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BWW Interview: Jeff Hobson of THE ILLUSIONISTS at Overture Center

Jeff Hobson, a Detroit native, met his first magician at the tender age of seven and was hooked. He knew immediately that was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Today, Hobson is one of the most in-demand comedy magicians with his clever mix of comedy and magic. His television appearances include HBO, Showtime's Comedy Club Network, Fox Family's Masters of Illusion, NBC's World's Greatest Magic and many more. With THE ILLUSIONISTS, Hobson is known as The Trickster, keeping the show light and fun with plenty of audience participation. He is also a world-class pickpocket.

When did you start performing magic?

At eleven I performed my first show out of my garage for the kids down the block, and I charged them 10 cents. Good show, if I remember correctly. Then at twelve I was offered to do a birthday party for five dollars. By the time I was a teenager, I was the busiest teenager in Detroit. I was working so much and practicing so much. You may know the book by Malcom Gladwell, Outliers, and his famous quote about anyone can do anything they want in the world if they put in their time, which is 10,000 hours. I put in my 10,000 hours before I graduated high school.

I'd imagine that as an accomplished young magician with a sense of humor, you must have gained a lot of attention. Did it help you get dates?

Funny enough, I guess so. I've been married now about 24 years. My wife is a mechanical engineer. I think the last person she'd want to have a date with is a jokester magician.

What can we look forward to in your performance?

I perform comedy and magic. Whatever people don't laugh at, that's the magic. I keep the show light and fun with a lot of audience participation. I'm also a pickpocket. I can't help myself, I'm a natural thief. I give everything back, so I guess I'm the most honest thief in the world. I've probably stolen around 76,000 watches off of people so far in my career, and my goal is to hit 100,000. Unfortunately I don't get to keep them.

One of the cornerstones of magic is creating distraction. How do you do this?

There's lots of ways, with touch, voice direction, lighting, sound. It's really quite psychological...there's a whole book that could be written on the topic. But you know, Detroit. I'm a little thief.

What are some of your toughest tricks?

What I do is easy and fun. Any child of five could do what I do... with about 20 years experience.

Andrew Basso, The Escapologist, or Ben Blaque, The Warrior, they do things that are very real, very dangerous, take lots of skill, practice, and they have a brush with death every show. I can't really watch their sections of the show because it is so real. Andrew Basso has to escape handcuffs and leg irons while upside down in a water tank. All the locks are real, everything is real and he's holding his breath for four to four and a half minutes every night. And that just bugs the heck out of me.

Then Ben Blaque, he has a domino effect of live crossbows aimed at each other. What happens is that he shoots one, which sets off the other six that cross the stage in different directions. The last arrow shoots within an inch of his head into an apple on top of his head, while he's blindfolded, and only using a bell to guide the first shot. I can't watch that either. We're not allowed to as the whole back stage is sort of sequestered so that nobody gets hurt. Those are the tricks that really take serious patience, skill, perseverance and stupidity really.

There are also many poignant, sentimental, wonderful, warm fuzzy moments of the show as well that are a lot of fun especially for kids. I'd say it is a show kids can come and see from anywhere from 5 to 105.

We also have Yu Ho-Jin from Korea, known as The Manipulator. He's the world's greatest slightest of hand, and all he uses is a pack of cards. When you see him perform, he gets one of the biggest ovations of the show because, it's equal to say an audience seeing Izthak Perlman play the violin. Even though you may not know what it entails to play the violin, you sure know that you've witnessed one of the best violin acts. It's the same thing with Yu Ho-Jin. After people see what he's doing, they may not understand it, but they certainly realize that they've seen something great.

What are some of the things you hear after performing THE ILLUSIONISTS show?

"We had no idea how good the show would be. We knew it was going to be magic, but we didn't know it would be like this."

Many people will say on the first night, "We're going to bring back the rest of our family to see this."

I think it's that people sometimes don't know what they're going to see and are quite pleasantly surprised because we're the avengers of magic. We're all doing our best, seven of the world's greatest doing their best stuff. It's a variety show of magic.

Anything you'd like to say to audience members before the show?

We're excited to be in Wisconsin. I know, being a Midwesterner myself, that the best audiences in the country are mid-western audiences, and so I'm very much looking forward to that. We hope to make Madison disappear.

THE ILLUSIONISTS will run at Overture Center for the Arts from Tuesday, November 22, through Sunday, November 27. Tickets can be purchased at overturecenter.org, in person at the ticket office or by phone at 608.258.4141.

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From This Author Angie Stanton

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