Interview: Justin Willman brings ‘Full of it’ tour to IC

-- photo via Justin Willman
When he’s not performing on stage, Justin Willman hosts Cupcake Wars on the Food Network and Win, Lose or Draw on the Disney Channel — photo via Justin Willman

Magician Justin Willman takes his “Full of It” tour to The Mill Thursday, offering attendees a mature blend of magic, comedy and musical entertainment.

Now, before you start rolling your eyes at the mere mention of “magic” (you jaded masses), Willman knows what you’re thinking. Having appeared on countless talk shows and toured with musical heavyweights like Jason Mraz, Willman has made a career out of dazzling scoffers and skeptics.

“I think everyone at one point in their life loves magic,” Willman said. “I think once we kind of outgrow that and realize, ‘oh, it’s tricks, oh, I’m being lied to’ … you kind of get a little bit jaded by it. I’m figuring out a way, an angle, to make it not necessarily ‘cool again,’ but make it so you’re able to enjoy yourself again — to feel like a kid again without it feeling like a kiddy show.”

Willman says the show itself has a late night talk show feel, particularly with the addition of his musical sidekick Billy “Bushwalla” Galewood, who scored the show.

“So if you think about how Jimmy Fallon has the Roots, I’m going to have Bushwalla there,” he said, describing the sort of looping, beatboxing and improv comedy that’ll occur throughout the performance. It’s a format he first explored upon touring with musician Jason Mraz, a “huge magic nerd,” according to Willman. One of the magician’s (many) duties was to make Mraz “appear” on stage before each performance.

“The vibe worked,” Willman said.

In addition to the live score and banter courtesy of Bushwalla, Willman’s show differs from more traditional acts through its emphasis on modern, everyday technology. In particular, cell phones and social media will play a big role in Thursday’s show. The low-tech art of magic paired with high-tech gadgets and social media “really tricks peoples’ brains,” Willman says.

“I do some stuff on my show with Siri. We do a lot of tech’y app tricks on the show. We predict tweets,” he said. “So, I use these high-tech memes and things that we’re using on a daily basis, but in a magical context … The things that a simple app on my phone can do is a trick that I could have closed my act with ten years ago, you know? Shazaam [laughs]. It’s magical, these things that our phones can do, yet it’s become so commonplace that we don’t even really acknowledge them as amazing anymore.”

It’s Willman’s hope that, by incorporating this sort of technology, audiences will leave with a healthy buzz and a bit of food for thought.

“It seems like, because things are so high-tech, you don’t really need to know how they work. It just happens,” he said. “So, I feel like the role of a magician in 2014, that I try to embrace, is reconnecting people with how amazing everything around us is, and just kind of snapping us out of this auto-pilot.”

Despite its modern flair, Willman’s approach hearkens back to the origins of stage magic — a time when magic was based, for the most part, on ubiquitous items people thoughtlessly lugged around.

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“Magicians always do magic with whatever is a common thing that people have around, so a hundred years ago when gentleman would wear tuxedos out in public, and top hats, magicians would do magic with top hats,” he said, simply. “But if you’re still doing magic with top hats and rabbits … it just doesn’t make sense.”

Needless to say, top hats aren’t exactly in vogue, but cell phones and gadgets? Willman might be onto something there, and he’s giving the performance art a much-needed update in the process.

“I feel like it just makes it approachable. Makes it real. Makes it more personable,” he said.

Willman’s “Full of It” show kicks off at The Mill this Thursday at 9 p.m. Iowa City’s Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers will open.

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