The legendary magician answers the same 10 questions we always ask everyone!
You were recently the magic advisor on Burt Wonderstone – who’s the better magician, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, or Steve Buscemi?
You know, the two Steves had to really do stuff. I think Jim Carrey is super talented and ridiculously nice, but I don’t think he had to really do the work. He did the best piece of magic on his body - he made the producer wait four weeks, and totally buffed out and transformed himself magically into this guy that could take his shirt off in the movie. So I think that’s a pretty impressive piece of magic that I’d like to do.
Carrey plays a David Blaine-type character – what do you think of magicians like that?
I like David Blaine - he really tries to do what he’s doing in an artistic way. I think he’s interesting, he’s far different to what I do. You don’t have to entertain people for an hour and a half, and that’s not necessarily his goal - it’s to amaze them. I’ve dabbled in that world - I went over Niagara Falls in a raft, and I’ve hung 10 stories in the air over spikes, and I was in a tornado of fire. That’s stuff that I’ve partaken in, as sort of the language of magic in general.
You’ve also consulted on the movie Now You See Me, which is about magicians using their skills to commit crimes. Have you ever been tempted to use your skills for nefarious purposes?
I have, and I can’t talk about it. But for good purposes, too - I’ve done governmental things as well. You know, Houdini, whose library I posses, he did things for the CIA and the FBI. We’re trained to think differently, so that’s good.
You did stuff for the CIA, but you can’t talk about it?
I have. They know that the secrets are safe with me, because that’s my business.
That, and because there’s a sniper on the roof opposite you, right?
Luckily I’m inside, so they’d have to have very good aim and X-ray vision. That’s something I didn’t train them in!
Is it true you once foiled some muggers with magic?
Yeah – it was pure stupidity. Doing magic with a gun in your face is really, really stupid. But I did it, it was a natural reaction and I did it, and I’m here to tell the tale.
So what happened?
We were in Florida, finished a show, went to eat, [and] walking back to my tour buses through a group of people, a car pulls up and a bunch of kids get out of the car. And I think they are asking me for my autograph, and they looked at me and they didn’t know who the hell I was, and they pointed guns at us. And I was like, that’s not an autograph, that’s not a pen, that’s a gun in my face! And they say, “Give us your money.” And the girls smartly handed over their purses and wallets, and I had a passport and a wallet in my pocket and kept them concealed. I showed my pockets empty, and the girls gave them their stuff, and they left. I kept all of my stuff. I mean, I would’ve gotten it all back, the police found them because somebody wrote down the license plate as the car drove away. I wish I was the person who wrote down the license plate, they were much cooler and smarter - I just did magic stuff. But at least I didn’t have to cancel my credit cards.
You own a chain of 11 islands in the Bahamas - was that an impulse buy?
Yes, it was an up-sell at a Barney’s, they have it on the counter. Um, no, it was something I dreamed about for years and years. We do treasure hunts, and the treasure appears on the beach and you levitate, and incredible things like that. I thought, if you’re a magician, an illusionist, or a story teller, what would you do if you owned an island? And that’s what I did.
You own the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts – the biggest collection of magic memorabilia in the world. Do you have a favorite item?
There’s so many of them. I mean literally, all of Houdini’s stuff, the water torture cell, his first magic wand, all his scrapbooks, the only known recording of his voice on a wax cylinder that Thomas Edison recorded. And then I have Houdini’s inspiration, the French conjurer Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, his whole lifetime of writings and his props and his manuscripts. He was the father of modern magic, and the man whom Houdini took his name from. Just really remarkable, inspirational stuff that every film director, every movie producer that’s been over there, walks out of there like, “Oh my God, this has been life changing to see this stuff.” And it really is.
Rumor has it that the only door to the museum is through a secret entrance in a lingerie mail-order catalogue warehouse – can you confirm?
Incorrect, incorrect. The secret entrance is through my father’s clothing store – Korby’s, where I grew up. So it begins where I began.
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
A fan wrote to me on Twitter last night that he was unable to get an autograph after my show - 20 years ago, when he was 8-years-old. I guess I didn't see him. But I got this message and I felt horrible, so I apologized publicly, wrote him privately, and sent him a signed program and invited him to a show.
What’s your favorite curse word?
All of them.
What’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
I'm not a drinker, not a smoker, but on tour the combo of jet lag, lots of shows, and traveling probably feels the same.
What was your first car?
When I was growing up, I used to take the bus to New York City every day from New Jersey. So I never actually had a car. But I have a few golf carts on the island!
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
I cut off the tip of my finger in a show, an accident with a rogue pair of scissors. A doctor was able to re-attach it, but it left a nice mark.
Do you have a party trick?
I do this really cool thing with the Statue of Liberty.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
My foot definitely, more than a few times. I'm on stage for three hours a day, every day, so over the years, I've done and said my share of embarrassing things.
What’s the one thing to remember in a fist fight?
The name of my security guard. Kidding - I'm lucky to have no advice to offer on this one.
Who was the last person to see you naked?
Siri. I asked her for the weather when I was getting dressed this morning.
Finish this sentence: If I ruled the world for a day, I would…
Inspire and empower people to pursue their dreams. I started out as a little kid in New Jersey with these big dreams, but I believed in it - I never let go - and I never gave up. Never stop dreaming.