The sounds of children’s amazement and the adults' laughter rise in mixed harmony and respectfully fades as the man onstage focuses on his next illusion. The magician’s broad smile evokes the confident demeanor that the crowd is right to trust in him, to believe him, but his eyes tell the story of a trained focus sharpened over decades of trial and error. The broadly smiling man reveals the outcome of his latest creation. The crowd erupts, and not a word spoken for the next minute will be heard in the room. Comedy magician Mike Williams bows from his spot onstage, giving the audience a moment to breathe before he continues. And that's why we named him Best Magician in our 2018 Best Of issue.
On Oct. 6, Williams will bring his mix of wit and magic to Stomping Ground Comedy Theater in Dallas. It’s a show designed for all ages but specifically not a children’s show. Many parts of his show involve bringing audience members up on stage to be momentary assistants, and while children do say the darnedest things, these parts of the show require an adult’s touch.
Williams does one of the most challenging things in entertainment — he elicits a consistent strong laugh from audiences without relying on sexual or scatological humor to do so. When that type of comedy is done poorly, it feels like five dads absorbed into one; but when it’s done well, as is the case of Williams, it seems so natural and well earned. On top of that, there are moments when Williams is juggling knives while he’s throwing out one-liners, and it makes every comedian that’s graced the stage seem lazy by comparison.
The desire to be a magician and an entertainer started at an early age for Williams.
“My number one inspiration for magic was probably David Copperfield,” Williams says. “He used to tour around the world and once a year he’d play the Civic Center in Amarillo, Texas, where I grew up. My mom took me to all the shows. I dreamed of doing what he did; not doing the big illusions but just entertaining. I loved watching him cause the audience to laugh and gasp and I wanted to do that myself.”
From there Williams began attending magic conventions where he was able to meet like-minded people from different parts of the country. Having the chance to talk with and learn from other magicians to not only learn more about the industry but to also see that there were professionals that made their living doing magic, told Williams that career was possibility for him.
The last piece of the puzzle for Williams — adding comedy to his act — was all because of one man in particular.
“At the Amarillo Blockbuster there was one copy of Steve Martin’s entire stand-up act performed at The Universal Amphitheater in 1979 when he was at the pinnacle of his stand-up career,” Williams says. “I wore this video out. It was almost 80 minutes of him doing all of the classic Steve Martin stuff, including some comedy magic and comedy juggling and of course King Tut. After seeing the way he made the magic funny, I knew that was the type of magic I wanted to do — funny magic, magic that wasn’t too serious or dramatic. Magic that was fun and made people laugh.”
Williams then began his career that has spanned two decades, multiple countries and numerous awards. He’s performed in almost every type of setting, from traditional theaters, to hospitals, to shopping malls, but Williams maintains the type of place in which he does his act is secondary to the type of audience he’s in front of. To have an audience ready to be entertained and excited to see what happens, makes every setting a theater while it’s being performed.
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However, some shows have provided more challenges than others. Like his time in India.
“It was a three-month run, five to six shows a day,” Williams says. “I was the magician/emcee of an extreme stunt show performed at a theme park called VGP Universal Kingdom in Chennai, India, in a non-air-conditioned theater for a thousand people each show. The park was on the southern coast with 100 degree days and 100 percent humidity. I lost 20 pounds — maybe more. It was the most challenging and craziest experience ever, but I would do it over again in a heartbeat. Every environment I’ve performed since then seems like a walk in the park.”
Williams incorporates many aspects of magic styles into his act, including staples, such as illusion, manipulation, mentalism and close-up magic, breaking preconceived notions about what someone should expect from a magic show.
“A good entertainer makes it look easy and effortless,” Williams says. “Like anyone could do what they’re doing. I don't think most people realize how much time, work, effort, practice, writing, learning, rehearsing, planning and failing it takes to be a successful entertainer. People have the misconception that magic is easy if they only knew the secret; just like a lot of people think it’s easy to be a stand-up because they memorized a few jokes from Reddit. Oh, and lots of people think we all wear tuxedos and perform at 6-year-olds' birthday parties.”