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Interview: Erik Tait

Grant Walters Grant Walters Interview: Erik Tait
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The local stand-up comedian and magician will fuse the genres in his newest show, "Please Shuffle The Cards" at ShadowboxLive's Backstage Bistro on Tuesday night

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In a time when it seems nearly impossible not to get baited, switched, defrauded, scammed, misled, or faked out,  it’s nice to know people like Erik Tait are working diligently to delude us with at least a certain level of enchantment. In fact, he’s hoping you’ll buy a ticket to watch him commit out-and-out subterfuge in his upcoming show Please Shuffle The Cards, which debuted on March 14 at ShadowboxLive’s Backstage Bistro.

“The audience can expect me to lie to them frequently,” he explains. “I am a magician. It’s what we do.”

The good news is that Tait can back up his deceitful ways with solid credentials. He graduated with honors from Humber College’s Comedy Writing and Performance program, and has staged shows at The Magic Castle, the Hollywood Improv, and The Second City Toronto. He also released a comedy album in 2013, Nerd Is The New Black, which is available on iTunes. Around Columbus, Tait is an in-demand performer who hosts ShadowboxLive’s The Quiz Box on the fourth Friday of the month and its companion podcast, and the Girls, Gags, and Giggles burlesque show on the fourth Saturday of the month at The Shrunken Head.

In April, he will appear in The Big Kids Comedy Tour with Lisa Berry and Pat Deering, producers of the locally-created Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival.

Without giving too much away, of course, what can audiences expect at the show?

Please Shuffle The Cards is a show built entirely on sleight of hand using an ordinary deck of cards. Everything they see could be done by anyone who has been handling cards for more than a decade. Specifically the show will be performed with a deck that has been examined and shuffled by anyone who comes in to see the show. The deck is on the table from the moment the doors open and anyone can shuffle and examine it before the show. Throughout the evening, I’ll be doing brand new effects – including a pet project of mine where I cause someone on stage to hallucinate. This show is a tad unusual for a magic show in that it includes flourishes, also known as ‘cardistry’, which is a type of fancy shuffling and cutting similar to juggling.

A portion of the show will include a gambling demonstration in which I not only demonstrate what it would look like if someone was cheating at cards, but also expose it in slow motion so you can see just what’s possible. Gambling moves are something of a passion of mine, and I’m excited to include them in the show captured by cameras and displayed on a projection screen so something that is normally shared in an intimate environment can be seen by the whole Backstage Bistro. The show is fundamentally a demonstration of skill, but the kind of demonstration I think the audience is going to love.”

Do you consider yourself a comedian who does magic, or a magician who does comedy? And what are the ideal circumstances under which you believe magic and comedy should intersect?

“I consider myself a comedian who happens to be a magician. They are equal parts of me. A wonderful magician named Allan Ackerman once said that ‘comedy is fundamentally about telling the truth to our audiences, and magic is fundamentally about telling lies.’ I have crafted this show on the basis that we are all going to have a lot of fun while I lie to you. To me, the best intersection of comedy and magic, two diametrically opposed forces, is when both mediums allow me to share myself with the audience.”

Do you remember the first time you attempted to do a magic trick?

“Yes. My father bought me a trick called ‘The Cups and Balls’ at a magic shop in Downtown Atlanta when I was a kid. It’s one of the oldest magic tricks in the world – [they’ve] actually found hieroglyphics in Egypt showing court wizards performing it for the Pharaohs. I still perform this effect twenty years later. It’s actually the closer in my professional set when I work a corporate event. Although, I do it a bit differently now than when I was nine.”

In any type of performance art, unexpected things can happen in front of a live audience. Assuming you sometimes make mistakes, how do you handle a magic gaffe?

“I’ve had all kinds of things happen – from switching in the wrong cards, to sophisticated apparatus completely failing on me. I’m fortunate to have been able to hone my craft as a comedy writer and stand-up comedian. If something goes so horribly wrong in a magic performance that I can’t sleight of hand my way out of it, I fall back to making them laugh. I may not be able to find your card, but I’ll make sure you had a good time.”

Obviously, I’m not going to ask you to reveal any secrets about how you actually perform magic – but what has learning about it and how to perform it taught you about life in general?

“If I could boil down all of my magical knowledge into two things it would be this: there is always a way forward. Never give up on something, because every problem has a solution. I used to think there was no way to dead cut from a shuffled deck the exact card a spectator wanted. Now it’s a part of a show I get to do at Shadowbox. Reality is plastic. I can’t shatter the laws of physics, but I can sure as hell make you question everything you know about how the world works.”

There are a lot of magicians and illusionists out there – Houdini, Copperfield, Blaine…Mumford…Who do you personally admire and follow and why?

“My personal hero is a Swedish magician named Lennart Green. He’s the reason I’m interested in cards. His casual approach to magic looks sloppy, chaotic, and results in some of the most breathtaking miracles I’ve ever seen. He has a TEDTalk on YouTube that is one of my favorite videos on the internet. Locally you need to see Nick Locapo, Dan Harlan, and Branden Wolf. All three of them are masters of their craft in startlingly different ways. Columbus is fortunate to have them all performing on a regular basis in our fair city, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have them as magical friends.”

Are there specific skills or concepts you’d still like to learn or master?

“Taming my beard so it doesn’t go all Cthulu on me right before I walk on stage would put me in the upper pantheon of prestidigitation.”

If someone is reading this and saying “gee, magic sounds like something I’d like to try”, is there any advice you’d offer that wouldn’t put yourself or this publication in a liable situation?

“I’ll give anyone lessons if the money is right. On a serious note, there are number of wonderful books out there that are a great way to get started. My first book was Now You See It, Now You Don’t! by Bill Tarr, but Magic: The Complete Course by Joshua Jay is also excellent. Alternatively, I recommend checking out PenguinMagic.com. They are a terrific resource for anyone interested in learning this insane and beautiful art we call magic.”

Erik Tait’s Please Shuffle The Cards (part of Tuesdays with Mak & Winks) debuted on Tuesday, March 14th at 8:00 pm at ShadowboxLive’s Backstage Bistro, 503 South Front Street in the Brewery District. Tickets are $5.00 plus taxes and fees. You can also find out more about Erik on his website, or by following him on Twitter.

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