Hocus Focus – Chipper Lowell talks Magic, Comedy, and Growing Up in a Circus Tent

March 2019

Twenty years ago, comedian and magician Chipper Lowell performed his first solo show. Since then, he’s brought his signature blend of edgy-but-clean comedy magic to fans around the world, and TV appearances including The Tonight show and CW’s Masters of Illusion.

Chipper returns to the Curtis Theatre stage April 6 and 7, for three performances of The Chipper Experience! – Where Comedy and Magic Collide! sure to entertain and amaze . Tickets are available at curtistheatre.com. 

In anticipation of his homecoming, Chipper took some time out of his busy tour schedule to answer some of our questions. 

CT: How did you first get interested in magic?

CL: Well, around age 12 or 13, I discovered one of my Dad’s discarded prop cases in the back of the garage It was filled to the brim with various magic apparatus and silks, even a fake spring rabbit.  I immediately claimed them all as my own, dragged the trunk into my bedroom, and practiced with them nonstop for a few months.  Some time later, I did my very first “Magic show” for the neighborhood kids and I charged them 35 cents each.  Made a little over $3 bucks, and I was hooked! 

CT: I understand you came from a family of performers. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

CL: Yes, my mother and father met when they were both working on Ringling Bros. Circus in the 50s and 60s.  My father is literally one of two remaining Ringling clowns who performed “Under canvas” (tent) before the show started touring arenas. My mother was a dancer and aerialist.  She performed “Iron Jaw” where she hung several stories up in the air, only by her teeth! They got married, and I was born in Massachusetts, and two weeks later we were all back on the road, performing with various circuses and stage shows, including Disney on Parade, which was a gigantic arena show which played all throughout the U.S. and even Australia and New Zealand.  My ‘backyard’ was quite literally the entire world, with a new town to explore every 2-3 days.  I loved it!

“The One. The Only. The Stupid.”
Chipper’s Solo show premiered at the Curtis Theatre 20 years ago.

CT: What impact do you think your family experience had on you as a performer?

CL: My parents followed their dreams, and growing up with them, watching them live out their own dreams and goals, I sort of thought that was what one was supposed to do.  I loved comedy, both live on stage and in the movies and TV.  I wanted to either be a performer or maybe a writer/director.  I’ve been lucky to do both, but performing is definitely my first love.

CT: You’re a veteran performer – your first show at the Curtis Theatre was 20 years ago, and you’ve since performed for audiences all over the world. What’s special about performing for a live audience?

CL: For me it’s all about being, as they say, “In the moment”.  Performing ‘LIVE’ you NEVER know what may happen or who you may get from the audience to help you onstage.  I love that each and every show is an adventure, in that even though you’re delivering a well-thought-out show, there are plenty of opportunities to ad lib and improvise along the way.  In my 20’s I was taking classes at the Groundlings Theatre, in the hope that I could create a sort of ‘comedy jazz’ when it came to performing my comedy magic shows… I wanted people to say that they not only enjoyed the show, but also say, “And the night WE saw it, THIS happened!…”  That each show is different in certain ways depending upon the fun we all have as an audience and the volunteers who step up to participate in the magic routines.  It’s a great rollercoaster ride, and people love it, as I do performing it.

CT: You’ve also have an impressive list of TV and film credits, including performances on The Tonight Show, Discovery’s Don’t Blink, and you regularly appear on the CW’s Masters of Illusion. Are there any differences between performing magic for an audience versus performing for the screen?

CL: Oh, definitely.  The magic I’ve created for television has to look good for the camera even though you’re still performing for a studio audience.  You have to be aware of what the camera sees with every step and turn and blocking of each routine.  And cameras can really close in tight, and in hi-def, so you have to be on your toes to make sure it doesn’t pick up on something it shouldn’t see and spoil the surprise or reveal the trick.  I’m grateful to be involved with Masters Of Illusion for all six seasons now, and every year I rack my brain to come up with new and visual magic pieces to present on the show.  It’s a challenge, but a very fun one!

CT: In addition to your magic experience, you have some serious comedy credentials – you’re a Groundlings Theatre-trained improviser, you worked the comedy club circuit full time for nearly a decade, and shared a stage with people like Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, and Sarah Silverman.
Are there any parallels between Comedy and Magic?

CL: Ooh, interesting question!  —  I believe there actually is, in that with both magic and a joke, you’re leading your audience down a path but then surpriseing them with an alternate ending/switch, or punch-line.   In magic we are trying to catch our audiences off-guard, and in comedy we are derailing the ‘joke train’ and suddenly switching to another parallel track that seems funny but yet makes perfect sense.  Both arts require a beginning, middle and an end.  I think of magic needing a basic through-line or storyline and the same goes for long form jokes and comedy routines.

CT: Magic is often presented in a way that seems incredibly choreographed and deliberate. Watching some of your material, I was struck by how quick and playful you are on stage – whether it was riffing bits with volunteers, tossing cards carelessly over your shoulder, or shredding props and littering the stage with confetti. Who or what inspired this carefree style?

