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.”
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.
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.