street of cards
Street Of Cards meets Gary Darwin's Magic Club, Wednesday Night at Boomers Bar in Las Vegas...and Here are the Pics to Prove it!
This is the working intro to this piece I might be doing for the local weekly paper. Some notes on the guys I've been hanging out with...
Las Vegas doesn’t have an active chapter of the Society of American Magicians or the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Las Vegas doesn’t need one. We’ve got Gary Darwin’s Magic Club.
Darwin started the club forty years ago because the local SAM and IBM chapters wouldn’t allow Jews or Blacks into their meetings. Darwin isn’t black or Jewish, but he recognized that many skilled magicians were, so he set up his own magic club—one with no restrictions, membership fees, or rules of order. For Darwin, it was all about the magic. Within a few years the local IBM and SAM chapters both folded. They couldn’t compete with Darwin.
Darwin’s Magic Club’s meets every Wednesday night in the back room of Boomer's, a dive bar on Sirius. “Pleasantly tolerates”—those are the right words; Boomer’s pleasantly tolerates the magicians.
“Magicians don’t drink a lot,” the bartender told me. “Guess they need their hands for other things.”
The two non-magicians to my right laughed. I’d assumed the bartender was referring to sleight-of-hand maneuvers, but the laymen clearly thought she meant something else. The guy to my left, an older magician in a brown bomber jacket, thought the same: “I was doing magic long before you were born,” he told me, “and let me tell you: I’ve heard better insults than that.”
Since moving to Las Vegas about a half century ago, Gary Darwin has worked at the Flamingo, Desert Inn, Caesars Palace, and MGM Grand. He’s invented over 500 magic tricks, writes a book every month, and was the first person to do a straightjacket escape underwater. If you get the chance to meet the man (Boomer's, Wednesday nights, he’ll be there) he’ll tell you all this himself, a minute or two after you shake his hand. Then he’ll pull out a plastic thimble or red sponge ball and show you a series of appearances and disappearances, which, as you’d expect, he performs damn well. He’ll continue doing this until 1) you ask him to show you a card trick or 2) a woman walks into the room.
There are usually a handful of women at Darwin’s Club. Some of them are magicians’ assistants like Shedini (who works with Jason Byrne), Melanie (who works with Jeff McBride), and Mistie (who works with her fiancée Kyle on cruise ships and was voted Miss Nevada in 2007). In addition, there are always two or three non-performing girlfriends whose lot in life is to select playing cards until their thumbs blister.
Last Wednesday I saw Darwin performing his thimble sequence before one of these non-magician girlfriends. Halfway through the routine, the woman developed a terrible coughing fit.
“Do you know any cough jokes?” Darwin asked her.
“If you go around coughing like that, you should have a cough joke ready to go.”
“I have asthma,” she said, clearly offended.
Gary though for a moment and then said, “If you want to work on the strip, you’ll have to think up a better line than that.”
On average the club draws 30 to 40 magicians—a mixture of newbies in their 20's, pros in their 30's, 40's, and 50's, and former pros in their 60's, 70's, and even 80's. Most the pros perform at private parties and tradeshows, which is a polite way of saying that you haven’t heard of any of them. Every month or so a big name will drop by, like Lance Burton or Siegfried, but the big names never perform any magic tricks. They’re there to meet old friends and rack up street cred.
I, on the other hand, perform before these guys every chance I get. I look at it as a chance to improve my skills. Most of my performances take place before the StreetOfCards.com webcam. AJ Olson, founded the site and webcasts live from Boomer's every week for those illusionists across the country who’d like to be in attendance but can’t. These online magicians give me real-time constructive criticism, letting me know how I can improve my act (e.g., “hey new guy: STOP STEALING DERREN BROWN’S MATERIAL”).