Exclusive: The Anti-Conjurer Dan Sperry Talks Magic, Horror, and Disney
The world first got a big look at unique illusionist Dan Sperry on “America’s Got Talent” a few seasons ago. Sperry has continued to entertain with his dark and sinister style of magic and is now about to embark on a huge nationwide tour. He recently chatted with Dread Central about his latest venture.
Sperry is a member of a tour entitled The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible, which visits Broadway at the Marquis Theater from November 26, 2014, to January 4, 2015, before hitting the road on a nationwide tour. To see just what this incredible group of performers have in store for audiences, visit TheIllusionistsLive.com. At the end of our Q&A with Dan, take a look at his recent guest appearance with two other members of The Illusionists (The Inventor Kevin James and The Futurist Adam Trent) on “America’s Got Talent.” It’s a great performance!
Read on, Dreadies; Dan Sperry is definitely our type of illusionist!
Sperry discussed his inspiration for originally delving into the world of magic and from where The Anti-Conjurer persona emanated. “I first saw David Copperfield when I was a kid, and that’s what I saw that made me realize magic could be bigger and grander than, say, a birthday party clown for example,” Sperry said. “As I further studied the art of magic from books at the library or things I could find at a bookstore, I learned and read more about all the crazy and cool things guys in the past, now dead, used to do. I mean, really crazy things, and a lot of them were magicians that were never ‘famous’ in the sense of the word like how Copperfield is famous. That really fascinated me… all the old classical stuff.”
“But at the same time, I was a kid so I was reading comic books and watching “Ren and Stimpy” and stuff like that,” he added. “I used to want to be Captain Hook when I grew up so things like pirates, and really kind of like anything fantasy or make-believe, is something I’ve never grown out of. I also remember seeing all these crazy band banners on my brother’s wall in his bedroom, and one was of Motley Crue and the pentagram, and just seeing all the imagery of these old rock bands like Guns and Motley. Then my mom took me to see the Wayne’s World movie, and of course, Alice Cooper was in it, and that blew my mind. My mom worked in advertising, and one of her clients was this old crazy record shop… and I’m not saying record shop to sound cool and trendy when really I’m talking about like a place that sells CDs and car window decals of bands like Yellowcard or something. I mean like a legit record shop that sold records but also incense and lava lamps and shit made out of hemp and it also happened to sell second-hand CDs and tapes. I discovered bands like The Doors there and Iggy Pop and saw this video of Arthur Brown was playing on the TV one time I remember and it just disturbed me for some reason… so I started getting influenced by all these bands that I just figured were just being weird and crazy and out there… they were like real-life characters I would watch on TV or read about, but they were real… or, well, kind of real at least. So that really shaped my personality as I grew up, especially as I got into punk and industrial music too and watched more and more weird movies and studied art, etc.”
Sperry is in cahoots with The Illusionists, a group of seven completely unique and incredible performers whose styles are amazingly complementary of each other. The group currently includes the aforementioned Kevin James and Adam Trent as well as Aaron Crow, Jeff Hobson, Andrew Basso, and Yu Ho-Jin. Sperry talked about working with this fantastic collection of talent and what he finds most rewarding about it. “I know this may sound like cliché or just sort of sappy, but the most rewarding thing is really just getting to go on stage and do a show that presents magic in a new and refreshing way for people,” Sperry said. “I’ve always said this is a magic show for people that love magic shows, and it is also a magic show for people that hate magic shows. Seeing the reactions to this stuff from people who, when they first just there sit with their arms crossed all grumpy, thinking because it is a magic show that it is going to make them feel dumb because we fool you. That’s not what it is about. It is not a contest, never has been, never will be… at least from me anyway. So getting to see that defensiveness peel away is like when the Grinch begins to love Christmas! The show has been together almost three years. I’m one of two guys who is still of the original cast that has been in every version of the show so that’s a huge honor.”