CL: Awe, thanks!  I agree with you that some magic and magicians out there can come off as rather stiff, deliberate and, to be honest, no sense of real awe or surprise.  My goal has always been to keep my performances as off-the-cuff and chaotic as possible.  I want the audience to be wondering, “where is he going next??”  I want surprise and astonishment.  Don’t get me wrong – It takes a lot of practice to make it look like you’re, well, as I said before, “in the moment” rather than overly staged.   If you’re laughing hard, you ARE going to be surprised when the magic happens, and if you’re studying me really hard, you won’t realize you’re being set up for a joke or a gag.   I’m always striving for a sense of spontaneity and ‘anything goes’.

Chipper takes a "hands off:" approach to magic.

My goal has always been to keep my performances as off-the-cuff and chaotic as possible.

Chipper Lowell

CT: Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

CL: I tend to warm up like I’m a dancer or a bad 80s aerobics instructor…Lots of stretches and jumping around, shaking my arms to loosen up.  And I often recite Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” at the top of my lungs as if it’s Shakespeare just to get my voice ready.  Anything for me to become unfiltered and open and ready for whatever may be in store when I hit the stage.

CT: What do you hope an audience will walk away from the show feeling?

CL: It’s my job for them to have a very fun and memorable evening.  For the people to laugh loudly and often, together with their friends and loved one, and to really connect with each other and the audience as a whole.  And after the laughs have subsided and they’re leaving the theatre, I want them to think back and say, “Hey, wait a minute….How the heck DID he do THOSE tricks?!?”

CT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

CL: I get very nostalgic looking back 20 years ago, at the first performance of my solo show, and that it started right here, at the Curtis Theatre.  Sincere thanks to Christian Wolf, who ran the venue back then, and trusted me to put on a quality show.  The last two decades since then have been a whirlwind, with dozens of television appearances, some awards and honors, and opportunities to tour in theatres and performing arts centers ranging from 600 to 3,000 seats.  I’ve even had the privilege of entertaining arena crowds of 7-9,000 people 20 to 30 times now.  So much fun!  This return to the Curtis is a bit of a welcome home for me, as I also live here in Orange County, and also deep gratitude of where it all began.  And the main reason for coming back is that this wonderful theatre continues to be run by people who really care about the arts and what it brings to the community.  It will always spark joy and creativity, and bring people closer together, and that’s a great, great thing to me.

It’s great to us too, Chipper.

Thank you to Chipper Lowell for taking the time to answer some questions.

You can read more about Chipper on his website: www.chipper.tv

To purchase tickets to his April 6 & 7 shows at the Curtis Theatre, visit www.curtistheatre.com

See you at the show!

Comedy, Magic, And Mischief with Eric Buss

You might have seen him on America’s Got Talent, David Letterman, or at the Magic Castle…Eric Buss’ innovative and high-energy brand of comedy magic has entertained and amazed audiences worldwide.

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss

His latest project is a variety show that feels more like a party.  Shenanigans features a live DJ, along with a variety of guest entertainers, and Eric Buss himself. It’s magic in a fun and modern format that aims to blow your mind and tickle your funny bones.

We sat down with Buss and got some answers on all things magic, comedy, and Shenanigans.

How did you first get interested in magic?

I’ve loved magic since I was young. But at age 16 I was working at a small Italian restaurant near my house in Tucson, AZ. There was another busboy working there that was already into magic. He showed me tricks on our breaks, and I was blown away. He also proved to me that you could make money doing magic, without being famous like David Copperfield. He also told me about the magic shop in Tucson, which wasn’t far, and I was hooked. I began hanging out there every weekend, meeting all the magicians that came in. The busboy also told me about the Society of American Magicians’ local chapter. I quickly became a member and started attending meetings once a month. From then on, I never looked back.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the work that you create?

As a kid, I always loved watching Doug Henning. I thought David Copperfield wasted too much time dancing with pretty girls, instead of doing more tricks. Henning was a bit more kid-friendly. However, when I got seriously into magic, I started studying Copperfield as well. They were both huge inspirations.

I also loved comedy. My dad used to do a lot of Steve Martin impressions, which I thought were hilarious. I had no idea he was doing Steve Martin. I thought he was just being funny. When I found out they were Steve’s jokes, I started watching him as well.

What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

My favorite part of performing for a live audience is the unpredictability. I have a direction I’m going, but based on the audience, it could change at any time. Also hearing the laughter is almost, if not, more satisfying than the “oohs” and “ahs” from the magic.

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss performing in Shenanigans

Tell us more about the Bubble Wrap Bike. What was the process like from initial idea to finished product?

When my wife and I had our baby in 2012, we were both sleep-deprived. But I was still getting out to my workshop for an hour or two a day to work and create. I happen to have a big roll of bubble wrap and a bike. In a sleep-deprived daze, I thought, I want to ride over that bubble wrap!!! Then I thought, ‘NO, I want to attach the bubble wrap so it’s a continuous popping noise.’ I quickly grabbed some duct tape and set to work. A day or two later, I had built a better version and had a friend come over to film it in the street.

