Last January, Ben Earl showed off his dazzling sleight of hand with a deck of cards on Penn and Teller Fool Us, besting the LA magicians. Now he’s landed his own series on Channel 4 and is being touted as the new Dynamo. But is it all smoke and mirrors?
RadioTimes.com decided to ask the man himself…
(Scroll down for a sneak peak of the first show, in which Earl cons three ex-convicts.)
You’ve been billed as an illusionist, hustler and a master of deception. How do you describe yourself?
It’s something I’ve struggled with for years. I’m a guy that knows some cool stuff…I suppose I’m a magician more than anything else. The problem is that term conjures up images of Paul Daniel.
So we won’t be seeing any top hats or wands?
No. And if you do, it’s done with a huge splash of irony.
Do you mind being compared to Dynamo?
If people want to draw favorable comparisons, then that’s fine by me! But what we do is very, very different. It’s like comparing different forms of music: you wouldn’t compare a grunge band with a house band. But at the end of the day, he’s changed people’s perceptions of magic in a really positive way. That can only be a good thing.
How are you different? Like you he does both sleight of hand and bigger stunts…
We’re both playing around with sleight of hand but the way the effects are delivered – how we structure and perform them – are very different. He’s essentially just walking up to people on the street and doing random things. Whereas what I’m doing is designing specific effects to tie-in with the theme of each show and performing them in front of a live audience that’s been specially brought in.
Each of the four episodes has a separate theme: money, science, art and crime. All of the content is related to those themes. For example, in the crime show we did stuff in a prison with ex-prisoners, and tricks involving pick-pocketing and car theft.
At what age did you perform your first trick?
10 or 11. I got serious when I around the age of 12. I started to spend a huge amount of time studying sleight of hand. I used to study a lot of gambling, hustling and casino-cheating stuff – not so that I could cheat in casinos but because I thought the techniques were really interesting. Then I realised that a lot of those techniques can be used to make things appear and disappear in tricks. So I got into magic almost by accident through studying sleight of hand.
And the death-defying stunts came later?
Yes, I wasn’t doing those on my own at home, as much as I would have loved to do that to annoy my parents! No, they came as a natural outgrowth of doing the show. You need to have theatrical impact at the end of a show – to ratchet it up.
Even when climbing out the window of a moving car, you seem impressively calm. Are you petrified inside?
Petrified isn’t the word. When you’ve a highly trained stunt team confident you can pull it off, it fills you with confidence. But you’re definitely in a heightened state of awareness. What I can’t do is enjoy it too much – I can’t get giddy – because I have to remember to perform at the critical moment.
Your first TV appearance was on Penn and Teller’s show. Will you be revealing your secrets as they do?
Not really. Some of the effects you can literally see what’s going on and it doesn’t matter because it’s impressive anyway. But I wouldn’t say there’s any revelation. To me, the “how” is less interesting than “why”. I’m trying to do stuff that makes you think: “I wonder where that idea came from?” or “isn’t that cool?”
Ben Earl: Trick Artist begins on Friday 26 April on C4 at 9.00pm