100th Annual Salute to Magic

The Society of American Magicians (SAM) Parent Assembly #1 last night presented The 100th Annual Salute to Magic at the Grand Ballroom of the Manhattan Center (and this was an ironic venue choice since it's owned and operated by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church).  I've always wanted to see the great Johnny Thompson, who was a featured performer, and retired magician and skeptic James Randi, who was a big influence on me, was also on the bill. I've been to every one of Randi's "Amazing Meetings" (back to 2003), and have seen him perform many times, but this was a special occasion.  The SAM is a historic organization, with early involvement by Houdini himself right here in NYC.

To me, magic itself is very cool; I love being fooled (and then figuring out the trick).  It's the presentation that can either be great and edgy (think Penn & Teller), or cliched painful-to-watch dreck. Teller himself recently said it best on Itricks:

Magic is often considered cheesy because it is very often cheesy, to wit:

1. The same effects are repeated over and over again by one hack after another.

2. The pieces have no content apart from the trick, which is arbitrary, unappealing, and free of beauty, wit, and content.

3. Magicians are generally ugly, unfunny, unoriginal, badly dressed, and copy one another’s lame material in routines that deserve the name “routine.” (Here we see the effects of the much-vaunted “old wine in new bottles” tradition.)

4. Magicians address the audience as though the magicians are superior beings. Many people resent this, believe it or not.

And yet the art has survived — which indicates just how hungry the human species is for the intrinsic fascination of the art.

The magic that I most enjoy is when the presenters strip away all the mystic or pretentious crap, and either do something truly beautiful (Teller is a master of this) or draw on vaudevillian and comic influences that connect with and exploit the power of the live audience. So, it's no surprise that my favorite act of the night was The Great Tomsoni and Company (Johnny Thompson and his wife Pamela Hayes)

Thompson is a phenomenally talented magician.  I've studied enough of this stuff to know, basically, what he's doing, and I couldn't see a damn thing.  He's also hilarious--his act is a send up of a bumbling, self important Polish magician, and his wife plays a tired, annoyed showgirl. Their act is hilarious and a classic, and I really recommend seeing it if you can. 

I also really enjoyed Paul Daniels (who didn't go on until nearly midnight).

Daniels was also hilarious and incredibly talented, and he worked the tired audience (the show started 1/2 an hour late and ran almost four hours) like a master. 

And, of course, there was Randi:

Randi's like the cool old uncle I wish I had, and though I had seen all of Randi's acts before at various TAM's, he's always a gracious performer and simply a joy to watch.

More photos of many of the performers here.