Asheville: remembering Harry Anderson

7/16

My host in Asheville was Elizabeth Anderson, an old friend from the time I lived in New Orleans. I met her through her husband, Harry Anderson, who was my first magic teacher.

Yeah, that Harry Anderson. The judge from “Night Court”. But for Harry, being on TV was just a sideline. Above all, he was a magician. Harry passed away back in April, and Elizabeth was going through a rough time. We talked about what she’s been going through, and reminisced about Harry.

I came to Harry in 2005 seeking to change direction. I’d come into performing as an adult, doing sideshow, performing very real stunts like walking on broken glass and pounding nails up my nose. I was hooked on the thrill of live circus/variety performance but was tired of grossing people out. Magic seemed like the right direction to go in, and Harry ran a magic shop in the French Quarter. His wisecracking, nostalgic character on “Night Court” had been a huge inspiration to me as a kid, and I was almost too nervous to approach him. But as soon as he found out I did sideshow, he told me to follow him to the back room, tossed me a silver ball, and had me floating it within the hour. He told me to come by anytime for a magic lesson.

Harry taught me a lot of technique – the magic has to be airtight to go over with an audience – but the thing he talked about most was showmanship. Without character and presentation, there is no magic. The best advice he gave me was “Always play the show for children”. What if there were no kids there? Harry rolled his eyes. “Make the adults act like kids. And don’t be precious about it. Say ‘well you got your $15 worth!’ just to make them whine that the ticket was $20.”

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A high point of Harry’s career: biting the head off a guinea pig on Saturday Night Live

While Harry played for laughs, Elizabeth is a more mystical and elegant type. Her specialty is mentalism, and she curated oddities in the New Orleans shop. Their house is a cabinet of curiosities. She allowed me to peruse Harry’s book collection, tomes on magic and gambling and film noir. Even if I’d never met him, I’d still miss him.

I visited Asheville’s magic shop, Magic Central. The owner, Ricky Boone, has a rare bone disorder and uses a wheelchair, but it doesn’t stop him from telling terrible jokes. I bought some supplies and had a nice hour of shoptalk.

 

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At Magic Central with Ricky Boone. The backdrop came from the Andersons’ Sideshow shop in New Orleans.

And I caught a performance by Toybox, “America’s Favorite Cartoon Witch”, who tells dark and droll stories with puppets. Catch Toybox if he comes to your town – he mixes theatrical extremity and personal intimacy in a very original way.

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Toybox, America’s Favorite Cartoon Witch

 

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Atlanta: snakes in the suburbs

7/18

Entering Georgia, the radio is changing. Every other station seems to be a harangue mocking “mainstream media” for getting worked up about Trump’s solo meeting with Putin, or bemoaning Obama “spreading seeds of jihad”.

I bypassed Atlanta to stay with a former roommate from Brooklyn, Tiffany, in Douglasville, a faraway suburb. Tiff had moved back home to Georgia to be with family and raise her son. She’s a dedicated Christian, with framed psalms in her house, and as a believer in Jesus, she’s horrified by the Trump supporters surrounding her. I had noticed “Don’t Tread On Me” signs on numerous lawns, and realized that I’d reached the dreaded land of “the base”.

We caught up and I played with baby Jonah. Tiff warned me to be careful walking Stormy – the lawns in Douglasville were full of snakes. I had smelled something really pungent in the air, and that’s what it was. Snakes.

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With Tiff and baby Jonah

The show was at Circus School of Atlanta, which opened recently in an old church. The stage was the pulpit, with arched ceiling, stained glass, and candelabras. A beautiful place to play in, and wonderful circus folks to hang out with.

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Tim Mack, director of Circus School of Atlanta, prepares the stage

 

Savannah, GA

7/19

It wasn’t my first time playing the Jinx, a rock’n’roll dive oddly out of place in the heart of Savannah’s Spanish colonial tourist center. In the early 2000s, it was called Velvet Elvis, and I performed there with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. The place was filled to capacity with dedicated Cirkus fans in dirty clown costumes.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a crowd 15 years later. Though there’d been a feature in the weekly paper, and the Jinx had gotten calls about the show all day, a severe thunderstorm broke just before door time.

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From Connect Savannah

But at least I got to play on a stage decorated as the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks.

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After the show, I traded “betcha” tricks with the bartender. The storm let up, and I started on the 10-hour jump to New Orleans.

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NOTE: The tour went on for another month, but this is as far as I got with the blog. Will perhaps add more at some point…meanwhile, tune in for the 2019 tour blog.