David Blaine brings signature tricks and 'insane' new feats to the Taft Theatre

The magician says his dangerous new show is too intense for children to see.

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click to enlarge David Blaine brings signature tricks and 'insane' new feats to the Taft Theatre
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David Blaine is a singular figure, a man with seemingly supernatural talents and a superior mindset. The New York City native has carved out a unique place for himself on the cultural landscape as a magician who is as deft at performing a card trick as he is at completing seemingly death-defying feats. He’s done everything from burying himself underground for seven days to holding his breath for more than 17 minutes while submerged in a tank of water to catching a gun-fired bullet in his mouth.

And now the 44-year-old might be attempting his most difficult endeavor to date — a 40-city tour in which he’ll be performing many of his signature feats for an audience that will, in typically collaborative Blaine fashion, no doubt become part of the show. CityBeat recently touched base with the magician by phone to discuss everything from early and ongoing influences like Harry Houdini to how having a child has impacted his approach to performing. Blaine will be appearing tonight (Friday, Dec.1) at the Taft Theatre.

CityBeat: This is the first time you’ve done a tour like this. Why now?

David Blaine: I’ve been so excited about it. I’ve been dreaming of doing this for the last decade, trying to think about what I can do and make it different and interesting. I feel like it’s ready to move in that direction, so I’m excited. It’s a very ambitious, physical challenge. It will be more difficult than any stunt that I’ve ever done.

CB: I read that when your doctors saw the set list, they told you not to do it, that it would be too dangerous and physically taxing to do over an extended period.

DB: That’s what makes it fun for me — the challenge of doing something that shouldn’t be possible. 

CB: So what can we expect from you on this tour?

DB: You’ll see things that I’ve done on TV: the ice pick, the hanger, water tanks. Some things I’ve done, and you’ll see some new things. Some will be magic, some will be real and all of it will be insane. And it’s not recommended for kids — it might be a little rough for kids under the age of 10. Anything can happen at this show. Many things can go wrong, and I’m sure things will go wrong. All the people, like Harry Houdini, that I studied as a kid, that I looked at and thought their stuff was incredible and didn’t believe it was possible, lots of that will be incorporated into this show. This show will be very interesting hopefully to the audience but definitely for me as well. 

CB: A lot of the stuff you do is as much a mental feat as it is a physical feat. Can you talk about the balance between the mental and the physical and how a lot of times the obstacle is more of a mental challenge than it is whatever you’re doing in a physical sense?

DB: And at times the mental will override the physical on some level. There’s only so far that you can go, but that’s true. I think that most of the things that I find most interesting in magic are things that occur when the mind overrides the body and you do something that you shouldn’t be able to do.

CB: You’ve gone all over the place to perform for different kinds of people for your TV specials. Often it is a kind of guerilla-style, almost Punk Rock version of magic where it’s very stripped down and you’re interacting with people on a more intimate, visceral level. Why are you interested that type of interaction?

DB: When I did magic as a kid, my first audience was my mom. When I would do things that would amaze her, she would really react and get excited and laugh and freak out. I think it began there. And as you start performing more and more, you start to love watching people react. I like going into situations where normally they wouldn’t see this type of magic and bringing it to them and surprising them and changing their day for a moment. It’s a great feeling.

CB: Some people have criticized you about the dangerous elements of your act. I read recently where Penn Jillette said the bullet-catching stunt was immoral. What do you say to the people who say you are a bad influence?

DB: (Laughs.) I don’t want people to copy what I do, definitely not. I like to make the distinction that this is years of training and it is me putting myself at risk. As a kid growing up I was never raised on the big illusions, I was raised on the guy who could do the incredible slight of hand and Harry Houdini and people who do things that were real. And not even just the magic or Houdini, I was blown away when I saw Evel Knievel or Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson or Philippe Petit — people who were risking their safety to do things that cannot be copied. They’re taking a risk because they have such a hardcore training regimen and a mindset and focus that they know the risks are very calculated. That’s the type of stuff that I like. I don’t like, for my own self, when I see somebody and I know that it’s a trick and it’s all hocus-pocus and an illusion. That’s not the type of entertainment that I go for. 

CB: Finally, before you go, I did want to ask how having a kid has influenced what you do as a magician? Does your daughter ever get worried about some of the feats you’re attempting?

DB: She has grown up with me doing what I do, so I think she understands that it is what drives me in many ways and that it’s my passion and art. She’s pretty supportive and believing and, by the way, influential. She gives me really interesting things to say. And she says, “Be careful if you do this.” It’s pretty unbelievable for someone who is 6 years old. She gives me input that’s on the same level as some of my magic consultants who are their 30s and 40s.

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