20 Questions with Aldo Colombini

Aldo Colombini Products:

The Essential Aldo Colombini – 3 Volume DVD Set $99.95

Aldo Colombini’s Impromptu Card Magic – 3 Volume DVD Set $99.95

Blown Away – $15.00

Jacks in the Box – $8.50

Jumble Jumbo – $15.00

The Ugly Duckling – $18.50

Aldo ColombiniHow did a small boy growing up in Italy get interested in magic in the first place?

By desperation! Let me explain before readers get the wrong idea! I grew up on a farm (thank God I’m a country boy…) and my family didn’t have enough money to allow me to continue my education (which, at that time in Italy, was free only through the eighth grade). So, at 14, I went to work for the famous Ferrari racing car factory while educating myself by reading every book I could get my hands on. I worked on the Dino assembly line and assembled the same pieces of the car eight hours a day, five days a week for seven long years. I almost went nuts! I tried a lot of different things hoping to get out of there; oil painting, playing guitar in a band and, finally, I was given a book about magic, fell madly in love with it and…. here I am.

Do you remember the first trick you ever learned?

Yes, like it was yesterday. The very first thing I ever learned was a move called the Thumb Palm with a cigarette. (In Italy, we call it “The Italian Palming” or Impalmaggio all’Italiana.) I saw the move in a bar performed by a magician. I just happened to be standing behind him and he let me stay there while he did this manipulation. I watched him, totally fascinated, then went home and practiced. (I had to beg my father to give me cigarettes by convincing him that they can be used for other things besides inhaling. And , no, at that time, I didn’t inhale!) The first actual trick I learned was a card trick based on the Clock Principle (and not the 21 card trick!).

English-speaking magicians might be interested in what books were available to a young magic student in Italy. What books influenced you as you were developing as a magician?

I learned my basic stuff from a book called Magia delle Carte (Card Magic) by Carlo Rossetti. To my knowledge, it was the only book available in regular bookstores on magic published in Italian at that time. In fact, that very same book is still with me! I keep it as a memento and I can still remember the excitement and sense of wonder I felt when I first read it. The book per se was very simple, but the author’s style of writing was (and remains) enjoyable and pleasant to read. It amazes me to think of what the present generation has in the

way of information about learning the art of magic; not only thousands of books and videotapes, but even the Internet.
I had a French magician as a good friend, and he suggested that I buy some books from the US. So, like many performers of my generation,

amateur or professional, I got all the Marlo, Vernon, Lorayne and Simon books and studied them like my life depended on them (to find out later that I indeed was depending on them for real!)

What magicians were early influences?

Well, I guess I answered that with the last question. After those books, I studied everything I could get my hands on about kid magic; David Ginn and Edwin Hooper were my two favorites. For stage, Buckingham and Koran and so on. I can honestly say that every book I read (and I am a voracious reader, preferring books to videos, probably because I grew up without video tapes and I still enjoy reading so much) influenced my work in one way or another and I owe a lot to the authors that shared their ideas. It is probably because of this that I like to share what I know in video tapes and/or in books.

How did you become a full-time performer?

After studying magic for a time I decided to enter competitions in Europe. After taking second prize in Close-Up at F.I.S.M. in 1976, I met an agent who started to book me into nightclubs doing a magic act. I was pretty courageous during those years and I tried out several types of magic. Finally, I (and my magic) matured and I developed the style that remains with me to this day. But during those crazy times, I did several different things including a dove act (yes, I really did), a silent stage act and I began to develop comedy routines that I started to become known for. I actually worked as a stand-up comic as well! Finally, I was able to make enough money to get out of the factory. I was 22 and I said to myself, “You’re still young so you may as well try. At the worst, you can always go back to the factory.” Thank goodness I never had to.

Earlier in your career, you performed under the name of Fabian. Why did you adopt a stage name and what led to your decision to return to your given name?

Isn’t that funny? In Italy, magicians often adopt a stage name with an American ‘flavor’ and in the United States, magicians often put an “-ini” at the end of a name to make it sound Italian (probably because of Houdini, Cardini, Slydini, etc). So, although Fabian is a common family name in the north of Italy (in fact, Fabian was a soccer player), I used it as my stage name. I liked the sound of it and, although it is also Italian, as I said, I thought it sounded sort of American (although my choice had nothing to do with the American rock and roll singer with that name).

