March 2017 - Cover Story: The Man with Sleight of Hand, Justin Willman
Magic has always brought a sense of wonder to the world. No one knows that better than Justin Willman. Willman’s combination of magic and comedy has enchanted his fans. His love of magic came from an unlikely accident. Willman recalls, “When I was 12, I broke both of my arms in a rollerblading mishap. My doctor randomly recommended card tricks as physical therapy, and I was hooked. As a kid magician starting out, there was always something special about possessing this talent that could amaze adults. I think that’s where my love of magic really solidified. Since then, it’s all I’ve ever known. I think we’re at a time now where our country is in the middle of a ‘wonder renaissance’….(W)e need magic more than ever….(T)echnology has made us numb to wonder; we forgot how it feels to really be amazed by something. I feel like it’s my duty to help people remember what mystery feels like.”
Willman’s sense of duty transformed into a dream toward which Willman strove. A host of talented performers held torches along the way. Willman reveals that he has “always been obsessed with Johnny Carson...he started as a magician. Steve Martin is an idol….Penn and Teller are the best in my field…all icons to me.” But as Willman advanced further in his career, he discovered that magic alone wasn’t working for him. With his quick-witted humor, Willman found that the combination of comedy and magic was a winning match that blended well together. “I started as a serious magician as a teen but quickly found out that comedy was my calling. Since then a half-and-half comedy/magic mix is my sweet spot. Laughter is the best misdirection.”
As Willman was making a name for himself, a random audition changed everything and further advanced his name in the entertainment industry. Food Network’s reality competition series, Cupcake Wars, which premiered in December of 2009, came during a time when food shows were really making the scene. Willman, as the shows host, thought it would be a great experience but didn’t expect what was to come. “Being a magician is a similar skill set to hosting. You gotta think on your feet, build suspense….Cupcake Wars was a random audition that came along several years ago….I’m sure we all thought it would just be a flash in the pan, but who knew we were on the brink of a cupcake craze?….120 episodes later, I’m still recovering from the sugar high.”
Since then, Justin has also become an internet sensation, displaying his amazing sleight of hand. He has also shared the spotlight with his beautiful, talented wife, Jillian, with their “How They Met” video (in the style of Drunk History) and the video of the “first dance” from their wedding, where Willman performs a levitation act you have to see to believe. Willman is currently on tour with his new show, Fake Believe, and simply put, the name of the show speaks for itself. “It’s a magic show for people who wouldn’t normally go to a magic show. I’m a skeptic, a cynic, I’m tough to impress…and I do the show I’d want to see if I was in your seat. It’s equal parts comedy and magic….I feel it’s a fresh take on the art form that audiences have never seen before.”
Justin continues to feel the thrill of walking on a stage and bringing excitement to an audience that is in need of mystery. He also still feels a bit of nervousness when he’s about to perform. “Performing live has never lost its thrill. I still get the butterflies, I still get a rush when trying out a new bit for the first time. I love hearing an audience laugh their ass off one moment and then gasp in disbelief the next. It’s my happy place.”
Willman shows no signs of stopping and shared what plans are in the pipeline. “I’ve got a few magic/comedy TV projects in the works and (am) always putting out new videos online that either tackle a pressing social issue or use magic to look at the news in a new way.” With a family and thriving career, Willman looks forward to what the future has to hold. “I’d want to go down as a great magician who took the art form to uncharted territory. And who performed his greatest shows on March 17, 2017, in beautiful New Mexico.”
At the age of 12, Willman found his calling and has brought the joy of magic and comedy to millions of audiences. In this harsh world we are subjected to on a daily basis, Willman holds the magic key to make it through another day.