I put it on YouTube almost as a joke, and it went viral immediately. I had over 1 million views in a week. It got a lot of publicity for me; the bike in the video is the exact one I still use. The footage on YouTube has also been seen on many TV shows all over the world.

What is one of your favorite props to work with?

I love performing my looping routine. It’s a musical piece, which is fun, and because I’m making the music live it’s like a concert. It’s also the most difficult routine I do which I also think makes it fun. It’s a challenge every time. I get to live out my fantasy of being a rock star or DJ, all while doing magic. It’s a blast every time!

Do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

Eric Buss Live Variety Show Shenanigans Curtis Theatre
Eric Buss performing in Shenanigans

I’m not superstitious, but it doesn’t stop me from doing certain things before EVERY show. I usually jump up and down in one place RIGHT before going on. This gets my blood pumping. There are lots of little rituals with my props while setting up… certain things need to be set up certain ways. My OCD really shines through while I’m setting up. While getting dressed, I hate dropping hangers on the floor. For some reason, I think it’s bad luck.  Even though I don’t believe that I get frustrated when I drop hangers. If there is someone backstage with me, I like to tell them that I’m going to go back to my hotel real quick, right when I’m being introduced. They always look at me like I’m crazy. It helps me relax and have fun.

If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

If my show was an animal, it would be a Golden Retriever – playful, yet intelligent.

What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

I hope the audience walks away with a smile on their face, maybe even with sore face muscles from laughing.

New Logo Color

Eric Buss in Shenanigans performs April 21, 2018, at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! 

Meet John Carney: the man behind the magic

When you buy a ticket to a theater production, you’re hoping you’ll encounter some sort of magic.  You wish to be swept away, to believe in a new or different reality, to believe in the impossible. With John Carney, you get just that and a little more. It’s more than a magic show, it’s more than a theatre show — it’s theatre magic. 

Now what makes Carney so adept at marrying these two art forms? He’s certainly not new to either scene. As an accomplished actor, he’s participated in a multitude of sketch comedy shows, plays, and even landed roles on TV shows such as Spin City and Two and a Half Men. As a magician, he’s acknowledged by his peers as one of the finest sleight of hand performers in the world with many awards to go along with that. He’s no stranger to Hollywood’s The Magic Castle where he performs often and has been given more awards there than anyone in their history. He’s even shown off his magic tricks on the Late Show with David Letterman!2

What makes John Carney so special is his passion for creating original material. He dazzles us with his ability to make us laugh during an illusion. Maybe it’s so magical because he’s done the prep work — but every time it feels brand new. 

Our operations assistant, Lottie Frick, sat down with John to get some insight on his art, life, magic and everything in between.

LF: How did you first get interested in magic?

JCI started when I was a teenager. I think it helped a lot that I had the benefit of a few mentors who were willing to take me beyond the initial infatuation. Close-up magic was a way for me to perform for small groups without stepping foot on a stage. I would perform for friends after dinner or at parties.

LF: Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the art that you create?

JC: My greatest influence in magic was a man named Dai Vernon, probably the greatest sleight-of-hand master of the last century. He was a real artist, in the truest sense of the word. He taught me that good sleight-of-hand is more than just fast hands. Ideally, it’s more intellectual in nature. It’s about psychology, problem solving, choreography of movement…and it has elegant simplicity. Dai Vernon taught me so much. There were never any formal lessons, and no money ever changed hands. We would just sit and talk about magic for hours. We were kindred spirits, even if we were generations apart.

Mystoimplores-1.croped.dd_.jpgLF: What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?

JC: I like the challenge of making a theater of wonder out of simple everyday things. The audience is focused, and I can manipulate the environment with lights and sound. I can create the kind of atmosphere where I can do almost anything, from the silly to the sentimental.

LF: How do you go about creating characters?

JC: Most are based on someone I have known, but exaggerated for effect. Others are amalgams of famous people from real life, movies, and my imagination. A script will get me started, along with a point of view, attitude, voice and speech pattern. From there, I take it on stage and improvise in that frame work, then just keep rewriting, and tweaking it technically. Generally it takes at least 100 performances of a new piece before I feel it has really taken shape. Even then, I can find new touches to add after hundreds of shows.

LF: Incredible that it can still be new after 100 performances. Now, do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?

JC: Hopefully, it all looks spontaneous, but my only ritual is checking and rechecking the hundreds of small details that make it look effortless. Most of the real work comes long before, planning out tiny details that no one would ever notice, unless they were neglected. There are countless technical things that could go wrong in the show, and part of my job is making sure that if they do happen, I figure out a way to fix them so they never happen again. I’m more a believer in preparation than superstition.

LF: If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?

JC: A chimpanzee: Silly, playful, and charming, but underneath it all, more clever than you think.

LF: What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?

JC:  I want to affect people and give them a unique experience. I want it to be fun, with people walking away happy, perhaps with a new perspective on their own beliefs and perceptions – and what is possible.


Carney Magic runs Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 4PM and 8PM at the Curtis Theatre. Tickets range from $16-$32. For tickets, call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 or purchase 24/7 on our website http://www.curtistheatre.com. Use code “HalfOffCarney” for 50% off tickets.