The waitress at Yamashiro smiled when she saw the two bright-eyed gentlemen at the table balancing spoons on their noses. She stared in amazement when one began to shake his head back and forth vigorously without the spoon dropping. She screamed when he gleefully pulled the spoon off his nose to reveal the four-inch nail burrowing into his nostril. He offered me a latex glove to check the nail's veracity. The waitress hurriedly brought the check.
Our poor server might have been less horrified if she'd known I was dining with Barry Jones and Stuart MacLeod, the famous young Scottish magician duo known for their gory dark humor and their penchant for sharing their secrets with their audiences. Jones and MacLeod are in town this week to do their first show for the American public at Largo tonight at 8 p.m.
The two met as teenagers at school in rural Aberdeen, Scotland where they bonded over their love of magic and their distaste for the cocky mentality of the magicians of the day. “We thought most magicians came off as dicks,” said Jones. MacLeod agreed: “There was no drama, no comedy, just a guy showing off. Our goal was to take the ego out of it.”
Around 2002, Jones and MacLeod began making short films together that combined their sleight-of-hand skills with short plots that focused on the comedic and bizarre. They were as much sketch comedians as magicians, often creating the entire plot before figuring out what magic tricks to include. With no YouTube to upload to, they took distribution into their own hands. “We just burned CDs of the sketches and gave them to everyone we met,” laughed MacLeod. “We asked them to please copy it, if they liked it, and give it out to anyone they knew.”
That didn't turn out to be such a bad idea. The CDs were traded widely and ended up in London in the hands of TV production company Objective Productions. This led to their first TV show, Magick, a dark sketch comedy show much like their original CDs, but with higher production value. Magick is now available in America on Hulu. In 2005, they increased their notoriety in a one hour Christmas special called The Magic of Jesus, in which they re-enacted the miracles of Jesus from the New Testament, such as walking on the surface of water, turning water into wine and getting a real live virgin pregnant.
The duo continued to rise in popularity — starring in a second prime time TV show, The Magicians, hosting a follow-up TV special, Tricks From the Bible, performing live shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for five years in a row, and selling out a national tour called Show and Tell, in which they broke the magician's code and shared their secrets with the audience. In 2009, they won the title of Best Comedy Illusionists at the World Magic Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. On this trip to L.A., they are in talks to develop an American sitcom based on the behind-the-scenes hilarity of having magic as your day job.
“We've always wanted to put together a scripted comedy about the stuff we get up to every day. Some things are just crazy,” said MacLeod. “One night we ended our show covered in blood, as we often do, but we had forgotten to bring a change of clothes. It made for quite an interesting trip home, especially when we stopped for dinner at a restaurant.”
When the two discovered that the “pulling a rabbit out of a hat” trick originated from a story about a woman giving birth to a rabbit, they immediately wanted to re-create the story for their act. “We spent a few weeks with a rabbit and a very friendly girl to figure out the trick. We're somewhat shy about things like that, so it was all quite awkward.” Now that's a sitcom that could give 2 Broke Girls a run for its money.
Click here for tickets to Barry and Stuart Live at Largo at the Coronet, tonight at 8 p.m.