“Even other magicians say you are Colorado’s best magician. What did you do to become so well-known?”

This (entertainment-related) question is from someone who responded to Professor Phelyx on Social Media during his “Ask Me Anything” posts.
Colorado's Best Magician, Professor Phelyx performing up close magic at the Clocktower Cabaret
Photo by Dave Wood Photography

Known as Colorado’s Best Magician

When someone asks how you become Colorado’s Best Magician, my instinctive answer is to respond with “Aw shucks” or give you the “canned” response, “I’m just getting warmed up.” However, I have spent a little time thinking about it and, Wow, I have done some fun stuff! Sometimes I feel lucky but I can never forget how hard I have worked to get to do this as my career. The lean times have been blues-worthy, and there have been a lot of those.

I do recognize that this question is a patent ploy to wring me dry of my trade secrets. I promised to answer, however, and a promise is a promise. Back-engineering my process is more than a little complicated. This is primarily because I didn’t go into this with any kind of plan.

TLDR? Skip to the final four words of my explanation.

One of Colorado’s Best Magicians

I believe I have a responsibility to state that the title of “Colorado’s Best Magician” would rightly be measured by several metrics that I couldn’t possibly measure up to. However, that was never my goal. I always had the desire and drive to be a great entertainer and it will always be a work in progress. Colorado can loudly brag about many truly amazing magicians who live in or are from my home state. Eric Mead, Doc Eason, and Derek DelGaudio are just three names that pop into my head but there are several others too!

Writing this will help me remember Eureka moments and I hope they develop into a reasonable answer. If I fail you here, please feel free to ask me again.

A Professional Magician at a Young Age

I have lived in Colorado my entire life and have practiced and performed magic since I was eight. I got my first paying gig to perform for a Cub Scout banquet in 1981. I was ten, not very good, and it was an addictive thrill.

From the mid through the late 1980s, I performed as a busker on Pearl Street Mall in Boulder during its notorious heydays for street performers. At the time, it was truly one of the World’s most famous stages. I enjoyed the tutelage (and protection) of many remarkable pros like the late, great sword swallower, Johnny Fox who was also wonderfully skilled at magic and comedy on the highest levels. He could perform amazing feats but he was a true, to-the-bone audience-conscious entertainer.

Around the same time I worked for every one of the brick-and-mortar magic shops in the Denver area. I was at one of them so often they just handed me a time card, a schedule, and a key one day. 

I was sixteen.

This wasn’t my first job but it sure was the first one that I could really pour myself into. I feel safe enough to also mention that, because we also sold masks and make-up, October was always a lot less fun.

Unconventional Entertainment Business Education

I was too young to drink, of course, but in those days, all I needed to perform in the bars was a note from my parents. I claim no recollection of always possessing such a thing but I did (most often) have my parent’s support.

My early years performing in bars introduced me to the local community of musicians and that experience progressively altered my course. They created art and constantly schemed how to get it in front of audiences.

Entertainment as a business was still a new concept for me. Frankly, none of the magicians I knew demonstrated any sustainable sense of it. However, my musical mentors were relentlessly dedicated to booking gigs and building followings. 

This was a hustle lifestyle that also possessed the appeal of nightlife. I got heavily involved in the industry because I was also fairly skilled as a visual artist. 

I spent my daytimes creating posters and album covers and my nights absorbing new-to-me applications of showpersonship including crowd-work and improvisation. I opened for many of them so I also got an intimate, hands-on share of loading gear and touring in a smelly, crammed-full van that unpromisingly limped us through chains of unrelated rural roadhouses.

I performed in a lot of biker bars. It was a real test for a thin, bespectacled kid to charm those folks who laughed at just the sight of me. This often felt downright masochistic but my skills did improve very quickly.

You wanna get good, kid? Go perform in a joint where you’ll feel like your life depends on it.

Learning about showbiz from folks who got to perform for audiences at least two nights per week felt like the right place for me to spend some quality time. The education was better than any school could offer and it was a lot cheaper.

It had some other perks too. 

Sleep was not one of them.

Genuinely Unique Entertainer

Eventually, I realized that it was time for me to apply my strengths as a visual artist to what I can do as a magician to create something unique. In magic, there are too many copycats. Those folks seem like second-rate cover bands to me.

I am an artist.

I wanted to create something unique.

I have been fond of vintage clothing and 1930s style since I was a teenager. It made perfect sense for those tastes to become part of my on-stage character; which is just an amplified but authentic me. I built sets, props, costumes, and marketing collateral for other acts so why wouldn’t I create my own?

