Jeff McBride: Magic Come to Life (interview)

Jeff McBride with one of his iconic masks.

Jeff McBride with one of his iconic masks.

Have you ever watched Jeff McBride walk into a room at a convention or lecture? The crowd stops what they are doing and everyone turns in his direction. The air shifts. The phrase, “That’s Jeff McBride,” echoes from wall to wall.

There are very few people that command such a reaction. That’s because Jeff knows what magic is. He has defined it for himself, and retells the story with every trick he performs. He lives magic. Breathes it. Jeff understands magic so deeply and thoroughly, he is able to teach it and perform it for those who need it most.

I have always felt that if magic were to come to life, it would look a lot like Jeff McBride. And act like him too. The physical manifestation of what we call “magic,” would walk the earth spreading demonstrations of the wonderful everywhere it goes, just as Jeff does.

Jeff can recognize magic in others too, and assemble fellow teachers who inspire future generations with their specific skills. Take for instance: a 24-hour video stream featuring expert guidance from a broad collection of professionals. Watch the live broadcast every Monday night, and interact with fellow magicians in the chat.

“Each week, the teachers, and the faculty and friends of McBride’s Magic & Mystery School, bring you the very best of news, product reviews, and inside advice and wisdom,” Jeff said in one of his promos. Watch here!

Jeff also shares a lot of insight on his Jeff McBlog.” He takes his experiences and sums them up in helpful, fun to read articles. For example, in “The Secret Ingredient for a Successful Magic Show,” part of,The Biggest Danger to Showbiz in Las Vegas,” Jeff reveals a key ingredient many magic shows lack.

Over the weekend, between his attending the IBM convention in Phoenix and shooting Masters of Illusion in Hollywood, I got to chat with Jeff McBride about “real” magic, social media, and his upcoming show and lecture in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Here’s my interview:

Aaron Smith: I love the idea of your Commando Act: a show you can perform anywhere, for anyone, regardless of the conditions. I first heard about it in the 90’s from a set of your lecture notes Tobias Beckwith sent me. Has your view of the commando act changed over the years?

Jeff McBride: The commando act has evolved over the years and actually gets smaller as years go by. My new commando act fits inside of an eyeglass case and contains all my emergency props and essential magic effects: my McGrip Tip from ZOOM BOUNCE & FLY so I can scale cards for my finale, Butterfly Blizzard, and sponge balls for my “BRAVO” routine.

At any venue I can pick up a bucket for my coin routine and a few bowls for my water bowl routine. I always travel with a few packs of cards. With just these few items inside an eyeglass case, I can perform anytime, anywhere for audiences of 5000 people.

SMITH: Has social media opened the doors for performers to network with other magicians in a positive way, or are there negative effects we might see down the road?

McBRIDE: Social media is a blessing. It really connects people and hopefully it will lead to lifetime interaction and personal encounters.

Meet Jeff McBride in Tulsa, Oklahoma Thursday, July 25. Click here for details!

Meet Jeff McBride in Tulsa, Oklahoma Thursday, July 25.

The negative side of the modern computer age is the YouTube exposure phenomenon. It seems that any kid who has a few magic books can go on and openly expose other people’s magic to anyone surfing the web. I think this is sad and I’m doing all I can to create online magic venues and teaching areas with locked rooms that block the merely curious so only serious magicians have access. is my most recent continuing experiment in this area. We have over 200 hours of magic knowledge available to serious students of the art, but that’s the point. They must be serious students in order to attend our online classes and view our archives.

SMITH: You hear a lot of very strange metaphysical definitions of magic. What is magic when it becomes tangible, real? Forget magic as a concept, what is magic the thing?

McBRIDE: I was having this conversation with Lance Burton last week at the International Brotherhood of Magicians national convention, where he and I were hosting a magic seminar. Lance mentioned a few instances where he was performing for children at a Shriners burn center. These kids had not smiled in months because they were severely burned over 90% of their body. Yet, after watching Lance perform magic, these kids smiled, relaxed, and actually enjoy a moment of relief from their constant pain and agony. That is magic… real, tangible magic.

