It’s pretty easy to make jokes about Steve Buscemi and Steve Carell clad in spandex and sparkles, donning self-tanner and oversized wigs, presenting big budget illusions on a Las Vegas stage with the help of a busty blonde. But what about the part where you remember that while The Incredible Burt Wonderstone may make you giggle, it’s poking fun at a very real profession? What about the part where you realize most career magicians don’t have the protection of a huge stage or large television production and are actually working hard, day by day to make their chosen profession a lucrative one? Is it still funny, or does it cross the line? We spoke to a few well-known magicians to find out.
Magician Jeff Grow from New York has performed his act for events at Lincoln Center in Manhattan and he’s won numerous awards to boot, and he says he’s planning on seeing the Carell comedy this weekend. “I would say that [the movie is] sort of accurate in the sense of you know there’s a lot of competition amongst magicians as far as staying relevant in the public eye,” he says about the film, which pits Burt Wonderstone (Carell) against Tommy Lee-esque rock star illusionist Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) as they vie for the biggest magic show on the Vegas strip.
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And while the particular magicians in this comedy are the spandex-loving set, they don’t represent everyone in the community of professional magicians. “It seems to me at the outset that it’s not exactly parodying magicians but it’s parodying their personality types,” says Grow.
It’s something Mario Marchese (also known as Mario the Magician) is picking up on as well. “If you think of chefs or drummers, they’re all kind of weird and that’s kind of like magicians. There’s this weird eclectic kind of thing and I guess the movie is just exploding those things,” he says.
Mario Marchese, a.k.a. Mario the Magician
Whereas we’re inclined to remember TV and showy magicians of Burt Wonderstone’s ilk as the face of the profession, it’s important to remember there are performers of all sorts in the field of magic, like Marchese, who repurposes items to “Build Magic” as a part of his act for children. Then there’s Grow, whose bread and butter is illusions with a side of entertainment. Neither of these guys ever feels the need to paint their faces with translucent glitter and ditch their button up shirts for velour suits.
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Adding to the diversity is the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel’s magician in residence Steve Cohen, whose cocktail-attire only show includes illusions as well as the practice of mind-reading. And even Cohen has a sense of humor about Burt Wonderstone’s take on the world of professional magic. “Burt Wonderstone pokes good-natured fun at magicians in the same way that [This is] Spinal Tap teases rock music,” he says.
Cohen brings up a good point. Countless “fringe” professions have endured the scathing jokes of a pointed parody movie, from ice skating in Will Ferrell’s polarizing Blades of Glory to NASCAR drivers in Will Ferrell’s also polarizing Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Ferrell apparently likes to test the very specific waters on the regular). Both films featured cameos from professionals in the fields Ferrell was poking fun at including NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and former Olympic ice skaters Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano. In a similar vein, David Copperfield not only posed for pictures with Burt Wonderstone’s Carell for publicity (above), he has a cameo in the film and acted as a consultant during production.
But what about depictions like G.O.B. (Will Arnett) on Arrested Development? His character is one of the little guys, someone trying to make it as a magician in his daily life and failing spectacularly (although that one time he accidentally cut off Buster’s prosthetic hand, things worked out alright), and his character seems to be built from similar cloth to that of Mr. Wonderstone.
“[Arnett] was making fun of someone, but it wasn’t a parody, per se. They weren’t saying that all magicians were like that it,but this one particular guy was, it was his character,” says Grow, who is asked about his opinions on the clumsy character almost daily. It’s a distinction that almost applies to Carrell and Carrey too: They are taking on the world of professional magic in this movie, but as two very singular people in the realm, not as flag-waving representations of an industry as diverse as any other entertainment profession, including Spinal Tap's beloved rock scene.
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The world of magic as a profession is something that will likely never be totally understood on a mainstream level, but it doesn’t seem to worry Marchese, who’s less concerned about people confusing his job with Carell’s outlandish parody and more concerned with the benefits of the small, yet diverse profession he’s chose. “It’s definitely a sub thing, it’s kind of like one of those underground things you fall in love with and you never blow up and you’re sort of just happy inside,” he says. While Burt Wonderstone may poke fun at the magicians we’ve seen time and again on television (think Copperfield, David Blaine, and even Criss Angel), the movie doesn’t speak for the whole community and in that way, makes it more likely to elicit a chuckle from even the most serious and sensitive magic man (or woman).
From Ferrell’s endless B-comedies to Christopher Guest’s line of parodies including This is Spinal Tap and its folk music equivalent A Mighty Wind, comedy has a long tradition of sticking it to the world’s most entertaining professions. Thankfully, as we approach yet another movie in that vein, we can all watch and giggle without guilt. For the most part, even the folks on the receiving end of Burt Wonderstone’s ruthless parody can find the lightheartedness of it all.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures; Twitter]
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It's Shark Week on Best of Seven. That means that all this week you can tune in to The Discovery Channel to revel (and cower!) in the face of all things shark-related. For those who could care less, we offer the following highlights from this week's TV Guide:
9PM: Last Comic Standing, NBC. Just five contestants remain in the search for America's next top comic; comedian Ron White stops by.
