Jeff Prace first came to attention in the magic world when his DVD Gum was produced by KozmoMagic and distributed through Murphy’s Magic Supplies in 2009. The trick was very well received both in its reviews and sales, even though Jeff was just fourteen years old at the time. “When Jeff Prace came out with Gum we knew right away that it was going to be a great seller,” said Patrick Wolford, Product Specialist at Murphy’s. "As a matter of fact; it still sells well to this day. Jeff is one of our industry’s most clever inventors.” Tim Trono, who worked at Murphy’s and was instrumental in arranging for Gum's distribution wrote on The Magic Cafe that “Jeff is a great kid. He's creative, respectful, etc. Don't be fooled by his age or his quiet demeanor. Jeff is a creative force to be reckoned with.”
Since that initial release Prace has developed and released tricks with cel phones, earbud-type headphones, keys and other common objects. Along the way he performed on the Today show after winning a contest to appear with David Copperfield. He’s about to enter his junior year of college at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
I thought I’d start off with the basics, the ‘where are you from and how did you get started in magic’ questions.
I’m from Chicago. I live in the suburbs. Or now I live a little down south, going to school at the University of Illinois. I got started in magic when I was around seven at Navy Pier, which was a popular tourist location in Chicago. They had a little magic shop and my parents bought me a magic set for a birthday present and from there it spiraled to getting a magic tutor to going to magic lectures and magic classes and stuff like that.
You were seven when you got you the magic set?
Yes. The stuff in it was the hot rod, and the cups and balls and stuff and actually I work at a magic store now - or I did over the summer - and it was awesome because when a kid would come in I would always try to pitch the hot rod, just because it had such a meaning to me.
Which store were you working in?
For the last two summers I’ve worked at Midwest Magic, which is a magic shop in Chicago. We’re one of the largest in the United States, with over 12,000 unique items.
Ok, so you were seven, you’re parents took you to the Navy Pier, you saw a magician and you said then you had a magic tutor?
Yeah, a mentor, kind of. I walked into a different magic store, not Midwest Magic, that was near me, and we asked if there was anyone in the area who gave lessons and they recommended a magician named Mike Hall, and Mike taught me for years and years, everything that I know about magic, and he’s still one of my great friends today.
What kind of stuff did you work on?
Mike was a great teacher and started teaching me right away the classic kinds of things, the classic card tricks and the classic coin stuff. So, when I was younger, that’s really what I focused on. I was a card magician, and I was a coin magician and I really liked that kind of stuff. One of the earlier things I remember was McDonald’s Aces and that was a lesson in using the Elmsley Count, for example.
So you must have gotten pretty heavily into it.
Yeah, for years and years that’s all I did.
Yeah, magic, and card magic in particular.
I know that you started inventing magic at a relatively young age. Can you recall the evolution of that and how you started thinking about creating magic?
The first trick I ever created was a very simple trick with a Sharpie. The clip of the Sharpie would break off and then it would visibly restore. Then shortly after that I made up the gum trick which is where an empty pack of Orbit fills itself, and those were the first two. I saw David Regal lecture and I showed him the Sharpie trick, and as it turned out he was guest writing the column for Genii magazine, David Acker’s normal column — or it used to be David Acker’s column — and he asked to use the Sharpie trick. I was fourteen, and I obviously said yes as it was the first trick I’d ever published.
And then Gum was the second?
That was shortly after. What happened with that was I showed Kozmo the trick and I asked him if he wanted to use it for Reel Magic magazine, which is his video magazine, so I sent him the video clip, and he asked me how it worked. He had no idea. He was just amazed. So then he sent it to Tim Trono who at the time worked for Murphy’s as a buyer and Tim was also fooled. So, I sent him a few more gum tricks that I had been working on and at that point the Gum project came into effect with the four tricks.
I actually didn’t chew gum a lot. I do more now, mainly because of all the gum stuff that I do. Anyway, I opened a pack of Orbit for the first time in years when I was young and it was kind of an immediate click on how it could work. I mean it’s a very simple method. It’s nothing too convoluted or complex, and I tried it out at school for the next year, and it worked really well. Everyone was really into it, and that’s when I decided I would show Kozmo.