I also find magic is tangible when performing in unusual circumstances for people that rarely ever see magic, which is a very valuable experience for the magician as well as those experiencing the magic. In Las Vegas, magicians reward the over-privileged for their decadent behavior. These people don’t really need magic. They need rehab! The people that really need magic are the floor sweepers, chambermaids, and people in the service profession that have tedious jobs that need a little relief from their daily chores. That’s why I adopted my “magician 24/7” philosophy. I do magic anywhere, anytime for people I perceive need it the most.

SMITH: I find magic while observing nature, in science books and literature. Where do you find magic? How do you recognize what you’re seeing might eventually be part of your show?

McBRIDE: I travel to a lot of festivals, like Burning Man and our own Vegas Vortex Fire Festival. I also attend many conferences where I learn new tools for bringing people together and empowering people’s visions. I travel to many exotic locations studying ritual theater, dance, and how storytelling can transform people’s ways of interacting with each other and the world. These influences eventually fine modes of expression in my performances. Each month at our nightclub in Las Vegas called WONDERGROUND, I experiment and perform new works in progress that are influenced by my travels and experiences.

SMITH: Business aside, what is the ultimate price of free to young, aspiring magicians? Are we seeing an expansion of magic from bootlegged materials, or is it a setback? Take developing nations for instance, young people have access to magic materials for free they might never be able to buy due to sanctions. Is it all evil file sharing, or will some good come out of it eventually?

McBRIDE: I’m not sure I agree with all of this “free information” politics. I do know that many authors expended much effort and expense to create their books and videos, and to have them ripped off on the Internet for free distribution I think is unfair to the people that put all the sweat and toil into the creation.

The Internet is filled with gems and it is filled with garbage. I really feel that if magicians spent more time practicing their craft and performing for their immediate live audiences in their neighborhood and community it would serve them better than collecting massive files of information they hardly ever open, study, practice, and perform. I think the “free info advocates” spend much too much time on the Internet and not enough time practicing making magic for people who really need it.

SMITH: If you and one other person, past or present, were the only two magicians to ever walk the Earth, who would you want the other person to be and why?

McBRIDE: Eugene Burger. We get to travel all over the world and share our magic with serious magic students and we get to create amazing events here at our Magic and Mystery school in Las Vegas. Anyone who has met Eugene will know that he is a real wizard. Eugene has the ability to meet the magician exactly at his skill level and give him the advice and coaching they need to get their magic to the next level of excellence.

SMITH: You will be in Tulsa this Thursday, July 25th, performing a show for magicians and the general public, then a magicians-only lecture called “The Show Doctor.” I’ve heard seasoned professionals—one recently booked in Vegas—talk about how your lecture changed their life. What goes on in there?

McBRIDE: I will be in Tulsa this Thursday. It might be the only time I am ever in Tulsa. My tours and Vegas shows keep me so creatively engaged I rarely have time to get to the Midwest.

Yes, people say that my workshops are life-changing events. I think this is because I compress an amazing amount of information and life experience into just a few short hours. Workshops like this one in Tulsa, is where I meet friends and students I will know the rest of my life. It’s a first encounter. A potent encounter. Yes, I teach extraordinary magic effects, but more than that I teach the psychology, philosophy, business, and marketing. I explore Magic as theatrical art, not just as a form of entertainment.

Oddly enough, most of the people that attend my class are not professional magicians, but magic enthusiasts of all skill levels and age ranges. The thing we all have in common is to deepen our understanding of this fascinating art form.

My supersession workshop is just a taste of what awaits the serious student of magic when they come to our school in Las Vegas. Some magicians, for reasons outside their control, will never be able to travel to Las Vegas. So on this tour—on this one special day—I will bring the mystery school to you!

SMITH: Thank You for all the info, Jeff. As always, you have a very deep insight into magic.

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About Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith, owner of The Magic Depot, is a writer, illustrator, and magic creator. Follow Best Kept Secrets and The Magic Depot @magicdepot on Twitter.