What do you do when over 150 people show up to your first performance? Listen now to find out how Josh handled a "small" show that got big, fast.
Josh is currently living in Montreal. Although he has only been performing since he was 18, he has taken the world of magic by storm. He has performed for the likes of Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney, Kenan Thompson, Bo Burnham, and Wilmer Valderrama. In addition to performing, Josh's magical wizardry has been featured in issues of Genii, Magic, Linking Ring, Reel Magic, Magicseen, and Penguin Magic Monthly magazines—six of the industry's leading magic publications. He also writes the popular "Show on the Go" column in VANISH Magazine.
Kray Mitchell Welcome to the illusionary podcast everybody. My next guest has performed for the likes of Jim Gaffigan, Bo Burnham and Wilmer Valderrama. He's been featured in Genie Magazine, The Linking Ring, and Real Magic, and he writes the popular show on the go in Vanish Magazine. Please welcome Josh Janousky. Josh, welcome to the show.
Josh: Hey, thank you so much for having me.
Kray: Thank you very much for coming. It's a great honor. I met you on Instagram there. I've been following some of your stuff, and I am trying to learn one of your tricks, but my slights are still a little bit off. So, I'm working on it.
Josh: We'll talk after. We'll talk after.
Kray: Sounds good.
So, let's get started here. How long have you been performing your magical arts?
Josh: It's going to be 10 years this upcoming year.
Kray: Oh wow. So, a full decade.
Josh: Yeah, it's about to be 10 years.
Kray: So, what got you into magic in the first place? What was that starter fire?
Josh: I originally, before I was a magician, I was a musician. So, my senior year of high school, we had a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a band competition. There were two bands. There was a lower level band and . When the lower level band was performing in the competition, dance band, we got to walk around the city. There was a magic shop there and I just spent my entire time in this magic shop. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
Seeing the things that people were doing just blew me away. So, I bought two tricks, but the moment that really got me was I was asking the guy at the counter if he had a business card, and he just pulled it out of thin air and that just blew my mind. I was like, "I have no idea how that was done." I understood the tricks that I bought because he showed me them, but how did you pull out that card? How did you know? You didn't know I was going to ask for one and it really messed with me.
So, I spent months trying to figure out how it was done and then I eventually found this one website. Looking back at it now, was super ghetto. It's just some guy teaching tricks that weren't his, out of his garage, but it lead me to find Penguin Magic and I they had a forum back in the day. So, I joined the forum and one of my best friends, I met him through the forum, Jeff Prace. They were able to point me in the right direction of legitimate magic things to start looking into. So, that's sort of how it all happened. It was just the card production blew me away and I was like, that's it. That's magic. He's a wizard. I must learn this.
Kray: Absolutely. I remember because I got into magic, the first time around when I was a kid and I had the same kind of effect. I can't remember if it was David Copperfield, or Penn and Teller, but we were watching one of the TV shows and it just blew my mind, and my dad went and got me a little magic kit from a local shop that's no longer around.
It's awesome that you went into a magic shop to learn about magic because a lot of people don't get to experience magic that way these days, because they're just not around anymore.
Josh: Exactly. Yeah, no, it was a really exciting feeling for me to go into this place that sold magic. That was a foreign concept to me at the time.
Kray: Absolutely. I was lucky enough, I was down in New York recently and I stopped by Fantasma Magic, also the Harry Houdini Museum, and I probably spent a good hour in there. It totally brought me back to my childhood and just got to play around and all the Harry Houdini stuff, it was just absolutely amazing.
So, during those early times, did you have any ... Who were your influences? Who were the people that you looked up to and the tricks that you were doing when you started out there?
Josh: There's probably four people who were the big ones when I first got started. Justin Willman was for sure the hugest influence because he was the reason, I want to learn more magic. When I started getting into magic, I saw a lot of his clips back when he was Justin Credible on the Rachel Ray show. I was like, "That's really cool." Because in my mind, I really didn't know much at the time, how different magicians performed. So, I had the Criss Angel, David Blaine thing in my head and then here was a guy who was funny, but not funny in a way that it's like, "Oh, he's a stand up comedian who happens to do magic." But his magic was funny and fun. I was like, "Oh, that was really cool."
