By Evan Henerson
There are magicians who can make a person’s jaw drop, bug out their bug, induce screams and generally leave their viewers an oozing puddle of amazement.
By his own admission, Jeff Hobson is not that magician and the member of the Illusionists nicknamed “The Trickster” is being neither self-effacing nor “tricky” when he says so.
“I always knew that doing ‘serious magic’ wasn’t for me,” says Hobson. “Because I tried, and I realized there were other magicians – namely Kevin James – who were very good at that.”
Hobson loved magic, but he also excelled at making people laugh. So he married the two talents to seriously pursue a successful career as a comedy magician. He has performed for multiple Fortune 500 companies, produced the Illusionarium experience aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line, hosted multiple TV shows and landed on Magic Magazine Top 10 Funniest list of magicians.
“Comedy became my thrust, and magic was the vehicle with which to do the entertainment,” says Hobson. “So being known as a comedy magician, I make people laugh first and then if they’re fooled, that’s a bonus.”
Hobson is the pixie-ish master of ceremonies of “The Illusionists – Live from Broadway,” He sports an assortment of outfits, one more sparkly or daring than the next (“I put the poof in magic,” he quips). He prances around the stage, flirts with recruited audience participants of both genders and filches more than a few watches from unsuspecting crowd members.
Tricks? Oh, The Trickster does them, and quite expertly, thank you very much. But when he tells people exactly what he does, Hobson isn’t expecting the aforementioned bugged-out eyes and dropped jaws.
“If I say, ‘I make an egg disappear and reappear,’ you’d say, ‘What is that?’ Well, I have to make it funny, and it is,” Hobson says. “I have a card chosen, and instead of just finding the card like Uncle Harry would do at home, I find it with my tongue inside my mouth. I fold the card three times inside my mouth. You can’t help but make that funny.”
Hobson grew up in Detroit but he has called Las Vegas home for the past 24 years. He started in the Catch a Rising Star at Bally’s Casino and spent four years as part of Spellbound at Harrah’s Casino. A call from producer Simon Painter set Hobson on the road across America and internationally with The Illusionists. It has been four years and Hobson calls the gig “the Rolls Royce of entertainment” for a magician. “The Illusionists” may someday play a Vegas engagement, but Hobson notes that the producers are savvy enough to wait for the perfect offer.
Hobson was acquainted with fellow Illusionist Kevin James (“The Inventor”) from their boyhood days in Michigan. The rest of the crew Hobson knew more by reputation than through actual encounters, although he notes that the circle of professional magicians is still relatively small. As a group, he says, the Illusionists are less about learning from each other than serving as a mutual inspiration society.
“For most magicians, within a few seconds, if you don’t know immediately how a trick is done, we can pretty much figure it out in a short amount of time,” Hobson says. “I’m more impressed by presentation. If you see somebody doing something really good, we go ‘Wow, that’s great!’ It just sort of fills your heart with the feeling of ‘OK I want to achieve that sort of reaction from the audience.’”
Of the company members who he has performed toured with, the only Illusionist Hobson did not know prior to joining up was “The Manipulator” Yu Ho-Jin of South Korea. Hobson says he has noticed a recent wave of American outsourcing of magicians from Asian countries. In South Korea, magicians are treated like rock stars (think young women flinging their underwear on stage). He also notes that audiences in Asian countries taking a more studied approach to the wonders they are witnessing on stage.
“In China and in most parts of Asia, magic is viewed as a puzzle,” Hobson says. “As they’re watching a show, Asians will be talking among themselves while it’s going on. Finally they have to decide on a method where they know how it’s done. Because if they can’t figure it out among them, it must mean that they’re stupid.
“Then they agree – albeit it may be the wrong answer – as long as they have concluded in a little powwow that this is how it’s done, then they’re fine to watch it.”
Hobson’s own magical beginnings developed when he was 7 years old at a school assembly. His class watched a police officer, who dabbled in magic, mysteriously shifting red, yellow and green balls around a plastic tube to communicate the function of the lights on a traffic signal: stop, caution, go.
Hobson informed his dubious classmates that what that officer was doing would someday be his profession. His friends laughed, but the 7 year old class clown who would grow up to become the Trickster was not joking.
“I said, ‘Yup, that’s what I want to do the rest of my life, and they all said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” Hobson recalls. “And now I am. I’m living the dream.”