Way back in the ’70s, during another career phase, I was the manager of a health food store in Cupertino, California. That’s where the nickname started. When I began my magic career, the name sort of carried over. I found that it was a very convenient stage name because when most people would forget the names of those magicians they saw on TV, they would remember the name “Doc.” If someone calls me Bill now, it is either someone from a former life or the IRS.
Your interest in magic began a bit later in life than most. What were you doing before you started performing magic professionally?
I was generally always employed in the field of sales…everything from health food to haberdashery. My wife, Alison, points out to me that every job I ever had was dealing with people and usually a lot of them. My only exposure to magic at all was through the Johnson Smith catalog when I was in my early teens. I was a killer with Nickels to Dimes!
How did you become interested in bar magic as a specialty?
Until the age of 30, I was unaware that the field even existed! On a motorcycle adventure during the summer of my 30th year, fate intervened and put me in Snowmass at the World Famous Tower Bar with none other than Bob Sheets in front of me. Life would never be the same.
Since you mentioned Bob Sheets, he, along with his mentor, Heba Haba Al, has been quite influential in your work. Are there any other performers you count as influences?
I have been influenced by nearly every performer with whom I have come in contact! If I were to start listing them here, we’ll run out of room. However, the earliest influences came from the talent that Bob assembled for his Jolly Jester Restaurant in Aspen [circa 1977-1980]. At the time, Steve Spill, J.C. Wagner, a wonderful little man named Eddie Houlihan, and Eddie Goldstein were the “faculty” at my private magic college. Bob Read and his wonderful approach to magic and comedy also had a strong influence on me.
How did the performing character of Doc Eason, complete with the braces, derby and quick wit, evolve?
Through years of development! Actually, the derby came out of a chance visit to a costume shop following a visit with Bob Read. I tossed on a bowler and Alison said, “Hey! I like that!” The braces came from my haberdasher’s sense of style. The bow tie/cummerbund/braces look evolved out of a desire to look different than the wait staff. The quick wit? I guess that came from 30 (or 50, depending on when you think that quick wit emerged) years of dealing with people.
Some bar magicians have expressed displeasure with magicians in their bars usually because of the occasional obnoxious behavior or they’re simply afraid of getting their material or lines pilfered. How do you feel about magicians coming to see you work?
Maybe I am fortunate in that most magicians don’t have it together financially to travel to a place like Aspen, so I am not inundated with guys stopping by on their way home from the magic club meeting to pick up a few lines. Most visiting magicians to my bar are respectful enough to understand the rules of decorum and not whip out a deck of cards to show whoever wants to watch their version of the trick that I just performed. If I worked in a more accessible place, then I would probably have a different reaction to this question.
Most people would say that I welcome visiting magicians with open arms and, if I am familiar with their work, I will often invite them behind the bar to do a trick or two. As far as my material goes, it has been developed over years and I am not sure how much can be lifted successfully. As Frank Everhart once told me, “There is only one Frank Everhart, there is only one Doc Eason, and no one can lift the total act successfully.”
The assumption that many magicians outside the specialty make is that bar audiences are loud, rude and generally difficult to entertain. What is your perception of the typical bar patron as magic audience?
That’s what makes bar magic so much fun! They certainly can be all of those things, and after twenty years, I have certainly seen loud, rude and generally difficult-to-entertain audiences. However, with the right attitude, I think I can win over most audiences. Not all, but most. By that I mean, you have to be able to assess the audience and make adjustments to your material and style depending on where they are. An underlying attitude of quiet confidence has carried me through some of my toughest challenges. I know that what I have for them is good, solid, time-tested material and if I can just get their attention long enough, I’ll get ’em! When you do win them over, it is one of life’s greatest highs.
What elements make a trick a good bar trick?
Generally speaking, a good bar trick needs to be quick, direct and easy to follow. With that loud, rude and hard-to-entertain audience, I find the best trick is a heavy surprise trick. Most bar magicians have a “f*** you” trick. Mine is the “peeked card under their drink” trick. This trick will bring the most jaded spectator into the fold for me. Once they are on my side, or as Leipzig said, once they like you, then you can do almost anything.
Take us through how you develop a new piece. What process occurs for a trick to make it into your “A” list?
I have to like the trick very much. If it fooled me or I like the way it reads and it fits my style, then I’ll try a new trick. If it gets a favorable reaction, i.e. it fools them and it gets a strong reaction, then I’ll slip it in and work it three or four times a night. Once I get comfortable doing it, then I’ll start to fluff it out with lines that are gleaned from the audience or my back-up bartenders. My acid test these days is when I run it by Eric Mead, who has a great comic mind. He usually drops a few great lines in and then it’s in.
