acts become visible. Being creative and being unique is a prerequisite to being commercially successful right now. You cant just slap together a dove act and expect to be commercially successful. The more competition there is out there, the stronger it gets, the more thinking youll have to do.
We didnt talk about it at the beginning, but after listening to your answers and approach to other things that weve talked about, do you think that your childhood had an impact on your performance style or direction today?
At my parents home, in Michigan, we have this long porch and you had to walk from one end of it, all the way across, to get to the door. Every year at Halloween, my father would put black plastic up, which made it into a mini haunted house. Wed go out in the garage and build coffins and stuff. He would just love to get all dressed up with us kids and hed be Dracula. Hed lie in this coffin and as the kids would come up, the lid would creek open and theyd have to take the candy from him. The little kids didnt seem to get scared, theyd just take the candy, but the teenagers wouldnt come near it, or, sometimes, theyd run away. Everything was really low tech. One time, he took a table and cut a hole in it and stuck his head through and put a bunch of ketchup around it and there was this decapitated head on this platter, and the candy would be right next to it. Hed have his eyes closed and the kids would come up and his eyes would open and hed say, Take some candy wont you! They really JUMP. There was just a cloth over the table. If you lifted up the cloth, you could see his body. It wasnt like he had mirrors, but it was still a lot of fun. I think when I was young,, that really clued me in to what fun could be had with certain shock elements and why I love Halloween and the macabre and horror stuff. So now, when I am designing effects, I have kind of a twisted point of view for which I can thank my Dad.
How long do you think the magic boom will last? What will keep it going or do it in?
I think if you always have fresh ideas out there, the public is not going to get burned out. Its up to the magicians to decide how long the golden years will last.