This week the Amazing Johnathan joins Jonah to talk about comedy, magic and earning your chops. Johnathan is a worldrenowed comedy magician known for his shocking humour and twisted magic tricks.
After wandering into a magic store in his hometown, Johnathan’s interest in magic began. Not being the most popular kid at his school, magic helped him stand out among his peers. It would be his spoon bending skills that gave him clout among his peers and teachers, with many of them believing he was in fact bending them for real. However, the power he had was lost during his senior year talent show when all six of the tricks he performed went horribly wrong – with one of them resulting in the death of a dove.
After the show, he swore he would never perform a serious magic trick again.
He was forced back into magic when he was stuck in San Francisco and needed money. It was on the streets that he met the likes of Harry Anderson and A. Whitney Brown. Through his time as a street performer, Johnathan discovered the style that worked best for him: shock humour.
Comedy & Magic
Johnathan is known for his ability to cohesively blend comedy and magic together to the point that magic almost becomes the butt of the joke. It’s not a matter of that he can’t do magic, it’s a matter of he can’t do magic consistently. When he started writing comedy, he found out he had an easier time writing edgy comedy bits than having his magic work consistently.
When it comes to writing jokes, Johnathan has a few pieces of advice for the listeners. But, his main word of advice is to just write. Study joke structures and hang around funny people to understand what makes something funny, but without actually sitting down and writing, you’ll never get better. Johnathan goes on to recommend looking and listening for triggers in your life to find material you can use.
While he recommends sitting down and fleshing out a character to have a better grasp on what presentations and effects will work for you, Johnathan never really did this himself. Instead, he relied on the reviews to describe who he was and then lent into them. The more he began to understand who his character was, the less of a crap-shoot adding new material to his set became.
Stealing & Borrowing Material
When you’re starting out, Johnathan explains, it’s okay to use published material until your comfortable. It was published for you to use. But, that being said, you better come up with something original if you want the respect of your peers and to stand out in the audience’s minds. What you can’t do is take people’s custom lines and use them as your own. Those lines aren’t published for a reason.
In terms of people using his material, Johnathan has had people steal everything from single bits in his act to performing his entire show. While people claim it’s an homage or paying tribute, Johnathan sees it simply as people who have no intention of paying to use his work. He and his wife, Anastasia Synn, will go after these people who refuse to pay and hold them accountable for stealing his material.
Death, Fandom & Documentaries
In 2014 Johnathan revealed he had a year to live. His life was put on hold and, even though he wanted to write and perform, the death sentence became a nuisance. Eventually, after his third year of waiting to die, he said fuck it and went on a farewell tour for his fans; he wanted to give the generations of people who only saw him on TV an opportunity to see him live. Those who showed up were hardcore fans who, after the show, would come up to buy merch, take photos, and let him know just how he touched their lives.
It was bittersweet.
He was unable to give them the high energy shows he is known for, but being able to go back to work one last time was great. Reluctantly though, Johnathan had to stop his tour and return to retirement.
Or as close to retirement as one can get when you have two documentaries, with one of the in theatres, out right now. Years ago, Johnathan had started a documentary only to be sidetracked by his video podcast, Burn Unit. When he received his death sentence, Johnathan decided he wanted to do a documentary correctly this time. When he was approached by Benjamin Berman about filming a documentary, Johnathan agreed. The second documentary team approached to film the Always Amazing documentary, Johnathan also agreed due to their success with previous docs; he had yet to see anything from Ben and wanted to make sure someone was going to release a documentary.
At the end of it all, Johnathan just wants his fans to know who he is and recognize that he’s been able to succeed despite everything.
What do you like about current magic? What do you hate?
Johnathan likes the access the internet has given to magicians to find and learn tricks. However, he also hates the access that the internet has given people.
Take Home Point
Johnathan reminds the listeners to never resort to cheap skill.
Johnathan’s Website – Watch Johnathan’s website for updates on his autobiography and joke book
Johnathan’s Penguin Lecture – to be released