Derek Hughes might insult your mother during his magic show Insomnia, which he performs at the Hotel Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica. Assuming you bring your mother to the show, there's a distinct possibility that he will pick her out of the audience and (lovingly) mock her, as he interacts with about a quarter of the show's audience on a given night.
But don't fret too much - it's all in good fun. Hughes, who calls himself a "standup magician" (really, it's even his Twitter handle), is the master of ceremonies at the hour-long Insomnia, so named because he wants the audience to stay up at night, trying to figure out the tricks behind the magic.
Hughes is a consummate performer and a very skilled magician. He pulls off every trick and illusion with finesse, even accounting for small things that seem to be mistakes. The show is certainly chock full of amazement and wonder and all of the typical things that you find in a magic show, but Hughes keeps it moving, and keeps the audience engaged, through the comedic moments he weaves throughout the show, connecting the pieces of the show, and even, at times, interrupting the tricks.
Hughes' humor isn't a way for him to cover up his lack of skill, though. After studying theater at the University of Minnesota (in his home state), Hughes came out to L.A. to be an actor. He has also dabbled in stand-up comedy, and loves the parallels between jokes and magic. "A joke has a set-up and a punch[line], and the punch has to be, in an ideal world, a total surprise that's totally inevitable," he says. "And magic has a similar way, when you're setting something up, there's a surprise that has to have a similar sort of, 'Well it's perfect, and I never would have guessed in a million years that that's what was happening.'"
And so Hughes developed his comedy/magic style, which he also performs on the road and in Las Vegas. His routine is a good match for the Hotel Casa Del Mar, and Hughes is happy to bring magic to the Westside, where he lives, acknowledging that "to drive anywhere is an expedition," so Westsiders don't make it over to Hollywood's Magic Castle too often. He adds, "It's been really nice to have a venue that's mine, that's close to home. There's nothing else like this happening in the area."
Throughout his routine, Hughes makes self-deprecating jokes, commenting on his upbringing as an only child, or his collegiate emphasis studies of French symbolist theater. From the show alone, it's clear that he's a canny man, but there's more than meets the eye. Though Insomnia's description says the show is "loosely based on the short fiction of Jorge Luis Borges," Hughes also draws inspiration from magicians of yore and, surprisingly, David Mamet. He cites Mamet's The Shawl, a play about a psychic who actually does have powers, but pretends he doesn't, as being very influential. "I like that idea, that this guy we see here [my character in Insomnia] has powers, but isn't fully in control of them, but ultimately wants to have a good time."
Insomnia plays every other Sunday night at the Hotel Casa Del Mar (1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica). The next performance is June 15. Tickets are $55, including parking and two drinks. More information can be found at hotelcasadelmar.com.
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