The decision to drop Fabian and use my real name came after I moved to America and people told me that my name (Colombini) sounded magical. In fact, even now, many people here in America ask me how I came up with the beautiful, magical name of Colombini and I simply say, “My father gave it to me!” Actually, during the last few years I lived and performed in Italy, I wanted to begin using my real name but I was so well known as Fabian that, although I tried, it was impossible. I couldn’t get people to call me Aldo as many only knew me as Fabian.

Comedy plays an important part in your work. How much of your presentations are scripted versus ad-libbed?

Mark Twain used to say, “It takes me at least a couple of weeks to prepare an impromptu speech,” and this fits me perfectly. I have at least several dozen impromptu or ad-libbed lines in my mind and, basically, everything else is a script. These “impromptu” lines are so much a part of me after all these years of performing, that I can now use them when needed without even thinking of them and so, when I do, they sound…well…impromptu!

I believe in being prepared when I face an audience and my patter is carefully thought out and practiced. After I write a first draft, practice saying it to myself and try some of the lines out on my family, I rehearse the presentation/script in front of an audience. I know too well, after so many years as a professional performer that, even when I prepare the script and think it sounds great at home, often on the first try with a real audience, it doesn’t feel right. So, I polish it during performances. It may take several attempts to polish the routine into the one I finally really like and use all the time. Only in front of a real audience will you find out what works and what doesn’t. Of course, this is my way to do it; it may not work for others, of course.

Comedy was always an important part of my life. My mom is one of the funniest people I know so maybe it’s genetic. And, as I mentioned before, I did several years of stand-up comedy in Italy so it was always around me. It’s the way I act when I’m not on stage so it feels right when I include humor in my act. It’s natural to my personality so it feels natural to use it when I perform. It’s just me!

Much of your magic is accurately described as highly commercial. What, in your opinion, makes an effect a commercial one?Aldo Colombini

Any product that sells well is a com- mercial success from a financial point of view. We see this daily through TV and other medias. A magic trick is the same. An effect (not necessarily a trick) that goes over well with any audience, that is easily understood by them and is immediately liked, is a commercial one. Some magicians only study magical effects that are highly technical and created, in my opinion, for other magicians. But, ask any working magician and he or she will tell you that an effect that is easy to do and draws a strong response from the audience (along with personality and presentation, of course) is what gets you hired again. And that to me is what makes an effect commercial and a success.

This brings us to your current video project for L&L Publishing. You’ve made other videos in the past. What’s different about these?

First of all, my ability to speak your language is much different! My English is much better now than it was then. I’m not sure that you can ever imagine how difficult it is to work in a language that is not your own. And secondly, and more importantly, the material is different. In these videos, I have offered a variety of effects with cards, ropes, coins, comedy, mentalism, cups and balls, etc and I think that there is really something here for everyone. There are no filler effects; every effect on all four volumes of these new L&L videos was used (or is still being used) in my acts. All the material included in these videotapes has been good for me and served me well during the years and I can only hope that it will be used and enjoyed by anyone who studies these tapes.

What criteria was involved in choosing the material for this new set of videos?

In looking through the material I have enjoyed over the years, I looked for material that can be used by almost any performer, amateur and professional alike. That was my goal; material that I thought would please the most people. I didn’t want to fill the videos with difficult stuff just so people would know how good I am; I wanted to share routines that virtually anyone can do— routines that I really use and enjoy and that my audiences enjoy.

With this in mind, are you afraid that there will soon be several copies of Aldo Colombini?

I don’t think so. First of all, I have a big advantage over the others…. my Italian accent! (And, strangely enough, many spectators actually ask me if I am faking my accent during my performances!) Second, I hope that magicians who study my routines will put their persona into them. I know there is a danger when watching a video to take on the personality of the teacher, even subconsciously. This is another reason why I love books. But I usually say, “Try to be another person and you’ll always be a perfect number two.” Nobody is like you because you are unique. I hope all who watch these tapes will take the material and adapt it to their own personality and performing style.

Very few magicians know that you are also a children’s entertainer. Do you like it or do you just do it as an additional source of income?

I never work just for the money. If someone wants to book me for something that I think I cannot do, I will not accept the booking. For example, I have never felt comfortable performing magic for teen-agers (14 to 17 years old) and I have only worked once for this age group. While, on the other hand, I love to work for the little ones, the kids of between 4 and 10 years old.

I worked in Italy for almost 20 years for kids. I even had a long-running television spot on a children’s TV show and I don’t hesitate to say that I was the first real children’s performer in my country (not the first magician who ever worked for kids, but the first who did an act appropriate for kids). I love the feeling; I love the laughter and the innocence of the kids probably because down deep I’m still a kid myself!