Almost any performer who has performed in the same venue for this many years will tell you that you inevitably have “prepared ad-libs.” No, that isn’t an oxymoron. Certain situations will occur over and over and certain comments will be made repeatedly. I simply have standard comebacks to those standard situations. It appears that quick wit is employed but it is often simply being prepared for that recurring situation.
What books would we find in Doc Eason’s working library?
Men are from Mars – Women are from Venus. Oh, you mean magic books! Okay, well, as I gaze about my office, the books that are currently closest to the surface are Mike Close’s Workers books and Everything is Funnier with Monkeys by another “worker,” Doc Dixon. I enjoy reading books from those who I know are working and not the armchair guys.
Aside from an occasional double- entendre, your presentations seem to be substantially less risque than other bar workers. What is your opinion regarding “blue” material?
As a bar magician, the latitude for strong language and blue material is obviously much different than most any other venue. Over the twenty years I have worked the bar, I have tried a lot of different stuff and I know that I have offended my share of people and I am not comfortable doing that. The real blue material just doesn’t fit me. I am, perhaps, overly sensitive to my patrons. I care too much about people to run the risk of offending someone by going after a cheap laugh. I know of one bar magician who claimed that he had been doing the Goshman “Ding Dong” trick for years and never offended anyone, but I met people in the hallway following his most recent rendition of this trick and people were mortified. I think that I am just as effective if not more so by not doing the real blue stuff. The material doesn’t have to be shocking to be effective.
You do a fair number of trade shows and corporate gigs during off-season at the Tower. Is the material you use for those events different from what you use at the Tower?
Some of it is but a lot of the material is, in substance, the same. However, I run it through a pretty strong filter. I, for one, really don’t want to offend someone who is paying me big corporate dollars.
Your take on the Card on Ceiling, involving a throw through the whirling blades of a ceiling fan, could be considered one of your signature tricks. How did it evolve?
Since you brought it up…may I take this opportunity to urge your readers to not attempt this. It is extremely dangerous to throw anything through the blades of a spinning fan. One of the high points of my lecture is the story of the night I knocked the blades off. It is hilarious now but quite horrific in its implications. There! You have been warned.
Now, it evolved from one particular performance. We had just installed ceiling fans in the bar. I was about to do card on the ceiling and a patron challenged me to do it through the fan. When it went through the first time, the only more surprised than the customer was me! Suddenly, I had my closer.
Perhaps a degree in astrophysics or a black belt in full-contact origami. I’d like to build a pig from a kit. I love working the bar…it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on…but I am stepping back a little bit. I’m doing more corporate work and less of the bar. I want to spend more time watching my kids grow up.
This brings us to your current video project for L&L Publishing. What made you decide to do this video?
So my Mom knows what I’ve been doing for twenty years! As I said, I may be stepping back a bit from the bar and I would like these tapes to serve as a record of what I’ve done over the last two decades. I have resisted other offers from different video producers because, frankly, I was afraid that the subsequent tapes wouldn’t live up to the quality of my first video, Rocky Mountain Magic. But, I think you’ll agree that these are much better than that first tape.
Were the videos shot during a regular Tower show or were the performances staged especially for the shoot?
Well, a little of both. We had to move people around so that we weren’t plagued with someone’s head being in the wrong place at the wrong time but these were real people and real reactions.
Though all of the material on the tapes is strong, what effects, in your opinion, are the highlights?
Each tape has one of my “Big Three” as a highlight. The Multiple Selection, the Card on Ceiling and the Lemon trick are the cornerstones of each of the three tapes.
Other than running out and buying the new videos, do you have any advice for aspiring bar magicians?
Advice that came to me through Matt Schulien…go out and get caught. That is the only way to learn what works and what doesn’t. A bar crowd will let you know what they like or don’t like. Bar magic is like New York, if you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.
If I were to encourage them to further their career in the bar, I would be remiss in not mentioning that it is a hard way to make a living. The fun level is high but the money isn’t always that great. As a husband and a father, there are probably a lot of other occupations that should be pursued.
In closing, is there one trick you would most like to be remembered for?
Probably the trick that is most associated with me is the mother of all money tricks—the $100 version of the Card on Ceiling. Of the three cornerstones of these tapes, the one that I am most proud of is perhaps the only one that I really developed from scratch—the multiple selection of cards. Lots of people helped with the pieces and parts, but when it is all put together with the memory stuff, this trick is the one that is most impressive to laymen and magicians as well.