Brian Brushwood is something of an "alternative" magician. Attend his show and you might see a stomach turning bit he calls "The Human Twistey Straw," Brian hammering nails up his nose, or perhaps cutting off his own tongue. All this month he's performing at Universal Studios "Halloween Horror Nights" in Orlando, Florida, and I was pretty blown away by his show after attending it a few weeks back. Here's what happened when we tracked him down to toss a few questions his way.
The response to the freaky stuff blew away everything else I had done up to that point. I knew I was on to something.
Are you a big fan of horror films? Any favorites?
I like good horror movies, but can't seem to stomach mediocre or predictable ones… So unless a movie has a reputation for being outstanding, I probably won't catch it. As best I can tell, the pinnacle of horror cinema was reached with the original "Exorcist," and has never been reached again (with the exception of the re-release of the "Exorcist: the version you've never seen", which actually is better than the original, IMHO).
When/how did you first get involved with Magic?
Back in college I picked magic out of the blue as a hobby and way to meet people… I never, EVER thought I'd be actually doing it full time, much less touring across the nation.
When did your magic first take the darker/alternative turn that it shows today?
Back in college, I was doing a show for some friends, showcasing all this knucklebusting hardcore slight of hand card manipulations, and then ended with the old sideshow stunt "the human blockhead" (hammering a nail up the nose). The response to the freaky stuff blew away everything else I had done up to that point. I knew I was on to something.
What kind of audiences do you enjoy performing in front of the most?
My pat answer has always been "colleges," since I spend most of the year touring college campuses… but I may have to revise that answer. I've REALLY enjoyed my experiences with "Halloween Horror Nights" so far. There are heavy time constraints, so I have to keep things moving a little faster than I'd like, but the responses from the audiences have been stellar.
You do a bit about performing at a magic convention (the joke about magicians being virgins), and seemed to try and differentiate yourself from the traditional magic circle... can you elaborate on that story?
Yeah, that story's actually not a lie: I really did enter a magic contest, and performed the Mr. Happypants routine for the first time in front of a bunch of magicians, and really did insult the lot of them. And (surprise!) I really did lose the contest. But it was sooooo worth it.
I also loved the Mr. Happy Pants bit, what was your original inspiration for that?
Mr. Happypants originally started out just being mean, with me making an angry voice and waving the puppet around, so it never played as big as I liked. It wasn't until I hit upon making him really, really evil that the routine became hilarious to me. Of course, the pendulum then swung too far in that direction, too… with Mr. H directly "calling upon our dark lord…" and making overt religious references, which didn't play too well at some of the conservative colleges. So now, he's vaguely evil, making no obvious statements connected to any established religions.
Ever been inured during your act?
Oh, sure: everything in the show has taken a little bite out of me. Burned lips from the fire eating, scars down my arm from breaking bricks over my head, nosebleeds from roughing up the tender inner bits of my sinus cavities… but these are all managed risks. I used to eat glass lightbulbs in the show, but they were stripping the sealants off my teeth (and worse yet, ruining my ability to enjoy eating chips and salsa… the textures were just too similar), so I took the bit out.
So how did you get involved in "Halloween Horror Nights"?
I got a call from one of the producers (magician Michael Ammar), saying that he thought I'd be perfect and that he was going to pitch me to the folks at Universal… I didn't know much about "Halloween Horror Nights" at the time, but the more I heard, the better I felt about the match. Turns out to be a pretty amazing fit!
Can you tell us about your latest book, "Cheats, Cons, Swindles & Tricks: 57 Ways to Scam a Free Drink"?
This book is a collection of all my favorite bar bets, scams, and magic tricks. They're all tricks that at the very least will get people talking and break the ice, and most likely guarantee that you won't have to pay for any of your own drinks. We just revised and expanded it with 8 new scams (making the title even less accurate), and are currently working on a video series based on the book.
You mention that you have a wife and family, is it hard to balance that with the life of a performer?
Around this time of year, yes… I'm only getting 3 days with my family this month. But the rest of the year is pretty sweet: at least a week at home with the family for every week on the road. And the nice part is that when I'm home, I'm all the way home, able to be super-dad.
As a Magician, do you have an ultimate goal? Something you've always aspired to?
I guess it's a good thing, but it seems like I'm running out of ultimate goals to aspire to: at first it was just to make a living doing something I love, then it was to have a major TV appearance (I've now had a dozen, including the Tonight Show), and now it's to get my show to much larger audiences… which seems to be happening at HHN (over the course of just this month, over 100,000 people will see my show live, which I found pretty staggering). We're starting to work towards more large-scale TV projects, so I guess there's always something more interesting to work for around the corner…
Finally, any advice for aspiring magicians?
Have a written plan for your development. Post it where you'll see it every day. Get out there and perform for real people… people who won't just humor you, but give you real feedback (both positive and negative). Find your own voice… don't just try to be like someone else. And pay attention to your grooming.
Thanks for stopping by.