Justin Willman is a new breed of magician, a sort of young, hip Ed Sullivan who's making magic cool again for grown-ups.
His comedy and magic show, "Justin Willman's Magic Meltdown," is held in the back room of Meltdown Comics in Hollywood, the newest night-life addition to Chris Hardwick's Nerdist Theater series.
The monthly live show, which debuted in September, is an interactive, tongue-in-cheek, old-school magic event that breathes new life into old tricks. And it's rounded out with classic variety show and neo-vaudeville accents — think musical acts followed by an aerial contortionist and then a pancake juggler. Although there's plenty of impressive, straight-up magic on the bill – head-scratchers such as audience mind-reading and floating tables — the highlight is Willman's comic take on the magic itself. He often reveals the sleight of hand, showing the audience how tricks are done with a pointed, ironic nod. And his act is shot through with stand-up-style joke-telling. It's all fittingly self-referential for the savvy, if a bit media-jaded, crowd of comedy nerds, hipsters and magic geeks that the show draws.
"People have seen so much magic — David Blaine had his heyday, Chris Angel — so at this point, if you're gonna do magic, you kind of have to respect the intelligence of the audience," Willman says. "We all know there's a trick going on. Dangle a carrot as to 'here's a little of what I'm doing,' then still fool them after that."