Magician/comedian The Amazing Johnathan comes from the magical land Las Vegas, where families' college funds mysteriously disappear, and those with $10 in their pocket can consume more barbeque ribs than science allows.
He got his start performing for spare change on street corners. Later, he joined the comedy clubs ranks as they transitioned beyond entertainment novelty in the 1980s and 1990s. Then Las Vegas came calling, offering Johnathan his own theater complete with room for bigger and better props, smoke screens and ways to mutilate himself and others for twisted amusement. Unfortunately, that meant he wouldn't be able to tour as much, leaving the rest of the country void of watching a man slicing open his forearm with a kitchen knife or turn a dupe from the audience into an even bigger dupe.
Last year, his latest deal with a casino turned out not to be as sweet as he hoped. So for the first time in almost 15 years, he's taking his act on the road to comedy clubs and theaters including a recent three-day engagement at the Addison Improv.
Getting to see him this past weekend live and in person was interesting for reasons besides the usual wanton carelessness for the sanctity of life and thrill of watching fake squirting blood. I had to wonder if Johnathan could create the same amount of carnage in a smaller, less catered space.
The act was scaled-down compared to some of his Vegas shows and recent Comedy Central specials because regional venues simply can't replicate them. For instance, one of his signature stunts was missing, where a foam amp falls from the ceiling and onto the skull of some poor sap. He also didn't give me the privilege of revealing Uri Geller's famous spoon bending trick by having a sexy female nurse drop a tray to divert our attention.
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One welcome staple that did materialize was Psychic Tanya. I was concerned that she might be absent since she's currently putting together her own Vegas show She-nanigans. For this bit she serves as Mr. Amazing's stereotype sidekick by mixing Mae West's charm with a houseplant's IQ. ("The wheel is turning," Johnathan notes on stage, "but the hamster is dead.") The audience loves her appearances. Tanya brings a fun dimension to the show, freeing Johnathan up to play the abusive straight man without recourse.
The bulk of Johnathan's magic act has also stayed intact since much of it involves torturing some poor volunteer from the crowd. Those who are familiar with his schtick from Comedy Central's Lounge Lizards may know how most of the actual magic ends, and that's fine. It's just as entertaining to watch the looks on the faces of virgin friends, genuinely enthralled by seeing the tricks for the first time.
At times the smaller space backs his bit into a corner, forcing him to do more close-up magic or sprinkle small prop work through his larger laughs. He does this well, peppering the tightened material around his banter with Psychic Tanya, hapless volunteers and the dumbasses who still think talking back to performers is hilarious. He's even added a fun, circus sideshow twist to the experience by bringing up his three-ring act/girlfriend, Anastasia Synn, to truly gross out the more squeamish with her arm skewer and "human blockhead" routine.
Surely, the call of Vegas or some other large venue will come again for such a creative and twisted magic comedy act. Until then, the show still fits just as snugly in a comedy club as it did when he unleashed his first blood squib on an unprotected and unsuspecting audience.