Barrhaven magician Elliott Smith is an old hand at slights of hand.
He has cast spells on audiences for 42 years, and he is now poised to execute a feat accomplished by only one magician before him.
On May 13, Smith will perform his comedic magic act as headliner at the legendary Friars Club in New York City in a show hosted by Jerry Lewis.
Robin Williams, Barbra Streisand, Dean Martin, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, John Travolta, and Lucille Ball are among a long list of individuals who have either performed there, taken part in celebrity roasts or sat in the audience. Some of the entertainers expected to watch Smith perform at the club are Woody Allen, Larry King, Freddie Roman and Pat Cooper.
“This is basically like the top of the ladder for any comedian or performer,” Smith said. “To have the opportunity not just to perform there, but to perform before some of these people who have been my idols growing up in the entertainment industry for lots and lots of years, this is incredible.”
Smith discovered magic as a child watching magician Mark Wilson perform on television. He received a magic kit for his sixth birthday, and performed his first public magic show—at a neighbourhood child’s birthday party—six months later.
Growing up he was influenced by Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. As his skills as an illusionist and his sense of humor developed, he began to incorporate comedy – inspired by his slapstick idols – into his performances.
Smith continued to perform magic while studying at Carleton University, and even while working for the federal government’s Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. In 1990 he quit his job at an advertising firm to work full-time as a magician and has done so ever since.
His upcoming performance at the Friars Club could be a big break for Smith, but it won’t be his first time entertaining the rich and the famous. In four decades spent performing magic he’s privately entertained Liberace, Pierre Trudeau and Jay Leno. In 1999, Smith received the Order of Merlin from the International Brotherhood of Magicians in recognition of 25 years as a professional magician. He’s still a member of the brotherhood, which boasts 15,000 members worldwide.
The brotherhood’s president, Shawn Farquhar, travels the world talking about and performing magic for a living. He’s visited 41 countries, and has seen magic reach people everywhere.
“Magic is that one thing that is universal. That’s why I have total faith that when Elliott goes to the Friars Club, he’ll rock the place,” Farquhar said. “When times are tough, people want to forget, and they want to laugh and they want this level of wonderment.”
Farquhar said humour, an integral aspect of Smith’s act, has been woven into professional magic acts for decades.
“I think the majority of the magicians who make a living all have some sort of comedy in their routines. My dad used to say that if you get them laughing they won’t look at your hands,” Farquhar said, adding that Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, Orson Welles, Arsenio Hall and Steve Martin were all professional magicians before they turned to comedy and acting.
“All of them were magicians first. All of them professional magicians who turned toward the comedy side and then got their television breaks.”
Comedy has long been associated with the Friars Club, which hosted its first comedic roast in 1949. Homer Simpson was once the subject of a fictional Friars Club roast, with Krusty the Clown, Mr. Burns and other prominent citizens of Springfield cracking jokes at his expense at the Springfield Friars Club.
But magic seems to be a newer venture for the club. Throughout the club’s 111 years, only one other professional magician has performed there, and Smith will be the first Canadian magician to do so.
“The Friars Club is the very big thing in the world of entertainment. I would have thought that in time there’d have been a Canadian magician,” Farquhar said. “But that’s nice to hear. Elliott having this opportunity to represent our country and do a good job is pretty exceptional.”