You are lecturing all over the world. Do you ever tire of it?

I love it! Lecturing for me is one of the favorite things I do. I would lecture every day if I could. I like the experience of teaching my way of doing and seeing magic, my way of interpreting the performances, and I also really enjoy the bonding that happens between the listeners and me. I also really love it when I fool a room full of magicians with a subtlety and/or a simple move.

I find my creative outlet not only in my performing but also in creating, whether it’s a routine, a trick or just an effect and the ability to teach these creations to other magicians is the height of enjoyment for me. At present, I have performed in 35 countries including lecturing, MCing, performing my act for live audiences or on television both for magicians as well as for lay audiences. Before I retire, my goal is to have performed in at least 50 countries!

And now the standard question. You’re stranded on a desert island. What three magic books will you have with you?

Hmm! Only three? I read at least a dozen books a month so this is not an easy question for me. Well, I would definitely bring Card Craft by J.K. Hartman, the Tarbell Course In Magic (since it’s a collection, I’ll cheat and count it as one. Hey, it’s my fantasy!) and then the bound edition of The Pallbearer’s Review.

Assuming you have any spare time, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Magic is a hobby for me as well as my profession. It began as one and it still feels like one. Besides magic, I am fascinated by the stories of Sherlock Holmes and enjoy reading them on a daily basis. I have been reading and re-reading the entire collection (in Italian as well as in English) for so many years that I have almost memorized every story! I also love going to the movies (I could watch a new film every day if I had the time), watching John Wayne movies (my hero), traveling the world meeting old and new friends and playing guitar (although I have never been able to figure out where you blow on it!) And, oh, yes, I enjoy sitting around and drinking wine with friends. What kind of wine do I like? Well, I have never met a wine I didn’t like!

Aldo ColombiniWhat do you think about all these programs lately that give away the secrets of magic (the Fox exposure series and the like)?

I always said, from the very beginning, that the more we protest, the more we call attention to these programs. I actually fail to see the danger that many seem so horrified of. I feel that it’s the magician that makes the trick and not the trick that makes the magician. Valentino himself said in the interview in MAGIC that the huge protests of the magicians convinced the network to repeat the program. Of course! The louder the protest, the more it makes news.

Besides my opinion that this whole thing would have quietly disappeared if we had showed no interest, I also believe that if we protest about this, we should protest about the hundreds of shops all over this country and many others that sell magic to any person who walks through the door. If you have the $10, $20 or even $500, anyone can buy any magic trick made. Read the instructions and you will learn the secret. Where do we draw the line? I don’t have the answer but I don’t think these tell-all shows are a big deal. I know there’s a lot of passion about this one but this is my personal opinion.

Why did you relocate to the United States?

I moved to America looking for a better opportunity. Sounds like a cliché, I know! But it’s true. I felt that the opportunities in Italy both in regards to performing and creating magic weren’t there for me. I had so many dreams of what I wanted to do and America seemed like the place where I would be able to do it. I came here for the first time on a tour in 1991, fell in love with the country and two years later, decided to move. And, I have never once regretted my decision. I never expected the amount of success that I have found, but I’m not complaining! I am very happy about everything. I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. Before I even imagined I would move here, I had three dreams about America: one—visiting the Alamo in Texas; two—working at the Magic Castle in Hollywood and three—winning an award at the Magic Castle. And, I’m lucky to report, I have achieved all three and more!

What do you mean “more”?

I met Andie, my wife. I wouldn’t have made it without her. She helped me from the very beginning when it was so hard for me having left my family in Italy. She supported me and encouraged me all the way. Finally, she is half of our company, Mamma Mia Magic. Or, I should say, she is Mamma Mia Magic. She is my agent, my manager, my bookkeeper, my partner and my… well, my everything.

Why did you call your company Mamma Mia Magic?

When Andie and I decided to create our company, we looked for a name. One evening I was at the Magic Castle and I heard Irene Larsen say, “Mamma Mia!” Until then, I hadn’t realized that American people used these words as an expression of surprise. And, since it’s Italian . . . well . . . Mamma Mia Magic was born. Nothing could have been more perfect!

What are your expectations for the future?

To go on doing exactly what I’m doing now. I’m lecturing and teaching, creating new effects, writing new manuscripts that I plan to publish, making videos and performing more and more for lay audiences at private parties and events along with many school shows this year. I’d like to take on some private students to experience the satisfaction and intensity of one-on-one teaching. I am happy just like this and I only hope to stay in good health so I can continue for a long time to come. Yes, I am perfectly happy like this. So, if I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me up!