So, he was definitely an influence. The other ones were Jay Sankey, Greg Wilson and Wayne Houchin. I think when I first got into magic, I got everything of theirs that I could grab my hands on, and I was just like, "This is the coolest stuff ever." What was nice is the first two DVD's I got were "On The Spot" and "Anytime, Anywhere." And what I liked about them was the fact that they weren't card tricks.
So, I was able to do stuff with things around me, and I thought that was really cool because in my head, if I was a real wizard, I could do stuff with anything. I didn't have to be like, "Here, look let me pull out my special pen and these cards, and this flip book that I have on me for some strange reason." So, it was exciting to learn these other things and that really is what bit me with the magic bug.
Kray: Awesome. Now, do you remember your first performance? So, you did all the learning. Do you remember the first time you actually performed for somebody that wasn't your parents, or like your friends?
Josh: My first show was at my local library and it was funny because it was supposed to be ... I think it was supposed to be 20 people max between the two shows. There was going to be two shows. I was going to do a kids show, and that was including parents. So, I was like, "Okay, this will be fun."
For whatever reason, and they didn't advertise that I was performing that weekend. So, it wasn't like people knew. Everyone just happened to be at the library that weekend, and I think between the two shows, it was like 175 people. For my first performance, I was just like, "What is going on?" I was not mentally prepared because in my head I was like, "20 people max. This will be great. Five kids each show, the parents, I got this."
To have nearly 200 people split between the two shows, I was like, "What on Earth is happening?" It was great though, I had so much fun doing it, and it really helped me just go out right away and just start performing for a large group, and better get used to that because you don't know if your audience is going to be big or small. You have to be prepared for either one.
Kray: Absolutely. I think that's a great way to get over that fear of performing in front of people. Go big or go home.
Josh: Exactly. Yeah, there was no way that I could just hide behind stuff because I'm like, "There's a lot of people." Especially, considering it was my first time performing. So, it wasn't even like I have a frame of reference. This was it.
Kray: That'd be a hell of a way to start performing for sure. You got something in mind and then all of a sudden there's just so many people, but yeah. Especially to have that many people come up to a library? That makes me feel happy. Not enough people are going to libraries, but I love what they're doing to try and get more people into libraries.
I believe it's the Edmonton library, they're turning it into a maker's space, so they've got 3D printers and stuff like that to try and bring in more people. Like, "Here's a bunch of books on maker's stuff. Here's a bunch of maker's stuff. Come into the library and use it." I think that's-
Josh: That's awesome.
Kray: They need a little magic station. You go in and-
Josh: They do. That'd be very cool. That'd be very cool.
Kray: Yes. I'd love to ... Actually, I can't remember the guy's name, but he's putting on a workshop of using Arduino computers to make magic with.
Yes. Yes, and I really want to take it, just can't right now. Hoping he offers it again.
Josh: You should. I was talking with him a couple months ago because we were at a convention together, and I love Mario. This was actually our third convention in a row. Which is really weird because it just happened to be, we worked for the same places, so I've gotten to know him and his wife really well. The stuff he does is so cool.
I've seen his lecture three times and every time I'm just like, "Oh this is so exciting." So, very cool stuff.
Kray: Yes. That's really what got me back into magic was the excitement of it and actually, funny enough, you had mentioned Justin Willman. Magic For Humans is what got me back into it again. After watching that, I'm like, "Okay, you know what? It's been long enough. I'm getting back into magic." That's it. I need to make people smile again.
You've started out with hundreds of people at your first show. From that, did you develop any kind of pre-show rituals, or do you have any pre-show rituals that you do now that help you prepare, or do you just gung-ho go for it.
