That Time I Bombed: Travis Bernhardt gets some hard knocks from the streets

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      That Time I Bombed is where the Straight asks comedians (and magicians!) about their life-changing shows, favourite specials, and, a subject that any peformer will face at some point in their career, a time that they bombed on stage.

      Who are you

      I’m a magician, clown, and improviser in (sharply) descending order of income and reverse order of time and energy spent. 

      I got my start as a street performer, and still do it occasionally when it’s easy. So, festivals, etc. It’s hard to get the energy up to do the difficult “real street” version these days.

      First magic show experience

      The first magician I recall seeing was at the Riley Park library. He was dressed as a wizard with the robes and the hat. He did the linking rings and I remember wishing so badly that it was me up onstage as the volunteer, so that I could be the one to examine the rings. I was sure that I would do a better job of figuring it out than the kid who was up there.

      Later, he performed the sponge-ball trick for me and I remember wanting to see it again so I could confirm my suspicion about the method. He wouldn’t do it, which was frustrating. As I reflect on it, I think my early interest in magic was fuelled primarily by irritation.

      Life-changing show

      I saw Doug Henning at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. I remember two things: the first is a large scale illusion in which he vanished from one part of a big structure onstage and immediately reappeared in another part.

      The second isn't magic at all, but his finger “warm ups”. These were projected big enough to see on the back wall using a video camera. I remember spending weeks trying to duplicate the way his fingers opened and closed in these hypnotic rolling patterns.

      Favourite specials

      Derren Brown — Something Wicked This Way Comes  It’s technically ambitious and full of very strong tricks, but mostly it’s a question of style. Derren is a brilliant showman and a playful, humane adult. He respects your intelligence and you feel—unlike at a Copperfield show, for example—that you’ve learned something about the man. (And in contrast to, say, a Criss Angel show, where you might regret having learned something.)

      If we’re talking television, it’s all Derren Brown for me, though the recent David Blaine specials are terrific. But live, my favourite show is Mac King. He’s a comedy magician in Vegas, but the words “comedy magician in Vegas” probably put the exact wrong idea in your head. He is a brilliant craftsman—genuinely funny, warm, sharp, and the show is just so fucking good.

      He could do that show for the roughest biker bar or an audience of families and children, not change a word, and have either group eating out the palm of his hand. If you’re in Vegas, that’s the magic show to see.

      All-time favourite illusion or trick

      That’s really tough. I’m gonna say Derren’s closing trick for Something Wicked, because it inspired me to create a similar feeling, which led to the closing trick for my show Unpossible!. I’m still very proud of it.

      But there are smaller moments, like seeing one of the old street magicians from Vancouver (whose name, sadly, I no longer recall) doing a simple coin trick—using a move I thought I knew and fooling the crap out of me. I was stunned by how perfect it was. It just felt like magic.

      Big illusions or close-up magic

      No preference if it’s good. My favourite moments are evenly split between stage and close-up.

      That time I bombed

      By far, the worst I’ve ever felt was when I was low on money and decided I needed to go work the street again. But I was coming off a bad breakup and my energy was low. I didn’t have the power. I stood on the street for two hours and couldn’t stop anyone. Nothing. So I packed up and went home.

      And then I came back the next day (which is the hardest thing in street performing, just showing up the next day). And failed again.

      And the next day. And failed again. And again. And again.

      For a week.

      And I haven’t been able to do proper street performance ever since—only cushy festivals. It wrecked me for years. Only very recently have I started to heal from that and I think now I could probably try again.

      What I learned is that one’s mental and emotional health matters. The healthier you are, the more watchable you are. People can see the stress, and they want no part of it. Not on the street, anyway. Indoors they might sit for it, but outside they’ll just keep walking.

      Travis Bernhardt performs his two-man show with Chris Ross, Chris & Travisas part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival, which takes place on Granville Island from September 7 to 17. You can also book Travis for parties and events here and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

      Travis and Chris will also host the Georgia Straight Fringe-for-All preview this Wednesday (September 6) at Perfomance Works (1218 Cartwright Street).