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‘I feel like people are craving mind-blowing stuff’ – Willman talks ‘Magic For Humans’

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While binging the second season of “Magic for Humans,” a Netflix original series starring magician and comedian Justin Willman, I caught myself hitting the rewind button several times to confirm that what I thought I just saw actually happened. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t do the same.

Willman’s brand of smart magic is a multi-dimensional social experiment in that you don’t see the trick coming and you aren’t prepared when he turns the table on you and his participants to top it.

Like its predecessor, season two of “Magic for Humans” consists of six 23-minute episodes, and opens with Willman explaining each episode’s theme. “Real people, real magic, no camera tricks,” he says, then we’re off to various LA-area locales where anyone he encounters is a potential participant.

Season 2’s sixth episode is titled “Time is Relative” and features a must-see moment where Willman, with his wife and new baby, visits his parents and films a scene with his mother, who is in the early stage of Alzheimer’s. It’s one of the most beautifully conceived and executed slices of real life that I’ve seen on television.

I caught up with Willman not to ask how he does it but to hopefully find out how he thinks.

“I feel like people are craving mind blowing stuff,” Willman said during an interview. “We’re inundated with amazing technology and so much stimulation, when something happens in front our faces that we can’t comprehend, it kind of brings us joy and shakes up our world a little bit and it makes you feel good. I feel good being able to do that for people.”

The Maine Edge: How did you first explain your “Magic for Humans” concept to Netflix or did they come looking for you?

Willman: I approached them. They didn’t have any original magic-related programming, but they were open to it. I didn’t want to do a magic show just for magic’s sake. I wanted to do a show that was more about the people than the magic, and kind of peel back the layers of the onion and learn a bit about the human experience.

The Maine Edge: I love the scene in the park with four bystanders. You explain that you’re doing a TV magic show and then you tell them TV magic is fake and that you want to film their reactions of feigned surprise. They each have a go at pretending but they’re obviously faking it. You turn the tables on them by making yourself disappear in front of them which allowed us to see their genuine surprise for comparison’s sake.

Willman: That was one of my favorite bits to do. Magicians, especially in this era, deal with skeptics. That’s always been a natural part of magic. The internet kind of fuels people who want to believe you’re not legit. We live in an era of fake this, fake that, fake news - fake everything. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. Magic is a difficult art form and a lot of work goes into it. If I do a trick and a viewer thinks “that had to be special effects,” I should take it as a compliment that my sleight of hand is good enough that they think there must be something else going on. So I wanted to acknowledge that and do a little experiment and see what magic would look like if I said it was totally faked. Would you be able to tell that someone was faking it? And then contrast that with the same person that is truly having their mind blown. I love kind of turning the tables like that.

The Maine Edge: I really don’t want to know how you do it because I like a little mystery, but you sort of reveal how a few tricks were accomplished before you flip it on us. Why did you decide to do that?

Willman: For the reason you just mentioned. Sometimes I like to come with a different way of how I might do a trick for the purpose of revealing it to you. If you know the work that goes into pulling off the trick, you kind of appreciate it more, and maybe learn “Oh man, maybe it’s better not to know.” You don’t realize until I show you that you might feel a little bit dirty when you know how it’s done. You don’t know you don’t want to know until after you know it.

The Maine Edge: What do you like most about doing each episode of “Magic for Humans?”

Willman: What I love about “Magic for Humans” is that it’s not a divisive show, it’s not there to remind you of the topical news of the day, it’s pure escapism. A lot of comedy today mines laughs at the expense of some entity you disagree with, but this show strives to pull people together instead of push them apart, and it makes you feel good.

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 December 2019 06:49


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