Josh: Yeah, for the longest time my pre-show ritual was to be very nervous before going out there. I was just like, "Ah, I hope this goes well." And it was like that, honestly for the longest time. Even though I had done a lot of stuff, I would perform. I went to UCF, which is the largest university in the US, and I would perform once a month at this big event that they have. So, I would be performing for hundreds of people doing closeup and even though I was comfortable doing that, I would still get nervous before every show.
It wasn't until I started doing restaurant magic that I finally, sort of like, I was good. Just because the restaurant, having to perform for so many people in such a short amount of time, and having the possibility that they'll reject you and just say "No. I don't want to see this." It kind of got me over the fear of, "Oh gosh, I'm about to perform." Now, I'm just like, "Okay, they say no? Move onto the next table." So, you can't really have that because you can't be anxious going up to each table.
Also, in general there was a convention I went to in Atlanta a couple years ago that Justin Flom was performing at. He did a little talk afterwards and something he had mentioned, which really stuck with me is, someone asked him, "Do you ever get nervous before shows?" And he said that he has an entire show that he keeps in his wallet, and that way he knows that no matter where he's at ... even if he lost all of his luggage, he has a full show that he can do just out of his wallet, and that made him feel more comfortable. He felt more relaxed because he knew he's always going to have his wallet with him.
That stuck with me because since I do a lot of money magic, I have a lot of magic in my wallet and I could do a full show out of my wallet. So, between having that little piece of advice stuck in my head and then the performing in the restaurants, now my pre-show really is to just make sure I have everything on me.
Kray: Always an important thing. Having a good plan B, or having something that you can fall back on ... something improvisational as well, can ... I think people, as long as it's not completely, never been practiced and just completely bail it, it's still going to be impressive.
I've been watching Wizard Wars lately. I finally found where to get that, and they cover that a lot. Like, being able to perform with stuff that they've never performed with before and such a small period of time. The judges are always saying, "We saw this, and we saw that, but it really doesn't matter because you went for it and you put it in, so people are very forgiving when you entertain them and you still screw up a little bit."
Josh: Yes. Definitely, and also ... Wizard Wars, I miss that show so much. It was so good. I was supposed to be on it twice which is why it kills me every time I think about the fact that it's not on anymore. It was such a good thing and I wish there were more shows like that. Fool Us is obviously fantastic and Masters of Illusion, but there was just something about Wizard Wars that was just so cool and so different.
Kray: Yeah, that's what I really like about it. Yeah, fingers crossed. You never know because things go viral online and all of a sudden Netflix brings it back.
Josh: That's true. That's true.
Kray: And they're doing more magic stuff, so what's that ... Death By Magic?
Josh: Yes, Death By Magic by DMC, and speaking of Magic For Humans that just got announced for a second season as well, which is very exciting.
Kray: Yeah, so hopefully we'll see more. They're getting renewed, so bring them back ...
So, from all these amazing people that you've seen over your career that have inspired you, is there any tricks or performances from others that you've seen that really stuck in your mind, and are really like, "This is one of the most amazing shows I've ever seen."
Josh: Yeah, for me the three best shows I've ever seen ... and this is not in order because they all have moments that I like, but would be Wayne Houchins, Penn and Teller, and David Blaine.
David Blaine's show, hands down is probably one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life. Not just magic. Watching it, and I've seen it twice now, is just so surreal because it feels like you're watching a Houdini kind of deal. The stuff he does ... because the stuff he does, a lot of it is very legitimate, there's a different feeling to watching it because it's not like, "Oh, okay this might mess up, but it's part of the show." There's that pressure of, "Oh my gosh, this might mess up."
It's crazy because in the show, I don't know if you've seen it or not, but he hasn't really ... there's not a lot in the show he does that you haven't seen already on his specials, but it's one thing to see it on the special, and it's another thing to be in the front row looking up and seeing it happen right in front of your eyes. So, that show for sure is mind blowing.
I saw Wayne's show. He came to Orlando to do a lecture and he did a show. That was absolutely incredible. It felt like what a magic show should be.
