By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE The Amazing Johnathan is known for his combination of comedy, interaction with audience members and magic, but according to the popular performer he is not a magician.
“I’m definitely a comedian,” he told Reminder Publications from his home in Las Vegas, Nev. He will be appearing in two shows on Jan. 27 at the Hu Ke Lau, 705 Memorial Drive.
“I quit doing magic the night of my high school talent show,” he recalled. “All six tricks went bad.”
He accidentally killed a bird on stage and when his female assistant, who was in a box for another illusion, developed a leg cramp, she stood up knocking the box apart.
“It was so bad that the next day nobody teased me,” Johnathan said.
But out of that terrible experience eventually came the seed for an act that he has performed for more than 20 years.
Johnathan moved to San Francisco, Calif., as a young man and saw street performers such as Harry Anderson, later the star of “Night Court” and “Dave’s World,” and A. Whitney Brown, who was a writer on “Saturday Night Live.”
Johnathan wanted to be a street performer as well and they “taught me the ropes.” He developed the persona of a slightly aggressive and definitely unpredictable magician whose tricks don’t always amaze.
His performance at the Hu Ke Lau is a relative rarity as Johnathan had essentially stopped touring for years. He said that he accepted a two-week fill-in job at the Sahara Hotel and casino while comic David Brenner was away. In 2008, he took his show to The Harmon Theater, next to Planet Hollywood. Twelve years later he is still in Las Vegas.
The job does have its advantages, he noted. It came along as he was getting tired of touring and he could drive to his job.
“I like driving to work, I leave my house at 8:45 p.m. [for a 9 p.m.] show and I get back home at 11:30 p.m.,” he said.
But the experiences that can be found at smaller nightclubs across the country have been calling to Johnathan. He said that thanks to the recession the audiences at his show and others have declined significantly.
“So, I’m back on the road to get some energy from audiences,” he said.
In smaller clubs, Johnathan takes the opportunity of developing new material. About half of his show is planned and the other half is ad lib – “to make it fun for myself.”
Johnathan has been frequently seen on Comedy Central and that exposure is “really, really important,” he said. The cable channel has repeated his comedy special.
“When I come up with new material Comedy Central gives me a special,” he explained.
Normally, an hour of solid new material takes him between six and seven years to develop, but right now he is operating under a three-month deadline.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “You’re tempted to coast on your re-runs. It really helps to have new material.”
The comic has entered into a new venture: a practical joke set that will be sold by Spencer’s Gifts and Toys R Us. The set has props for a number of gags to pull on friends as well as a DVD with even more suggestions.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. One gag is a device that buzzes like a mosquito when the lights are off. When the unsuspecting victim turns on the lights to swat the bug the sound turns off.
He is known for his own elaborate practical jokes, one of which involved sending a friend notification of a fake job and having the person board a plane.
“My friends are very, very leery,” he said.
Although other stand-up comics have used their acts as the basis of a television sit-com, Johnathan said, “I never wanted to be an actor.”
Although he has done some acting, he further admitted, “It was never really appealing to me.”
A game show he hosted for the late Merv Griffin was fun, but “that wasn’t really acting.”
“With a name like ‘The Amazing Johnathan,’ what am I going to do?” he asked.
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