Welcome to this series of interviews that originally appeared in Rubber Chicken magazine. Editor and publisher Peter Aubery has made them available for the Kids Entertainer Hub audience.
In this series, Peter Aubery talks with kids entertainers Charlie Frye, John Kimmons, Bill Abbott, Michael Diamond, Paul Daniels, and Sylvester the Jester. In this episode, we feature the amazing Jimmy Carlo.
Jimmy Carlo has been at the forefront of children’s entertaining for over 20 years now. He has done thousands of shows, won numerous awards, and even produced his own line of best-selling DVDs and magic tricks—Games-Ability, Kid-Ability and Balloon-Ability—to help children’s entertainers. He has performed all over the UK, not just on his own but also with some of the biggest names in magic such as Ali Bongo, The Pendragons, and Rudy Coby. He has worked at top American and UK cruise lines and performed at some of the biggest and busiest holiday camps, hotels, and corporate venues the UK has to offer. So who better to have a chat with than the man himself, Mr. Jimmy Carlo!
How did you get into children’s magic and magic in general and who were your inspirations in the magic business when you were first starting up?
It started way back when I was young. I never had a magic set for Christmas but I loved every magic show on TV. I said, “One day I will do that.”
I turned pro as a drummer when I left school and went all over Europe playing in rock bands. After about 12 years, I started my own comedy band called Bumper Bundle. We were a trio and a great band but I injected comedy into the show. Then I started fire eating, then cod magic (Tommy Cooper style who was a great inspiration to me and whom I did meet once).
After about four years, the band did its last summer season in Skegness. Here I met my Ann (Crystal to many) and we started talking about doing a magic act. Within a year, we got an engagement in Jersey for a six-month summer season for Modern Hotels. This really honed our show and comedy. We did a comedy slapstick silent act to music and the show lasted 45 minutes. We performed this show all over the UK in working men’s clubs, but I can say we never died. We came close on a couple of occasions but we always had applause when we finished. As I said before, Tommy Cooper was influential, and also Paul Daniels, David Nixon, and Ali Bongo, who later on we had the pleasure of touring with.
I mentioned that you have put out a number of DVDs yourself. What made you decide to do this and what response have you had from this?
After 20 years of doing our comedy magic act, my wife and I got divorced and I was sort of left in limbo. We were just about to sign a contract for the Greatest Magic Show in Las Vegas with Kevin James, so it was a really bad time for me. I decided that with all my experience, I could use it to entertain children.
I soon found out it was a different kettle of fish having 40 kids in front of you, but I took to it like a duck to water. I love kids so I soon got on their wavelength.
After a few years, many people saw my shows and said I should share my knowledge and expertise in cabaret and the way I entertain children at parties. So I went about getting a series of DVDs filmed and called it the Ability Series. These were all the things I thought children’s entertainers would find useful as they were about magic, games, and balloons. Still in the pipeline are Biz-Ability and Festive-Ability. They tackle the art of the business side of children’s entertainment and also all the themed tricks I have done for Easter, Christmas, Halloween, and festive shows.
My DVDs have sold all over the world and had some great reactions. I also have tricks that I have sold over the past few years and some are still available like the Riddle of Rudolph’s Nose, Santa’s Revenge ( this was a joint project between myself and Shane West/Zoobee), Puppet Melodies, the Wishing Box, the Vanishing Magic Wand, and Prize Surprise. I also have games I have put together like the Olympic Torch Race, Big Foot, Swat-a-Balloon, and Hang-Up.
What’s the best bit of advice you have ever had?
Work a routine out at home and then practice it in front of an audience. You will get all your timing, bits of business, etc. once you are performing the routine. Keep at a magic effect for at least 10 to 12 shows and then after that, you will know if it’s the right magic effect for you. If not, take it out and add another trick. Do the same again. Some tricks will just seem to work for your persona and you will find performing them a real pleasure.
What advice would you give to anybody wanting to get into children’s entertaining?
Get a character that’s part of yourself to perform as. You will find it easier if your performing character is like a hidden part of you wanting to get out and cause havoc.
What is your favourite thing about children’s entertaining?
Taking the children on a ride of wonderment with me. They forget all the bad things that have happened to them for a couple of hours. I’ve done parties to 100s of special needs children, blind and deaf schools, children in hospitals, and every time I make a child smile, it makes my job really worthwhile.
What is your personal all-time favourite magic effect for children?
I have many great effects I do in my shows, but two really stand out. One is the Magic Spell Book, an old idea by Supreme Magic and now put out by Dave Charles. This to me is the greatest magic opening trick that has ever been produced. It has everything. It gets the kids shouting out all together even if they are shy and strangers with each other. It has “they see, you don’t see.” It can show your performing style and let the children know you can be vulnerable. Like with me, I tell them I don’t like spiders, then at the end a spider shoots out a web on the back of the bag. Later on, in another trick, another spider appears and I get scared again.