Then, the first time I saw Penn and Teller, Teller did his shadows routine which is one of my favorite routines, and then they did a routine that I will not spoil, but they essentially did paper balls over the head to the entire audience. I thought that was the coolest thing ever because even knowing how stuff works, the fact that the ending that they had ... blew me away.
Those three shows are probably some of the best ones I've ever seen, for sure.
Kray: Awesome. I've always wanted to see Penn and Teller live. I was actually down in Vegas a couple years ago and it was a last minute thing, like very shoestring budget and even the prices at the red ticket booths where everything's cheaper, I'm just like "I still want to eat tomorrow, so I'm going to skip the show."
Josh: Eating is good. Yeah, you do want to eat.
Kray: I can try to get $20 into $200, or $300, but I walked away with $40, so at least I doubled my money. I would actually love to go down and do a Vegas magic trip. Go down for a week and just watch as many shows because-
Josh: Oh yeah, for sure.
Kray: ... so many people performing down there.
So, now that I've heard about your favorite performances from others, do you have a favorite performace of a show that you've done, that you just remember and just be like, "This was my best show. If I could have recorded and sold this show, this would have been it."
Josh: Hmm. That's a good question. I guess it's a little bit harder for me to think about that because the majority stuff I do is strolling. For me, I'm very off-the-cuff improvisational kind of stuff. A lot of the jokes I have that I now use, I came up with them once, and it got a huge laugh, and like, "Oh, I got to hold on to that."
So, it would be a little bit harder for me to have that one show and recording because it's sort of like aspects of a bunch.
Kray: How about just a day, or a particular little mini performance?
Josh: Yeah, I guess there was one day where I was at the restaurant performing and I know a lot of magicians hate hecklers. I actually enjoy hecklers because I have a very snarky sense of humor that I normally don't get to use in my real life. So, when I get heckled, that comes out.
There was a table, it was a couple and the guy was like, not heckling in a mean way, but he was having comments. So, he'd say something and I would say something back. He would look at me and he's like, "Okay, game on." And so he would say something, I would say something and this is going on while I'm performing. The girlfriend was dying. She though this was the funniest thing she had ever seen.
At the end, the guy was like, "Dude, you are amazing. Holy crap. I did not expect to have this much fun." They gave me a huge tip. Turns out, he has a pretty successful Instagram page and he like posted about it. So, that was definitely one of the coolest ones. Just because for me, I finally got to share that sense of humor that normally I don't get to use, and he had a blast because it was fun for him to try ... It turned from heckling to a game, and I was like, "Okay. Who's going to win. This is so much fun, and wait, you're performing while you're doing this? This is nuts." If I had to choose one, I guess I would go with that one.
Kray: To be able to handle hecklers at all is a good thing, but to be able to flip them? Turn a heckler into a having fun-er is even better. That's an awesome one.
Obviously since you started doing magic, a lot of things have changed in magic. What's one thing that you've noticed since you've started that's changed in magic? For the good or for the bad.
Josh: Flap cards are all over the place now. I have a flap trick myself, but there's ... I feel like there was not that many that were being done when I first got into magic and now it's every other trick is a flap somehow. So, it's kind of fun when you watch a trailer because I feel like you're playing a game, "Is this a flap or not? Find out at the end of the video." So, that's definitely something, and I'm not saying it's a bad thing at all. Just because of the fact that there's a reason people are using it a lot. It is very visual, but I think it's going to be interesting to see what is the next method trend that will be coming out.
There's always trick trends. Where there was the year of the bill switches and then there was the year of the which hand gags, and year of the watch, and year of this. So, there's always that trend, but I feel like method trends isn't as common where everyone sort of focuses on the same methods. So, I'm interested to see what the next evolution of that is.
Kray: Absolutely. I would also love to take some of the new tricks back in time, just to see how somebody from back in the day would deal with seeing that type of trick performed in such a different way. Because when everything started back in the 1500s, 1800s, even the early 1900s, it's so much slight of hand, and to see a gimmick that just completely nullifies all their work. Just to see what they would do with that, I think could be simply amazing.