My work in the music industry earned me a toolkit that other magicians and mentalists didn’t have. Not even the pros.

My Most Important Magic Secret

These experiences also made me recognize the value of a network of people navigating their lives OUTSIDE of the small communities of people who were in the same boat I was in. It is too comfortable and easy to stay surrounded by a community of people who understand us because they experience all of the same struggles and woes.

For someone like myself, that is a dangerous and suffocating “bucket of crabs”. With my goals, I cannot benefit from stagnation or “comfort”. This developed into a kind of vocational thrill-seeking.

When I had requests that felt a little outside my comfort zone, I said yes before I had time to process them. I can’t calculate how many times I have turned away from a conversation while wondering what in the world I just agreed to. 

One can’t just elbow oneself and ask through gritted teeth, What have you just done‽ Part of me wanted to do that but the rest of me was thrilled about the exciting challenges and what could come when (not if) I solved them.

I am the type to try to settle my nerves with the mantra, “I’ll figure it out” and jump in with both feet, eyes wide open. For years, if a request didn’t make me at least a little afraid to say, yes, it was probably a no.

Colorado's Best Magician, Professor Phelyx backstage at the Clocktower Cabaret
Photo by CJ Draper

One Big Show Leads to Another

Performing in Burlesque as a variety act was a huge part of what helped me become more well-known in Denver. I stood out because I was brave enough to “work clean” in famously bawdy shows. Being a magician for adults was still a relatively uncommon and unheard of thing twenty years ago but these shows did get me noticed, so I stayed for 13 years.

That notoriety and my growing network helped me land starring roles in large stage productions like “A Gothic Folktale” with Wonderbound Dance and Jesse Manley and “PERCEPTION” at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts with Tom Hagerman. I became the only Denver magician starring in full-scale, professional theatrical productions.

Those roles helped me earn artist residencies at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, Rise Comedy, and Stanley Hotel. I opened for Jane’s Addiction and became recognized as Leon Redbone’s only official support act (I sure miss him). I even played myself in a sitcom and performed in a Circus!

A National Act

It also helps that, while I am collaborating on theatrical experiments, I am constantly traveling to perform as a corporate event entertainer all over the country and to appear in Las Vegas variety shows. Providing event magic is still a great passion of mine. At least annually, I also ensure that some wild thing I am up to earns some ink [is reported by a journalist]. 

As I write, I am thinking about an engagement I have scheduled in three weeks where I am to perform for an in-person crowd of 5,000 people at Levitt Pavilion. Honestly, this gig was a challenge from a famous musician friend. Yes was my immediate answer. After all, this is yet another gig that is a satisfying contrast to that old Cub Scout show and it includes some exciting challenges.

Magic Gave Me Permission

In my experience, magic is a strange and wonderful equalizer. Being a magician has (forgive me for this one) magically allowed me to confidently go through doors that most folks are turned away from. It has given me a seat at tables to dine with royalty and I have made friends and peers of many of my heroes.

A few of those old bands I once worked with became very famous. I took mental notes and can honestly tell you that I knew “it” would happen for them. Work ethic, talent, skill, tenacity, and genuine authenticity paid off for them and I am grateful for having witnessed the process. I knew them when, and now, when I catch a glimpse of them on the covers of magazines, in movies, on television, and on the radio, you can bet I celebrate their success!

You must know that retrospection has made me realize that none of my wonderfully amazing experiences were about being able to perform a great trick. None of the sleight of hand, smoke-and-mirrors, fancy props, beautiful costumes, attractive marketing, media coverage, cunning deceptions, or having my name in lights did the greatest work for me.

Any of the successes I’ve enjoyed haven’t been about tricks; when we explore the root of it. The skill of baffling tricks has just been a vehicle. They’re amazing, sure, I designed them to be, but they are simply instruments like a piano or a guitar. The routines I perform are like songs that I always sing from my heart, and that was my most important lesson. Authenticity.

Yes. I did get remarkably good at what I do. I had to.

With thoughtful consideration of all of the great entertainers I admire, I also had to relentlessly prove, mostly to myself, that I deserved to keep going. That said, I discovered that being a magician has always been a weird badge that allowed me to purely and unapologetically be courageous.

Be authentic. Be courageous.

Professor Phelyx | Denver's Best Corporate Mentalist Magician for Corporate and College Entertainment

I am truly looking forward to amazing you!

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