Is there anything that you may have gleaned from Doug when you were younger that you may take with you in your own act?
I would say his obvious glee and real love for his magic. Also, the obvious glee and love that he turned outward toward his audience. Doug was not performing for himself; he was performing as a gift to the audience. I think that I try to do that to my audiences now. My guests know that I’m not just phoning it in or aggrandizing my own position.
It’s really more welcoming if you’re a vulnerable performer. You’re inviting people: “This is what I have to offer. Would you care to watch it with me?” I think that this sensibility is one I share (with Doug) in my current performances.
Speaking of that, can you talk about your show “Chamber Magic” and how that came to be?
Sure. I began Chamber Magic just shy of 20 years ago. I know that because I began the show the same year that my son was born, and my son will be turning 20 in January. The initial idea of the show was to recreate Johann Hofzinser’s magic salon. Hofzinser was based in Vienna, but I wanted to create a similar concept in modern day New York. In Vienna, the salon was a destination where the intelligentsia, high society, and members of the media came together to exchange ideas. Hofzinser’s idea was to shift the focus: instead of discussing current events, his patrons discussed and watched exquisite magic.
So, that was the initial idea – to replicate Hofzinser’s salon. I began the show at my friend’s apartment in 2000, inviting my private clients, and charging people twenty bucks to come through the door. Later I moved the show to a new venue, the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park near Park Avenue.
It was a beautiful, beautiful club. And the show ran there for about three months. They closed for the summer, and I needed to find a new show venue. At the final performance, I announced I was looking for a new location. “If anyone has any ideas, please come up and see me.” One audience member introduced herself – she later became my manager – and arranged a meeting with executives she knew at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
I did a demo for the top people at the Waldorf, and they liked it. I began performing shows there, in a private suite in the residential section, the Waldorf Towers. It was a real struggle, an uphill battle. After the first six months, I thought the show was going to have to close because no one was coming. In 2001~ 2002, the internet as we now know it did not exist. Websites had barely become mainstream, but there were email lists. One targeted media company called “Daily Candy” sent in a reporter to see me at the Waldorf. She wrote about the show on their email list. Their targeted readership responded out of proportion, and suddenly, instantly, Chamber Magic was sold out for a year.
The demand grew strong enough that I had to add Saturday night shows. Later, CBS Sunday morning ran a feature story about Chamber Magic, and that coverage sold one million dollars of tickets in a week.
The show continues to run, and run strongly. I don’t do it so much for the money now. I just really love magic, and the opportunity to share my vision with people who visit from around the world.
Be sure not to miss tomorrow’s exciting conclusion to my interview with Steve Cohen!