Josh: Oh, for sure. Definitely. I mean, even just going back with a smoke device. I think that would just completely break people back then. To just have smoke appearing out of your empty hands, or something. Just like, "What is going on?"
Yeah, I think so, I think so.
Kray: Oh man. That would make a whole reality show in and of itself.
Josh: That would be a great show. It would be very hard to film as you would have to use time travel, but other than that it would be a great show.
Kray: I think that'd be the most funnest show to ever do.
Do you have a favorite trick that you like to perform now?
Josh: Yeah, combination of stuff, there's definitely trends for me in what I like to do. Lately, I've been doing a lot more mentalism, casually, type of deal ... when I'm hanging out with friends, if we go to a bar or a club and someone's like, "Josh:, show me something."
So, I've been doing my own version of Witch Hand and Free Will. I just picked up a Turner watch which is now my everyday watch. I've been doing that. I love WikiTest. I do ... it's a lot of cell phone unlocking, kind of stuff like that. So, I've definitely been doing more mentalism casually. Which is also fun for me because when I perform professionally, most of the stuff I perform is my own, but I don't really have ... I own maybe like two or three things when it comes to mentalism. So, performing more mentalism has been interesting for me because it's sort been like getting migraines to start thinking, "Okay. What can I bring to this very impressive table, kind of deal." So, I have a few things in the works.
Kray: Yeah, there's some absolutely amazing mentalism these days. I remember back in the day I used to think mentalism was more like the mind readers and the gypsy balls and stuff like that, but it has come a long way.
I just got the Zandman Test. I've got Zodiac as well, and just the differences between the two of them are huge and can do so many awesome things. I love that Zandman I can just put in my back pocket and go around, but Zodiac I love the multi-stages of it, and just being able to blow people's minds.
I am trying to learn more of the mentalism things. I've actually been practicing with Loops and I'd like to do some of the invisible touches from that, and so ... Future stuff once I'm more comfortable with that, but I love what mentalism is becoming. Mentalism is more popular and actually, going back to the Wizard Wars when Spidey was on and Penn was making fun of him for it, he came back and just totally made it even better.
Josh: It's funny you mention Spidey because actually when we're done here, I'm heading over to Spidey's place to jam, and I love it when I go over there because since he does mentalism, he has all these cool things he shows me every time. I'm just like, "That's so cool. Wait, how does this work? Oh wow, I didn't realize that principle's a thing." So, it's always a lot of fun hanging out with him.
In a smaller town like I'm in, I know of two performing magicians out here, and I've been trying to find more. We're going to try to get together and go for a drink, but it's a pretty busy season right now. So, we're going to wait until after that, to hang out. I think being able to get together with other people and just bounce ideas and just play around and just chat, can be huge. Not only for learning, but coming up with new concepts.
"Oh my god, you just made me think of an awesome way I could do that."
Josh: 100%, yeah.
Kray: Being a tech guy myself, I think in very strange ways. On numerous occasions, not specifically in magic, but I've come up with very different ways to do things and people are always like, "Oh my God." So, I'd really like to be able to put that towards more magic stuff and learn more about building tricks and stuff. Which is why I'm very interested in Mario's course there as well. So, future awesomeness.
Alright. So, what is one piece of advice that you wish you had gotten at the beginning of your career that ... being in it now, you know, 10 years later, what is something that you wish that to be getting that you knew up front, rather than a year or two later.
Josh: Research. I would definitely say research. For a couple of reasons. One, as a trick creator, it's good to know what has been done and the history of stuff. But, then even just as a performer, you might be ... there's a trick you might want to do, and you were like, "Ah, how will I do this." Rather than spending countless hours trying to reinvent the wheel, it might have already been done. There might be the solution that you're looking for.
There's been times, like a friend of mine recently texted me because he has a student who is going to be doing the show, and he's like, "Hey, this is the kind of trick that my student's looking for. Do you know of anything? We're trying to come up with a way of doing it. Do you think you could build us something?" There ended up being a very simple method that has been around for awhile, and it didn't really click for them, and it took having someone else who had done a little bit more research to find it.
