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 V.22 No.48 | November 28 - December 4, 2013 

Arts Feature

More Than Hocus Pocus

Inventive performance tinkers with comedy and magic for all ages

Eric Buss, ready for action
Photo by Al Tuaris
Eric Buss, ready for action

"A lot of magicians take themselves seriously, and I am not one of those guys…"

Serious guys don't build a bubble-wrap-dispensing bike that pops like a stream of firecrackers as you ride it. Nor do they take a YouTube video of themselves wheeling around, grinning like a dorky kid. Eric Buss, a comedy magician and "imaginator," built his most famous contraption "just for fun." One week later, his video had a million hits, plugs by CNN and the Huffington Post, and was shared on Pee-wee Herman's Facebook page.

But that wasn't the first time Buss, who's been performing since the age of 16, got kissed by notoriety almost overnight.

First, in 2007, there were the snakes. Spring-loaded and yellow, screaming across the stage from hand-held peanut cans like a bunch of possessed bananas. Then, a velvet curtain pulled back, revealing something that looks like the mad love child of an air gatling gun and a xylophone. And another batch of snakes as Buss, grinning, jerks some strings. All in time to the “Blue Danube Waltz.”

Les Arnold and Dazzle
Photo by Delta McDonald
Les Arnold and Dazzle

"Every magician dreams of being on TV, and that happens for a lot of us,” Buss says. “But you need to send the video and forget about it because a lot of these shows don't call you back."

But Buss was called back. He got a standing ovation the first time he performed the "Spring Snake Symphony" at the Castle in Hollywood, appearing soon afterward on Letterman and "America's Got Talent." Since then, magic has taken him around the world. Entertaining the troops in Afghanistan, he says, was one of the highlights of his career.

His latest stop? Albuquerque. He's bringing his wacky-dude-next-door brand of magic packed with crazy inventions to the KiMo (423 Central NW) on Saturday, Nov. 30, as part of Hocus Pocus. The all-ages show, hosted by stand-up magic funnyman Derek Hughes, includes a mix of goof and glitz. Hughes' dryly witty sleight-of-hand tricks blend with the tongue-in-cheek vintage-style illusions of Dimmare (creator of “Rock-A-Hula” and the “Swingin’ Taki Tiki Martini Lounge Show”), followed by a slapstick lampoon of obnoxiously stiff traditional acts from magical duo Les Arnold and Dazzle.

Play Youtube Video
Bubble-wrap bike, yo!

It's perfect company for Buss, whose sense of fun infects everything he does on stage.

"I love to make people forget about their troubles for a minute and be a kid again. … When the audience is having fun, the performers are too. My goal is to create something that hasn't been seen, and then to build it on stage—not just make something big I store in my garage."

Traveling with large objects, Buss tells me, has become problematic with airline regulations. So lately he's been focusing on more intimate, close-up magic shows. That's just one of the hurdles of his professional life. The other is balancing a primarily night-time workload with the recent arrival of dadhood, which has him routinely waking early to help his wife with the baby.

Outside the KiMo for the 2012 sold-out show
Photo by Stacey Cole
Outside the KiMo for the 2012 sold-out show

"Magic's not a normal 9-to-5 job, where you know what you'll be doing from one day to the next. You land one job and you're chasing 364 more of them to keep busy throughout the year. And you can't call in when you're sick! You just have to perform.”

Buss got his start in Tucson, where there's a strong magic community. His father spent hours in his workshop every week, making conventional things like birdhouses for holiday gifts, and let Buss tinker there until he could build trick equipment for his own illusions.

"I took apart flashlights and radios at an early age, using Dad's screwdriver. Usually, I couldn't get them back together, so I broke them taking them apart. It's how I learned to build things. My favorite toys as a kid were Tinker Toys—they have the word 'tinker' right in the title! And Legos. Bottle rockets, remote control cars, all of that.

“I still play with everything in my garage. Now, all the things I build I consider my toys.”

He started doing traveling shows in his late teens, competing with other young magicians in places like Las Vegas. A theater major in college who also studied comedy, he was busy enough doing acts that he never had a "real" job, just some side jobs, like working restaurants, to tide things over.

“It's basically an obsession. … Eventually it evolves into something where you're too busy to do any other career. Once you learn that there are lots of venues for magicians, and work hard and stay focused, it's an obtainable goal."

What's next?

"Well … I've been thinking about tape measures a lot lately, I love that kind of kinetic energy, the spring that they give. Doing something crazy with tape measures. I don't even know what it is but it's going to be big."

Hocus Pocus

A magic comedy show
with Derek Hughes, Dimmare, Eric Buss, Les Arnold and Dazzle
Saturday, Nov. 30, 3pm and 7:30pm

KiMo Theatre
423 Central NW
Tickets: $22, $35 for VIP
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