Can you tell me a little bit about the people who have influenced you in terms of creating magic?
The biggest one is Paul Harris, and that’s because I was doing card magic, card magic, card magic, and when I got into late middle school the first thing I read was The Art of Astonishment, and that was such a drastic change for me, doing magic with Silly Putty or doing magic with dollar bills, and it was so different, so awesome, that Paul Harris became an immediate influence on my magic. He’s still one of my favorite magicians. Jay Sankey also had a big influence on my magic, growing up learning from him. Those are the two guys I looked up to when I was young.
Can you say more about how Jay Sankey influenced you?
Jay’s magic I just thought was so great also. He obviously has the card tricks and the coin tricks but he also has so many tricks with normal objects. He invented the plot of taking a chewed piece of gum and making it new, obviously something I’ve worked on myself. I love his magic.
You have, I know, developed some tricks with cards and you just told me that you’ve done a lot of card magic, but many of the tricks that you’re developing are getting away from cards and coins into things that are more common everyday objects. I’m wondering if you have any feeling that card or coin magic could eventually fade away. Or how do you feel about magic moving into the realm of more common and in some cases technologically oriented objects?
Good question, because I haven’t been doing card magic and coin magic any more. And the reason I got out of it is because going into the later years of middle school and then high school and now college, I’m not going to pull out a deck of cards. I’m not going to pull out four walking liberty half dollars. It just doesn’t fit. It’s just very unfitting of the environment. I realized that when I was younger, and that’s when I started doing magic with gum and keys and whatever you can find in your pockets and wallet. For me that makes more sense than pulling out a square circle in the middle of my dorm room here, as opposed to doing a trick with a pen or a phone or something like that. For me it was just that evolution of growing older and getting more into what fits where I’m performing, Because I’m not a professional performer in the sense that I go out and do gigs every day. I mostly perform for friends here at school and that’s what fits me.
But I don’t think that card magic or coin magic are going anywhere. Obviously they’re a staple in most magicians’ acts. But for me that’s how I progressed into the world of normal objects.
Yeah, there is something kind of weird about pulling out half-dollars, even though half-dollars are still in circulation. I love coin magic, but lots of times I wonder why magicians are still using half dollars and English pennies.
I still do a little bit of coin magic, but if I do, I’m going to use quarters or pennies or dimes — pocket change as opposed to half dollars. It’s a personal choice that I feel people can relate to better. They don’t have to look at the props as thoroughly. So, I do a version of the dime and penny, which is basically Scotch and Soda, and I think it works a lot better for me when it’s the dime and penny, or a quarter and gold dollar, or something like that.
You could also ask how many people touch a deck of playing cards these days. It seems like most people play cards on electronic devices now. So, maybe we’ve already reached the point where it seems weird to people your age to do something with cards.
I still do occasional card magic. I did focus on it for years, so it’s not something that I totally threw away. I just prefer to do stuff with phones and keys and gum and pocket change. But I still love card magic, and I have so many friends who do the best card magic that ever was seen, so I still think it’s awesome.
Do you think you’ll ever be an old dude someday going ‘Oh, I can’t believe no one’s doing iPhone magic any more?’
It has to progress with the times. When the iPhone is long gone I hope magic progresses to the point where it’s like ‘it was good for the time,’ then something new comes along and someone else does tricks with whatever comes next. I hope it just continues and whatever new technology comes out, people start working on it.
It seems that to me for the most part, people in magic are responsive to whatever’s good. But I’m sure there are also some people who don’t want to look at tricks created by really young folks. What kind of experience did you have releasing tricks at such a young age?
It’s hard when you're younger because not as many people take you seriously just because ‘what does a fourteen year old know compared to someone who’s forty-five and been in magic all their life? What do I have to teach at that point?’ I was lucky enough to work with Kozmo and Tim Trono who are very respected in the magic industry. That was a big help. As I progressed and people realized the magic’s not half bad, it became easier and easier, and now that I’m twenty it’s not as big of a deal.
