Illusionist Mike Super remembers the moment when he fell in love with magic.
During a childhood trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., Super wandered into an old-fashioned magic shop in the theme park’s Main Street U.S.A. section. There, the 6-year-old discovered an old man performing simple stage tricks.
“I was just obsessed. I didn’t want to leave,” said Super, who agreed to go only after his mom promised he could spend $20 on magical souvenirs.
Now a professional magician who bills himself as “America’s Favorite Mystifier,” Super — yes, that’s his real name — is best known for his star-making turn on the NBC reality show “Phenomenon” in 2007 and an “Ellen” talk show appearance in 2010. (He’s currently developing a television show with a cable network, although he refused to disclose any details.) He’ll bring his stage show to the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo on Friday.
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Super, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., got his professional start performing at children’s birthday parties at age 12. He was even paid to perform at a few of his friends’ get-togethers, he said.
While studying computer science at the University of Pittsburgh, Super performed tableside magic tricks at restaurants.
By the time he graduated, “I was already making more doing magic than I was being offered in interviews,” said Super, who soon went from appearing at work parties and corporate gatherings to touring at colleges and performing arts centers across the country.
Although Super said his parents supported his interest in magic, they initially saw it as “a very nice little hobby,” he said, not a career. “I don’t think anybody sets out for their kid to be an entertainer.”
Unfortunately, Super’s parents didn’t live to see their son achieve major success as a magician.
Super was still a teenager when his mother passed away from breast cancer. His dad, a steel-mill worker, died a few years later, when the performer was 24.
“I know they would have really loved it. They would have loved telling the stories,” Super said.
Super especially wishes his parents could have seen him perform on “Phenomenon,” a reality competition that found contestants performing live for illusionist Criss Angel, mentalist Uri Gellar and other celebrities.
Super said he originally turned down an offer to appear on the show.
“I don’t really like the idea of the art forms competing,” explained Super, who changed his mind after his Los Angeles manager convinced him to meet with the show’s producers.
When they made him an alternate rather than one of the 10 regular contestants, he turned down “Phenomenon” again — only to get another frantic phone call from his manager. Finally, he caved.
“I live by what I call ‘the rocking-chair test,’ ” Super said. “When I’m in a rocking chair at the end of my life, I don’t want to be saying, ‘I wonder what would have happened if I had done this?’ ”
Super went on to win the show and $250,000 for his daring on-camera feats.
“You’re under so much pressure, you don’t realize creatively how much you’re able to do in a short amount of time,” Super said.
Rather than rely on tried-and-true tricks, he said, “I had to create something new from scratch.”
For instance, he contacted a national newspaper to place a prediction in the form of a print advertisement, later confirming his suspicions on live television.
Super credits his success on “Phenomenon” with raising his public profile.
“When I won the show, it went from us approaching them to them approaching us,” he said, allowing him to be more selective about his show dates. “You’re doing the exact same thing (as before). You’re the exact same person. (But) you get more notoriety at the moment.”
As for his winnings? “The government made (them) disappear,” he joked.
In reality, Super said on his website, most of the money went to his act to pay for a new touring truck, new illusion technology and prize money for a prediction challenge. He also took his family to Disney World.
Since his “Phenomenon” win, Super has worked on refining his show, which he said uses classic showmanship, modern technology and plenty of audience interaction to surprise and delight.
“There’s a lot of comedy as well,” he said. “It’s just as funny as it is amazing.”
Over the course of the show, he claims to take control of an audience member’s body using “voodoo magic,” conjures up a spirit that communicates with the crowd, and creates an indoor snow storm. Audience members disappear, levitate and have their minds read.
According to Super, one popular stunt was inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s famous car giveaways, which found the talk show host gifting brand-new vehicles to her audience members. “Wouldn’t it be great if a magic trick I did had a lasting effect on people’s lives?” the magician mused.
In Super’s version, he makes a vehicle from a local dealership appear onstage only after audience members have decided what color, make and model it will be.
“We’ve had everything from a Lamborghini to a motorcycle to a snowmobile,” he said, even one of the spinning teacups from Disneyland’s Mad Tea Party ride.
Audience members with valid driver’s licenses then have a chance to win the vehicle via a random drawing.
Super said his show is designed to entertain all ages, especially children and teens.
“It’s the one show you can take your teenager to, and by the end of it you’ll end up looking cool — if only for a few minutes,” he quipped.
IF YOU GO
7 p.m. Friday
Cohan Center, Cal Poly
$21 to $48
756-4849 or www.pacslo.org
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.