10PM: Curb Your Enthusiasm, TVGN. I have no idea what channel the TV Guide Network is on, but if you can find it, "The Baptism" is one of the finest Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes. All hell breaks loose when Larry and Cheryl travel to attend her sister's Jewish fiancé's baptism; comedian Richard Lewis accuses Larry of stealing his outgoing answering machine greeting.
6:30-10PM: Shark Week!, DSC. A Great White-sized block of shark-themed programming kicks off with a shark week edition of Cash Cab at 6:30, followed by Sharkbite Summer, Top Five Eaten Alive, and Shark Bite Beach at 9PM.
9PM: Shaq VS, ABC. Multi-talented athlete Shaquille O'Neal squares off against NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., then challenges 14-year-old 2009 Spelling Bee champ Kavya Shivashankar. I don't know if I would put my money behind Shaq in either of these contests, but you can't beat the man's pluck.
11:30PM: The Colbert Report, Comedy Central. Right-wing dingbat and/or conservative goddess (depending on your opinion!) Laura Ingraham stops by The Colbert Report. It's always interesting to see how Colbert's fake conservative pundit persona fares when he has to confront an actual right-wing pundit. Hilarious antics will undoubtably ensue!
9PM: Top Chef, Bravo. In "Foreign Affairs," the chefs must overcome a saucy Ethiopian cuisine quickfire challenge before creating a dish based on one of the foreign embassies in D.C. The stakes have never been higher! Then:
10PM: Work of Art, Bravo. In "Natural Talents," the remaining artistes must draw inspiration from their surroundings at a nature preserve. Somehow, someone will manage to make this phallic.
9PM-12AM: More Shark Week!, DSC. Shark week, by its very nature, does not stop. In fact, it goes all week. First up is Ultimate Air Jaws, followed by Shark Bites: Adventures in Shark Week with guest Craig Ferguson, and at 11, Air Jaws II: Even Higher, wherein "experts film white sharks jumping from the water in several parts of the world." Terrifying!
8PM: Community, NBC. Absolute hilarity ensues when Jeff decides to join a "Beginner Pottery" class taught by guest star Tony Hale. One of the best Community episodes of the first season (see clip below).
9PM: Real Housewives of D.C., Bravo. The season premiere of Bravo's latest incarnation of its Real Housewives of _____ formula, now in the heart of our nation's capital. And of course this Real Housewives is uber-relevant because the cast includes infamous White House party-crasher Michaele Salahi. Salahi! Is she our new Danielle Staub? I hope so.
10PM: Kill Bill Vol. 1, TNT. If you find yourself feeling all dirty and walk-of-shame-y after watching Real Housewives of D.C., you can turn to renowned director Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 to wash away all that guilt. Uma Thurman stars as The Bride, who vows martial-arts revenge on those who wronged her when she is left for dead on her wedding day.
8PM: 10 Deadliest Sharks, DSC. Did you think that was the end of Shark Week? No. Shark week will decide when you are done with Shark Week. If you don't know how to recognize the Ten Deadliest Sharks, how are you going to know how afraid you should be when you go swimming at the beach? Or at the pool? Fear! Fear!
8:30PM: Jarhead, FX. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a young man getting a crash course in the madness of war in this powerful drama from director Sam Mendes. Set during the first Gulf War, Jarhead is mesmerizing in its ability to capture the uncertainty and banality of modern warfare.
8PM: Red Eye, ABC. Famed horror director Wes Craven is behind this tale of a domestic terrorist (Cillian Murphy) who blackmails the woman sitting next to him on an overnight flight (Rachel McAdams) into helping him assassinate a government official.
10:30PM: Balls of Fury, Comedy Central. A disgraced former ping pong champion is drawn back into the world of high-stakes table tennis to carry out a top-secret mission. Christopher Walken is in this! Maybe you have better things to do Saturday night, but I suspect you do not.
6PM: Inside Man, AMC. Denzel Washington and Clive Owen star in this exciting crime thriller from (occasionally controversial) director Spike Lee, with unexpected twists right up until the very end. One of the best films of 2006, in this writer's humble opinion.
10:30PM: Meet the Parents, TBS. I feel like I've seen this movie a hundred times - probably because it's constantly on TBS - but it never ceases to be funny. Ben Stiller stars as the hapless fiancé who does nothing right when he is brought home to meet his future parents-in-law. With Robert DeNiro in one of his most memorable roles.