As with any entertainer, the success of Sperry’s performance depends on how well he moves his audience, something he has mastered. But you can’t always predict what audience members will do. Sperry spoke about one unique experience. “There really isn’t a show that goes by where something doesn’t happen that will almost surprise me to some degree,” Sperry said. “I interact a lot with the audience and I don’t really keep a solid ‘script.’ A lot of it is unique to the audience that is there that day so that opens up a whole bunch of opportunities. About a week or so ago I was doing a show, and there was this little old lady in the audience. I went up to her for a bit and I needed her to stick her finger in the air… usually this means index finger, but she stuck up her middle finger and it was awesome! The audience loved it! So I gave her the finger back. Then she sticks up both middle fingers! So then I stick up both hands in ‘the shocker’ and it was great! We all had a laugh and carried on, but it just made for an awesome and genuine moment where we were all together. In that bit we were all like a group of buddies… even though that group of buddies happened to be like 3,000 people, it felt like only a handful. It’s really cool how that can happen.”
Sperry talked about some of the most memorable and enjoyable moments of his career thus far. “I can’t say there has been like one particular moment or gig or incident per se… I’m more often than not taken aback by the little things at times, know what I mean?” Sperry said. “For example, this one stuck with me quite a bit, but I was on tour once with my show, and I think I was like in Denver or something, and some old dude and his wife came up to me after the show. It was his 68th birthday or something like that. And his wife goes, ‘All he wanted for his birthday was to come see a Dan Sperry show so we drove like two hours to come see it.’ That blew me away because I never thought I’d ever be doing anything worthy of something like that. I mean, I just want to do magic tricks, never thought that I would have that kind of demographic reach and then have them act upon it like that. I also have a lot of die-hard fans (they’re called Abricabastards, ha ha) and these kids, and even adults, actually, have tattoos of my name, logo, face, even some of my birds, tattooed on them! Same thing… I just never thought I’d get that kind of support from people for what I do. I just accepted and was totally fine with accepting that I’d be a full-time guy doing birthday magic shows or something. I have a hard time processing stuff like that–not in a bad way–I just I don’t know. I just don’t feel I’m worthy of that… I am very appreciative of the support though. I realize the fate of my career is not in my hands but in theirs.”
With Sperry being such a cutting-edge performer, it was interesting to hear his honest and informative answer on just how he plans to continue to raise the bar in his act. “I don’t know. Ha ha!” Sperry said. “I know it’s a horrible answer, but I guess I’m really just riding a wave here. I’ve been blessed and it has been great to be able to travel and do what I do, especially in the style that I do it. I just continue to work on stuff and sort of go with it. I do a live web stream show once a week where fans can watch and interact and chat, and I’ll use them as a test audience where I’ll show snippets of a rehearsal of something new and see how it goes over. I’m also working on a web streaming Christmas special! A one-hour TV show, but instead of it going on a TV network I’m doing it via a company that streams it to viewers. So that should be fun and interesting. Fewer rules because it’s the internet! That, and I’m hoping to make it back to visit Disney World soon. But for real, I am. I love Disney!”
Disney aside, with such a horror-friendly persona, we had to hear about the amazing Dan Sperry’s taste in movies. “Hmmm… well, I have, I guess we can say, ‘distinguishing’ taste in horror,” Sperry said. “I mean, you can never go wrong with a classic slasher and some of the more recent horror movies, especially since Saw came out; it seemed to really change the game in the commercial sense of horror movies. But the two I always go back to because I remember seeing them for the first time and I can always go back and still feel that uneasy feeling in my gut, are The Shining and the other is one maybe that is not necessarily considered horror but Begotten is one I saw that just tripped me out and gave me just this disturbed feeling. I remember seeing The Shining for the first time when I was maybe 11 and being confused and really feeling like almost my subconscious was watching another movie within the movie I was consciously watching… if that makes sense. And when I saw Begotten several years later, it was during the day, bright out, and I just got sucked into it; and I found myself every few minutes snapping out of it and quickly looking over my shoulder or looking around like a ‘Hello? Anybody there?’ sort of moment. Just that high contrast… you don’t exactly realize what you’re seeing right away, and as soon as you do, it’s such a WHAT THE HELL?? moment, and then the no audio leaves your imagination to create dialogue or a narrative. It’s just so fucking weird. Anybody I meet who is ‘getting into horror movies,’ I tell them to watch those.”