Justin Willman, talented magician and host of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, is set to perform at The Wilbur Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7:00 p.m. Willman is bringing his “Tricked Out Tour” to town, offering fans a wildly entertaining evening of laughs and trickery that will leave audiences’ minds blown. If you’re expecting him to pull small animals out of outerwear, however, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
“I feel like a lot of the magicians I saw when I was a kid that made me want to be a magician are people like Lance Burton and David Copperfield and Harry Blackstone, Jr.,” Willman tells the Boston Comedy Scene Examiner. “When you’re a kid, you look past the tacky outfits and cheesiness, because you’re just mesmerized by the magic. But that’s a cliché and a stereotype that I think I’ve always been fighting with since I’ve been an adult – people kind of think of that, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just what people think of; they think of a guy in a tuxedo or a creepy dude in all leather.”
Willman aims to bring out the funny side of things in his live show, tying his tricks and illusions together in a comedic way that, ultimately, brings the concept of magic out of the entertainment dark ages.
“I feel like what I enjoy doing is introducing people to a side of magic that they didn’t really know existed – which is focusing on the fun, tongue-in-cheek, entertaining and funny. I want to show people the funny side of magic. And that’s kind of my mission,” Willman states. “That’s the thing – love it or hate it, people have an idea of what a magician should be in their mind and I kind of like changing people’s minds. A lot of times I’ll have people come up to me after the show and tell me, ‘Yo, I hate magicians but I loved your show!’ And that’s one of my favorite responses, you know, because I don’t want to be catering to just magic lovers, I want to have a broad audience of people who want a good night of entertainment and comedy and have their minds blown along the way.”
After growing up in Missouri, Willman attended Emerson College in Boston after further investigating the school that one of his childhood heroes once spoke so highly about.
“I did indeed [go to Emerson]. I’m from St. Louis, MO, originally, and I’d never even been to Boston. Obviously, growing up you hear, ‘Oh, Boston’s the city you go to college in,’, but when I was a kid I was obsessed with the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, Leno – it was my childhood dream to one day host the Tonight Show or be on the Tonight Show,” Willman tells the BCSE. “So Leno, I read his autobiography when I was about thirteen years old – he mentions Emerson College in there, so, when you’re looking for colleges and you don’t know where to start, I was like, ‘Oh yeah! Emerson College – I heard that was a cool place, maybe that’d be a good place for me.’ So I checked it out and fell in love with it. It was the perfect match of an artsy school that lets you pursue your passion on the side – I was able to be a full time magician on the side and be a student during the week and still get good grades. They kind of welcome your own individual aspirations. It was the perfect match for me.”
After graduating from Emerson with a degree in journalism, Willman took the plunge and pursued magic full-time. He moved to Los Angeles where he performed for several private events and eventually met a group of magicians called “Magic X,” and who were putting together a television show at the time. In 2004, NBC aired “T.H.E.M.” (Totally Hidden Extreme Magic) which hosted nine members of Magic X, including Justin Willman and Japanese magician celebrity Cyril Takayama.
Soon after, Willman began to tour colleges and stadiums with his act across the nation. In 2011, he created “Justin Willman’s Magic Meltdown,” performed at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood and can be seen online.
Justin’s one-man comedy and magic show has earned him the vote four years in a row as “Entertainer of the Year” by Campus Activities Magazine, and he’s toured internationally and appeared in various TV productions, including the “Food Network” series “Cupcake Wars,” “Last Cake Standing,” “HubWorld” and “Scrabble Showdown” on the Hub Network. Willman is also well-known as the witty correspondent on the Rachael Ray talk show where he has made over 20 appearances.
“I’m kind of the cupcake guy. When I’m going through the airport, people say ‘Oh look, it’s the cupcake guy!’ which I’ll take – I’m happy to be recognized for anything, really. About five or six years ago, I started to branch off from magic into also doing some hosting, because why not? I went to college for journalism; it’s a fun scene. Cupcake Wars is just one of those auditions that comes along; you know, when you’re living in L.A. you go on a hundred auditions a year and you don’t get all of them. You don’t get 99 of them, most of the time. Cupcake Wars is randomly one that I ended up getting, and here we are eight seasons later, 101 episodes later – no one knew it would last this long but it’s been great. What I love about it; as long as people kind of get to the point where they kind of recognize my face, even though I’m known on TV, they don’t know me as a magician. What they don’t know is that I’m a magician first, and a host and all that other crap second. But it’s just nice having people come to the show because of that. It puts more people in the seats and I’m grateful for it.”
There’s truly magic in the air this year, as much-loved comedic magician The Amazing Johnathan has recently ended a thirteen-year run in Las Vegas and is going on his first tour in as much time. The BCSE asked Willman how he felt about the well-known magician getting back out there again.
“I’ve always loved the Amazing Johnathan and he’s definitely influenced me in certain ways. Like him, I like to go for the laugh first in my show, and then amaze them second. With Amazing Johnathan, obviously the whole joke is that very often don’t work out. Somewhere between David Copperfield and Amazing Johnathan is me, where yeah, you get a lot of big laughs along the way, but the trick also works out and people’s minds are blown,” Willman describes. “I think him going back on the road will just be great for people to have magic in the forefront of their mind and think of it as something they can actually go see and buy tickets to and have a great night out. And they don’t have to go to Vegas to do it – I think it’s a great thing.”
So what exactly can magic (and comedy) fans expect on the Tricked Out Tour?
“My full show – it’s called Tricked Out – kind of goes all over the place. There’s a lot of mind-reading, crazy psychic coincidence stuff that happens in the show, but I’m kind of the first to admit that I have no psychic powers. It is all a trick. Even though I tell people that what they’re about to see is a total trick, it’s not real, after the show people come up to me like, ‘Oh wow, I know you have to say that, but it’s amazing you have those powers.’”
Tickets are available now for Justin Willman’s Tricked Out Tour on Saturday, Feb. 9 at The Wilbur Theatre in Boston. Get yours today and add some magic into your life.