Back in 2010, magician Dan Sperry shocked Howie Mandel and thousands of TV viewers watching “America’s Got Talent” when he appeared to eat a Life Saver mint and then pull it out of his neck whole with a piece of dental floss.“I feel like I’m caught in a Tim Burton movie,” squawked a grossed out Mandel, who was referring to the act but also to Sperry’s goth-style appearance.
Sperry will perform at 6 p.m. Saturday at the HellzaPoppin’ Circus Sideshow Revue, part of the Rock & Ride Music Festival taking place at the Lewiston Roundup Grounds. Sperry is the star of the revue which features sword-swallowers, contortionists, knife-throwers and fire eaters in death-defying stunts set to a soundtrack of music by artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Snoop Dogg, and Marilyn Manson.
Sperry started performing as a youth in his native Minnesota. Since then he’s performed around the world, including co-starring in “The Illusionists — Live From Broadway,” and is a popular You Tube star. Inland 360 talked to the 30-year-old so-called “shock illusionist,” about his “strange and unusual magic.”
360: I read that you went to a David Copperfield show as a child and that’s when you became fascinated with magic. Was there a particular act that captured your imagination?
Sperry: He would open his show with an escape illusion called the Death Saw. He laid on a table in chains with a saw spinning above him. The saw would drop a little more every few seconds. Then, something unexpected happens, something breaks and the saw comes down and visibly cuts him in half. It looks like a bad saw mill accident. As a kid I didn’t know what illusion was. I didn’t know that magic was so big or could be so grand. I freaked out and we had to leave the theater. I had a total childish meltdown. I never saw him get put back together. I didn’t understand it. The next year I saw the whole show. In the meantime I got a toy magic kit.
That was my introduction to big illusions. It wasn’t like there was something that captured my imagination. It was more like a theraputic introduction.
360: When did your goth look become a part of your act as a magician?
Sperry: It wasn’t until I was a bit older. I kind of had two alter egos, like James Bond. There was who I was when I wasn’t performing — a kid into monster movies, sci-fi and horror. Later I discovered bands like the Misfits and Ramones. I went to punk rock shows with my buddies. On the weekends I would perform at birthday parties, libraries and Boy Scout shows. I’d take out my piercings and comb my hair back. I grew up in Minnesota and they’re not the quickest to hire a kid looking like he just walked out of Sex Pistols music video. As I got older, I started moving more of who I was off-stage into what I was on stage. As my reputation expanded it would be allowed and be more acceptable.
360: You call yourself an “anti-conjuror” could you explain what that means and why you wanted to set yourself apart from traditional magicians?
Sperry: I didn’t necessarily want to consciously set myself apart from other magicians. I thought when I was opening a show if it just said “magician” people would say “eh, boring.” They wouldn’t watch; they’d wait for the headliner. I came up with title that meant something. I saw “anti-establishment” on a Hard Rock Cafe placemat and I thought, that’s a fun a word.
360: Your illusions look so effortless. I don’t want you to reveal your secrets but I’m wondering what kinds of skills you rely on to pull them off?
Sperry: Slight of hand is a lot of it but I think probably the biggest skill set is critical thinking. I’ve heard how people who play chess think 10 moves ahead. When I heard that, I thought it sounded like magic, too. There’s several things happening at once but it looks like one thing.
360: Looking back, what act are you most proud of in your history of performing?
Sperry: I’d probably say the act I do with the birds, which I’ll be doing in Lewiston. It’s live animals; with live animals anything can happen. I raise them, train them, bond with them, I feel I’ve worked on and built the act with them. The birds know how to do their job and we’re all in that together.
360: Do you ever work on acts that don’t pan out?
Sperry: It’s like a comedian who writes a joke and it’s not funny. There have definitely been things. You work on this stuff and hope it will be amazing but you don’t know until you put it in front in audience. … For me, it’s not a contest of me versus the audience, of me fooling you. It’s supposed to be fun.
If You Go
What: Rock & Ride Music Festival
When: 2 to 10 p.m.
Where: Lewiston Roundup Grounds, 2100 Tammany Creek Rd.
Cost: $25-$65 adults, $5.50 ages 10 and under
The Rock & Ride Music Festival will feature three stages with 15 bands, a motorcycle show and shine, inflatable water slides for kids and adults and the HellzaPoppin’ Circus Sideshow Revue.
Bands performing include Puddle of Mud and the Metallica tribute band, Blistered Earth, along with Bombshell Molly, Pyrosea, Unconfined, Paul Hernandez, Dysfunktynal Kaos, Garden of Eden, What Thou Will, Sin Circus and Silent Theory. Food and drink will be available for purchase.
Tickets: Roundup box office, Lewiston Rosauers, Guy’s Outdoor and online at www.rockandridemusicfest.com