Another effect is my own, the Riddle of Rudolph’s Nose. This effect can use five children from the audience who will try to magic Rudolph a new nose. Five coloured balls are magically made to appear in a bag one at a time and the child tries them on the A4 picture of Rudolph where his nose is missing. At the end, the birthday child or one you like the look of comes up and makes the correct colour—red. After some more fun, all the children say a silly rhyme and the red nose on Rudolph starts to flash. It just has everything—children, again, joining in in the magic rhymes, and you using at least five children to help magic the nose.
Do you like children and could you eat a whole one?
Yes, I do like children but I prefer Cadbury Cream Eggs. I think liking children is a big part of your success or failure. Kids can pick up if you like them or not.
What’s your favourite way to control a naughty kid?
Most kids are not trying to be naughty. They can be overexcited or have some sort of disability that you can’t see. I try to be firm but I do it with a smile when I have to tell them off. If it doesn’t work, I then get the parent to sit with them. Also, as I do most of my shows sitting on a stool so I can be the same height as the child helpers, if I stand up and look at them, this can be enough for them to think I might come over and sit on them.
You have done a number of acts over time—for anybody who hasn’t seen your sumo act, I recommend that they check it out—but when adding a new effect or character into your act, how do you go about trying, selecting, and adding it?
At present, I am working on a new cabaret act. The sumo act has taken me all over the world, in hotels, casinos, cruise ships, and TV. You can see clips on YouTube.
The knife throwing act was the hardest to put together as I had to learn how to throw knives, shoot an arrow from a recurve bow, and hit the balloon or apple off my wife’s ( now ex-wife) head all in four weeks. One of the cruise ships wanted something different. We were going on it four weeks after their phone call, and I actually got the 30-minute act together in that time.
Now, shooting an apple off your wife’s head from 50 feet on a moving ship can be very scary. I could have killed her, but she still wanted to do it. We performed this act called “Calamity James and Co” at the Blackpool Magicians’ Convention to great praise.
My new act is going to be comedy magic, music, singing, slapstick, etc. A bit of everything. I have been working on this act while working for P&O on their cruise ships for the past year. I feel the links are more important than the tricks so these have been the hardest to work on.
Can you think of one stand-out show or performance you have done and why?
Yes, that’s easy. While we were on one of our summer seasons in the Isle of Man, I had this idea for the sumo act. We talked about what we should do and came up with this sub-trunk routine that had never been done before. Then I was on the phone with Wayne Mattox who built all our illusions and I told him what I wanted. Once he had gotten up off the floor and stopped laughing, he said it could be done.
So he started building what I wanted while we were still in the Isle of Man. Three days after we were due to come home, the IBM Convention was being held in Great Yarmouth. We entered the stage competition and then started working out how we would do the act. We got home on Tuesday, unpacked and washed clothes, had some food, then repacked and set off to pick up our new illusion from Wayne’s house. By this time, we had the music and all our movements together but we did not have the props. The first time the props would see daylight was on the night of the competition.
Well on that night, and to a full Wellington Theatre, we went ahead with our brand new show. Within one minute, we heard this hurricane of laughter coming towards the stage and knew from then on we were going to be okay.
At the end of the act, we had a standing ovation and the audience kept on clapping long after we had left the stage. After a few minutes, the stage hand came in to our dressing room and said, “Can you get back on stage? They won’t stop clapping.” We were the first ever act to do a curtain call in the IBM Competition. On the prize giving night, we won all the major awards—Best Magic Act, Most Original Act, and Best Comedy Act. This stands out as one of our best shows ever.
Who is the most famous person you have worked for?
We have worked for many famous people, but the one that stands out was the Ruler of Dubai.
We were working on a stage with a moat around us in this theme park called Hilly Fun City. The night he and his family were there, it was blowing a gale and we were doing fire eating in the show. Anyway to cut the story short, when I filled my mouth with paraffin, I couldn’t determine which way the wind was blowing so I just went for it. I held the flames high and spat out the paraffin for what seemed like ages but nothing happened. Then suddenly, in the night sky above us, the paraffin lit like a firework going off. I have to say it looked spectacular.
At the end and once we were changed, the theme park coordinator said to us that the Ruler wanted to speak with us. After the coordinator had told us what to do in the Ruler’s presence, we went off to see him. He introduced his wife and children then started to tell us how much he enjoyed our show. His final question came as a big shock. He said, “I want to ask you a question.” I said, “Sure.” He said, “How the f@@k did you get the fire to light up in the sky?” I said it was plenty of practice. He thanked us and we left. What a memory.
What are your feelings on joining a magic club?
I think it’s a great idea being part of a club. Every one is into the same thing—be it magic, close-up, stage, kids, or mentalism. There is always someone there who you can ask for help, run an idea past, or just talk to.
Who or what was the best magician/performance you’ve seen?
This has to be David Copperfield when he performed in London. We went with a group from the Supreme Magic Co. We had VIP seats and a room to meet before the show. Copperfield (love him or hate him) has a presence on stage and as he came into the audience and walked past us, you could feel it. He was the true pro.
What’s your best form of advertising?
Quick answer: word of mouth.
Many thanks for taking the time to go through these questions, Jimmy. It’s very much appreciated and I’m sure our readers are going to be blown away!