I remember seeing you do one of your effects on the Today show with Copperfield there. Could you talk a little bit about that experience both in terms of the actual performance and the behind-the-scenes aspect of it?
The Today show was a lot of fun. It was a very rushed process in the sense that I sent them the video at the last moment possible because I didn’t learn about the contest until late. They contacted me about a week before the show was supposed to air on national TV and it was live. I went down a day before. They flew me to New York City, and at the time they said ‘do what you did in the video,’ which was the gum trick in its full presentation. But when I got there they cut it down. They wanted me to fit it into 25 to 30 seconds. Which was easy to do just by talking less. So, that’s the behind-the-scenes aspect. It was just so rushed, and kind of chaotic.
David Copperfield was someone I’ve looked up to since I was young. I sent them pictures, although they didn’t use them, of the very ticket I had from seeing David Copperfield in 2000 or 2001. And I have pictures of me wearing the t-shirt I bought from the show. So, I love David Copperfield, and it was awesome for me to get to talk to him. It was a very cool experience.
Was your only time interacting with him when you were on the air?
He has a very busy schedule, so he came in and left really quickly. He did talk to us for a small bit, but he had to go back to Las Vegas. He does two shows every night. So I didn’t get to talk to him much. But it was still super-cool that he was there and he was super nice.
Let’s talk for a minute about your upcoming lecture at Fantasma. Is this a one-off thing or is it part of a tour?
At this point it’s just a one-off lecture. John is from the New Jersey area. I’m not, but I’m going there for some other magic things that I have to do. So we thought we’d combine forces and do a lecture. John has been a friend of mine for years and years. Both of us work for Paul Harris creating magic now. He’s the guy who introduced me to the company. So, we’re really good friends. We’ve known each other for a long time. We have similar styles. So, we thought combining lectures like this would be a great idea for everyone.
How are you going to structure it?
We’re each going to do 45 minutes to an hour of our material, one after the other with a short break.
Could you talk about what you’re going to do at the lecture?
I’m really excited because I’m going to be teaching a trick not by myself, but by a clever, clever magician from Slovenia named Aljav Son, and he gave permission to teach his trick. Basically it is the coolest trick with a borrowed coin and a borrowed cel phone that I have ever seen. I’ve been doing it for three years. I have a column starting in September in The Linking Ring magazine. That’s one of things that’s going to be in the column. I’m going to be talking a little bit about the column, and then I have tricks with chewing gum and headphones and stuff like that.
Can you tell me more about the column?
The column is titled "The Expert at the Card Tablet." In the first part of the column, I teach a trick utilizing technology. Future issues feature magic with phones, earbuds, and more. The second part of the column recommends a marketed product (that uses technology) or an app. Future recommendations are magic from Angelo Carbone and Luke Dancy, and others.
You also mentioned that you’ll be in the New York area for another magic-related reason. Can you tell me what you’re working on and what projects in general you’ve got coming up in the future?
I will be in the New York area filming a new multi-trick DVD. I have three projects slated to be released this year. The biggest release is with Paul Harris Presents and is an amazing phone trick.
You’re going to college now. Are you anticipating that you’ll pursue a career outside of magic or try to mix magic and something else?
The plans right now are to have a full time job. I’m a business student studying supply chain management and marketing. I have plans to use that as a career and then create magic and publish magic on the side because that’s obviously something that I love.
Have you been able to stay in touch with what it was about magic that intrigued you when you were a kid or captured your imagination.
Yeah, this is something that Kozmo says all the time, that it’s important to remember what real magic looks like, and that’s why when I was fourteen it was easier, because when you’re a kid you just know what magic is as opposed to picking a card putting it back in the deck and it comes to the top. I don’t feel that’s as magical as something like making gum restore itself. So, I think it’s important to remember when you were a kid what magic looked like to you and then try to emulate that with the magic that you create or perform.
When you’re developing a trick and you feel that it’s good, how does it feel to you?
I still get excited about the magic that I create or perform. I love methods as I said earlier, so when I think I find something — even if it’s not by me — when I find something that’s super fun or super innovative or super new, I get really excited because that’s what I’m into.
For more information about Jeff Prace, visit: www.jeffprace.com