As a Member of London's Magic Circle, Steve Cohen is a magician who will leave you wide-eyed and thinking long after the show has ended, "How did he do that?" From magic tricks to mind reading, Steve is the host of the very entertaining and mind blowing magic show Chamber Magic every Friday and Saturday at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Click here to get your tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a magician? My uncle inspired me. He was an amateur magician. He was born in 1901 and saw Houdini perform live here in New York. My uncle interacted with the magicians in the Society of American Magicians, an organization Houdini founded. He specialized in what were called "pocket tricks." "Pocket tricks" is an old fashioned term describing tricks you can perform out of your pocket. If you walk into a party and don’t have anything to work with, you can take an object out of your pocket, show it to people, and then put it back in. Today we call that close-up magic. To my mind, close-up magic is the most direct form of magic because it's interactive. When my uncle performed it for us, he was very engaging, a very funny guy. Over the years, what stayed with me, even more than his tricks, was his ability to engage an audience. I've tried to keep that ability alive in my show too.
Me: I was going to say I noticed that. Your show is about the magic, but the way you interact with the audience, to make them feel a part of it, really adds so much to the show.
Steve: Thanks. The type of performance I do here is not actually close-up magic, but parlor magic. Parlor magic is a cross between close-up magic and a stage show. In tonight’s audience, we had 55 people and everyone had a good seat. You were in the third row and you could see everything. I think there is something to be said for watching miracles up close. The audience is able to participate in the tricks and be amazed, which is the aspect of magic I enjoy most.
2. You have been performing Chamber Magic at the Waldorf Astoria for more than 13 years. Why did you decide to base your show on parlor magic as opposed to a different style? I was inspired by a famous magician from the late 1800’s, Johann Hofzinser, who presented a show in a salon in Austria for many years. He was the top society entertainer of Vienna. In that age, there was a whole culture of salons where people would gather to drink coffee, debate about politics, and talk about the news of the day. So having a magic salon was not unheard of. I have done a lot of research about Hofzinser's salon. I like to work with people in an intelligent way, so my goal was to re-create these salon shows in New York, a city with its own modern day royalty. I thought it would be interesting and fun to perform for business leaders and high society here.
3. How did you decide to make the Waldorf Astoria Chamber Magic's home? I began the show at my friend's apartment down in the West Village. Then I started doing the show at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, where, as a member, I was allowed to use their front parlor, a beautiful mahogany room with a fireplace and Tiffany glass chandelier. I did the show there for about three months and I was starting to get some momentum, but the club, like many private clubs in New York, shut down for the summer.
At that time, I met my manager, who had connections here at the Waldorf; she introduced me to some of the executives here and convinced them to give me a try. That was 13 years ago. Since then, I've performed the show more than 3,000 times for more than 275,000 guests! The show is self-produced and promoted entirely by word-of-mouth.
4. How do you feel Chamber Magic has grown over the past 13 years and what do you enjoy most about performing the show? The show has really changed a lot. The signature pieces have stayed in the show, like the "Think-A-Drink" teapot routine and the "Linking Rings." The part of show I enjoy most is getting immediate feedback because in most jobs, you don't get such a quick response. In this type of performance, because there is such intimate interplay with the audience, I can tell how the show is going. What pleases me the most is knowing that the audience is enjoying the show.
5. You've taken this show around the country as well. Yes, I've traveled around the world with this show. That enabled me to reach further than New York and perform for audiences that, hopefully, would tell their friends and family about the show at the Waldorf Astoria. I enjoy seeing different cities but it's not easy to travel with this show, so I prefer to perform it here in New York, which is already a destination for theater.
Since the beginning, I established a "cocktail attire" dress code for Chamber Magic. This means the audience starts getting ready for the show when they’re still at home. The anticipation builds from the moment they start getting dressed up until the show starts.
Me: That is very true. When I was getting ready for the show, I was very excited. I never really get dressed up like this to see a show, so it's very different and it started the excitement at home and then when I got here and saw everyone else dressed up, it added to the excitement. It's nice to see that everyone does it. I think having everyone get dressed up makes it a real event, so that when they go home they tell everyone about this big event they attended.
6. You are a member of the Inner Magic Circle. What exactly dos that mean? The Magic Circle is probably the most prestigious magician’s organization in the world. Based in London, they have various ranks. Once you join the club as a regular or general member, you can move up in those ranks. The highest level, which I have attained, is Member of the Inner Magic Circle (MIMC) with Gold Star. It was a real honor for me to become a member of the Inner Magic Circle and be acknowledged by my peers.
7. What have you learned about yourself from being a magician? I've learned to be very resourceful. As a magician, you always have to be thinking many steps ahead of the audience, which sometimes means planning years in advance for a single moment. I've learned that I'm willing to practice months for a three-second technique or a year for a single trick that might take 15 seconds. When the audience eventually sees that trick, they have no chance, because they don't know how much went into preparing for that one brief moment.
8. What's the best advice you've ever received? It was an African proverb, "Don't push the river, it flows by itself." There were certain things in my career that I wanted to happen really fast, like my show taking off. I felt I had a great show and I thought everyone should know about it and it just didn't happen, so I had to think in real time. This African proverb really grounded me. I just said to myself, "If you just take your time, pay your dues, and do what you do best, people are going to eventually recognize you, so just let it happen in real time and let the river flow."
9. What's it like performing for celebrities? If you could perform magic for a celebrity of your choice, who would it be? I enjoy having well-known figures in the audience because it's a lot of fun to see them and I love chatting with them afterward. It's very flattering when they choose to come to my show out of all the things they could do in New York City.
To answer your question--ever since I was a boy, I've always wanted to perform for the President of the United States in the White House. I hope I'll get invited to perform there while the present administration is in power.
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Aside from the ones I already have? [laughs]. I would like the ability to figure out the teenage mind. I have a teenage son and I have no idea what he's thinking. I would love to be able to read his mind. I can read people's minds in this show, but at home it's a different story.
Steve Cohen is the Millionaires' Magician. He performs internationally for celebrities, tycoons and aristocrats. When he is not traveling, Steve can be found at New York’s famous Waldorf Astoria hotel performing his public show, Chamber Magic. Steve recreates the intimacy of 19th century parlor performances by baffling his guests in the close quarters of a private suite. He is the author of the book: Win The Crowd (HarperCollins), and star of the two-hour speical Lost Magic Decoded on the History Channel.
Steve has received widespread media recognition, including: The Late Show with David Letterman, CBS Sunday Morning, CNN, Martha Stewart Living, The History Channel, Forbes Magazine, The Financial Times, The London Sunday Times and The New York Times.
Steve earned a degree in psychology from Cornell University and spent a year abroad studying at Waseda University in Tokyo. He has native-level proficiency in Japanese, and previously worked as an interpreter for the Japanese government. He holds the esteemed rank of MIMC (Member of the Inner Magic Circle) with Gold Star, awarded by The Magic Circle in London.