I’ve always loved magicians. Or rather, I’ve always loved what magicians can do. The can make people levitate, make people disappear, make people transform into ferocious animals. There’s no limit to the types of illusions they can create, and the fun part is trying to figure out how they do it.
Like most people, I know the majority of magic tricks are based on some very simple principals: a trap door, a hidden wire, a forklift. But when someone can perform a trick that’s so unusual and complex that you just can’t fathom how it was done, I have nothing but respect and admiration for their skills.
So it should be no surprise that when I went to Las Vegas a few years ago, one of the shows I definitely wanted to see had to include magic. And since the only resident magician I was familiar with was David Copperfield, I decided to go see him. Not that I had a particular affinity for Mr. Copperfield, other than remembering he once dated Claudia Schiffer; he just happened to be the only magician's name I recognized.
So I went to his show with great expectations. Upon arriving at the theater, my friend and I were escorted to the front row, and placed at a small round table with another couple. We were then asked if during the finale of the show, we would participate by immediately standing up and applauding when the trick was over.
“And feel free to yell out words like Bravo or Encore or encouraging stuff like that,” the bright young P.A. explained. “Let David know how much you love him. And while you’re standing, David is going to come down the row and shake everyone’s hand. Isn’t that great? You’ll actually get to shake David’s hand. Cool, huh?”
Yeah, real cool. Naturally, my friend and I looked at each other with a little bit of skepticism. Why would someone as famous as David Copperfield need his audience to shill for him? Was he that insecure that he needed a standing ovation every night? I suddenly felt like I was “in on the trick;” like I’d been exposed to a part of the act I wouldn’t have been privy to had I been sitting in the third or fourth row. But since my table was practically hugging the front of the stage, I was being “used” to trick the rest of the audience into giving Mr. Copperfield his nightly ego boost. (And I wasn’t even getting paid for it.)
Nevertheless, we agreed to do it, if only to keep the P.A. from harassing us. But after waiting over a half hour for the show to start, I began to get a little irritated. Then, before Mr. Copperfield even appeared, we still had to sit through a twenty minute film which did nothing but tout Copperfield as the greatest living human being in the world. Forget being a magician, David was portrayed as a virtual God. It was a little weird. Why did this guy need to remind us who he was? Didn’t he know that’s the only reason we came to see him? Why was he giving us such a hard sell? The whole thing made me very uncomfortable.
But that was nothing compared to the shock I felt after David finally appeared. Because you’d think after all that build-up and self-grandizing, you’d be greeted by a guy that was full of energy and bigger than life. Instead, David appeared rather bored and indifferent throughout his act, walking around the stage with all the energy of a nightlight. There was no pep in his patter, nor any enthusiasm for what he was doing. It was like he was walking through the show with condescension for both his audience and the very tricks themselves. (No wonder he made us sit through all the film clips—it was the only time he showed any life during the entire evening.)
And though there were a few stand-out illusions, including the finale where he magically appears from the back of the audience, most of the show consisted of smaller, more ordinary tricks. Magic that could probably be done by most magicians in their sleep. In fact, that’s exactly what it looked like Mr. Copperfield was doing. Performing in a slumber. And since he couldn’t bring himself to actually wake up to participate, he decided to sleepwalk through it instead. (To be fair, Mr. Copperfield was doing a lot of sniffing and snorting throughout the show, so perhaps he was suffering from a cold. Or something.)
Or maybe he was just getting tired of doing magic. Maybe after years of performing, he was finally more jaded than genuine. After all, he’d probably done these tricks a thousand times before for countless audiences all over the world, many of whom were probably much more important than us. Regardless, I paid good money for my ticket and I expected to be mesmerized; not condescended to.
So when it came time to stand up for Mr. Copperfield during the finale, half the front row hesitated. Why? Because we all knew it was BS, and maybe felt a little weird contributing to Mr. Copperfield’s already bloated self-esteem. Of course, we all eventually did, but I definitely came away from the show with a very bad taste in my mouth.
Then months later, when all the allegations came out about Mr. Copperfield’s “alleged” sexual misunderstanding with a female in the Bahamas, I wondered if David had gotten bored with other social conventions as well. Like the not-so-subtle differences between dating and rape. But regardless of whether Mr. Copperfield is actually guilty or not, his persona has forever been tainted in my mind. And not because he’s not a talented magician; but because his talent seems to have ballooned his head into monolithic proportions.
Perhaps he should take a clue from the Dickensian character whose name he cleverly borrowed, and return to a time when he was more humble and less arrogant. Then maybe we’d all rediscover the magic that used to be David Copperfield.
But that’s just me. What do you think of David Copperfield?