A Talk with David Blaine

Legendary magician and illusionist David Blaine never goes anywhere without a card deck in his pocket and a trick up his sleeve.

You don’t have to be into magic to know this guy’s name; he’s as infamous as Harry Houdini ever was, if not more. Everybody knows David Blaine for his street magic, his humanity-defying endurance stunts, and the Guinness World Records both set and broken. Watch one episode of David Blaine: Street Magic, drift past one of his public endurance stunts, and you’ll know exactly what makes this guy such a jaw-dropping surprise. David was kind enough to share some of his time with us to talk about the career that’s made him a global phenomenon.

Club 808: Let’s jump right in. How did you first get interested in magic?

David: My grandmother had one of those Tarot decks that you guys made at The United States Playing Card Company, an orange tarot deck, and she gave it to my mother. And my mother treated it as though it was special and gave it to me. I carried it with me every day. I was about five. And I would wait for my mother to finish work at the library, and I had these cards, and the library helped me learn a magic effect with the cards. And I did it to my mother and she went nuts, she thought it was incredible. And it probably wasn’t, but that began my love of card magic and therefore me becoming a magician.

Club 808: Do you remember what that first trick was?

David: I believe it was a simple mathematical card effect, you know. The obvious one. You line the cards up and somebody thinks of one, you peel ‘em down, they change, and you figure out which one they were thinking of.

Club 808: Do you have a favorite card trick that you regularly perform?

David: There’s so many I love to do; it’s hard to pin them down. They change all the time. . . a new favorite could happen as it did yesterday. . . the way I look at it isn’t usually like that. Yeah, the name of my favorite one is called the Trick That Never Existed. And any magician will know exactly what that is. It’s actually called the Trick That Can’t Be Explained.

Club 808: How many decks do you go through in a year? What happens with them when you’re done?

David: I usually give them away when I’m done with them, or I keep them like a journal. So I write the date, and where I performed, who I performed for, then I write the address, the country. Then I just keep them and put ‘em in a box. I have boxes and boxes of decks that act almost like a journal.

Club 808: That’s awesome. When did you start doing that?

David: I’ve been doing it for quite awhile—a few years. I have a couple hundred of those, or something like that.

Club 808: Who were some of your influences when you were growing up, studying magic?

David: The obvious ones—Buster Keaton, Harry Houdini. Orson Welles. Mom. Lots of great writers—I read their books. Herman Hess—some of his books really influenced me. And lots of great thinkers in magic, guys like Bill Calouse and Paul Harris, Juan Tamarise, Michael Webber. Lots of great thinkers in magic who are really influential.

Club 808: So when crowds of people see your work, especially with street magic, they tend to just lose it. Is there any reaction from one person or a group that stands out in your memory?

David: You mean, scary ones or good ones?

Club 808: Both. Either!

David: When I was in Haiti they thought I was doing voodoo, and they chased us with rocks the size of cantaloupes.

When I was in Haiti they thought I was doing voodoo, and they chased us with rocks the size of cantaloupes.

We were doing it in a place where black magic and things like that—they really believe it exists, so their reactions to it were shock and then fear. So that kind of reaction, you never forget. Another one was a girl peed in her pants.

Club 808: What was the trick on that one?

David: It was something with cards, and then I ripped her card—it’s hard to explain, I think it’s more the interaction versus, you know, explaining card magic. I don’t think it really makes sense in that way. It could have been anything. But it was kind of like the setup that made it effective. She was laughing to the point of—she laughed so hard she peed her pants.

Club 808: What made you want to be an endurance performer?

David: I always did that type of thing. Since I was little I was holding my breath and things like that. I guess I read about Houdini holding his breath and wanted to do it further than he did. I had a karate instructor when I was five who made us run barefoot in the snow.

Club 808: Do you make up your own illusions, or do you take inspiration from classic tricks and remix them?

David: I think I do both. Some are inspired, some are original, and some are conceptual. Some are from discussing ideas with friends, some change as you’re working on them and become better. So there’s no one specific.

Club 808: Do you ever have to improvise when you do street magic?

David: Yeah, I think any magician that’s comfortable enough always has to improvise, and what good improvisation does is it allows you to change something that’s not working, or make something better that is working. Improvising happens every single time a magician who performs regularly does. It’s how growth happens, allowing you to dig yourself out of a hole.

Club 808: Tell us something that we don’t know—about yourself, or something you’ve learned.

David: One of my favorite things is that I almost never get sick, or the flu or anything like that. Eleanor Roosevelt used to swear by three raw cloves of garlic a day, but she used to have them dipped in chocolate. Whenever I start to feel sick, I have these juices filled with high micronutrients like kale, collard greens, beets, onion, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, ginger, lemon, and I drink those and—the reason I say this is because everybody’s been passing the flu around, but I was able to avoid it. The secret is I usually fast and have high micro-nutrients from those things, and some chicken broth and things like that, herbal teas, and that seems to always beat the problem.

Club 808: Have you always done that? That recipe must come in handy with all your endurance performances.

David: My mother used to do that for me when I’d start to get a little sick. She used to cut up garlic and put it in a teaspoon of honey and make me swallow it. I guess when you don’t have health insurance and things like that, you find remedies that are just as effective if not more so. I’ve noticed it actually works.

Club 808: Do you have a favorite card game that you play with your friends or family?

David: I like Rummy 500. I’ve been holding cards this entire time, by the way. If you hear that noise, that’s a riffle.

Club 808: What deck are you holding?

David: The White Lions Deck that I printed [at The United States Playing Card Company].

Club 808: Do you have any advice for youngsters interested in endurance performing, or magic in general?

David: Read, study, do the work. Read Henning Nelms. Read other subjects. Read interviews with Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles. Watch great performances. Come up with your own ideas and go after them like there’s no other thing that can exist in life than that.

Come up with your own ideas and go after them like there’s no other thing that can exist in life than that.

Club 808: David, thank you so much.

David: Good talking to you.

For more on David Blaine, check out his personal website or @DavidBlaine on Twitter.

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