So, I would definitely say research is important. Just because whether you're a performer, or creator, or both, that stuff comes in handy. It's good to know, and it only makes you look better because you don't want to be the guy who's like, "Oh, yes this is my trick and I came up with it." And someone says, "Oh well actually, here's all this information." Or you don't want to be the one who's saying something like, "Yeah, this guy invented the trick." And it turns out it's something else. So, it makes you a better magician just to have that knowledge.
Kray: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. Though, I do think research can be a bit of a double-edged sword because you start researching and you end up down a rabbit hole of all this amazing stuff and you lose focus of what you were originally looking into. It's like, "Oh my God! What was I looking up originally?"
Josh: That's true. That is a good point.
Kray: Yeah with some of the research that I've been doing over the past couple of months, I've been running into that myself of, "Ooh cool!" Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Nine websites away from where I started, but found some really cool things that I never thought I would find.
So, along with that research, is there a specific trick or slight, or something that you think every magician should learn, or at least attempt in their career? Even if it's not something they're going to perform. Just to better understand magic, or performing, or anything like that?
Josh: I think honestly I would say the two things would be a shuttle pass and a double lift. Because I come from the school of thought which is like the Greg Wilson school of thought and other people ... Where you can do the most amazing retention vanish in the world, but no one but a magician puts a coin in a hand that way. Whereas just doing a quick little false transfer or shuttle pass, that is much more believable and it feels less like a move. Like, if I do a retention vanish, it feels like I'm doing something. Sometimes that's good if you're going for a more theatrical thing, but it's like you just want to ... someone hands you something and you want to vanish it, that feels weird. Whereas just the quick little casual false transfer. Boom. It's gone.
For a double lift, my big pet peeve when I see magicians perform, is they'll do a double lift and it's a great double lift, but you can tell they're doing a double lift because that's the only time they ever flip over cards that way. So, for me, I made sure that when I learned my double lift that every time I flip over a card, no matter if it's a single, a double, a triple, half the deck, I don't care. I always do it the exact same way because then it's more consistent and it's less likely someone's going to think you're doing something because you're always doing it that way. So, those would definitely be the two slights that I would say, get those down and be consistent with how you do it, and your magic will be that much better, in my opinion.
Kray: Love it. I really feel that one too. When I first started in magic as a kid. I kind of noticed that it was very specific movements that I wasn't normally doing and that took me a long time to figure out how do right because I was doing things that seemed unnatural to me at the time. Then, the more you do it the more natural it became, but that was always the thing in my mind, that people were going to bust me on. This isn't a natural thing. Of course, people are so entertained, if they do notice, they're not saying anything. They just love the magic. Which was awesome. But, yes, I love that answer.
So, to finish things up, one of my favorite questions: If you could spend one day with any magician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Josh: That's a tough question. There's so many people I'd like to hang out with.
Kray: Or, we could do a top three.
Josh: You know what? I mean, this is someone I have spent the day with, but every time we hang out it's always a laugh. I would go with Garret Thomas. He's one of my favorite magicians. He's one of my favorite people. I'm so glad that we're friends. I remember the first time I met him, I was just like, "Ah! It's Garrett Thomas!" So, to be friends with someone that made you go like that, is really cool. Every time I hang out with him, I always learn something. Even not related to magic, just in general. So, I would say spending a full day with him outside of a magic lecture, or convention I think would be a lot of fun.
Josh: So, I'd go with that.
Kray: Yes. Excellent.
Thank you so much for coming on the show today. It's been a pleasure chatting with you. If people want to find you, where should I send them?
Josh: They can find me on Instagram @justJosh:inmagic. That's where I post most of my stuff. That's where I'm sort of focusing most of my work nowadays.
Kray: Perfect. I'll make sure when everything gets posted we post the link to it as well.
Josh: Awesome. I appreciate it.
Kray: No problem at all. Thank you very much again, and for those of you listening and watching at home, thanks for tuning in and we will see you again next time. Keep being magical.