Take Two #9: Bob Cassidy
Bob Cassidy bills himself as the “Master Mindreader.” He is one of my favorite performing mentalists, and as well, one of the most knowledgeable and generous experts in this distinct specialty. There is certainly no doubt he is a master of his chosen medium—what magicians refer to as “mentalism,” the branch of magic that creates the illusion of mindreading—and there are few mentalists I would rather watch perform. Bob Cassidy is engaging, memorable, riveting, hilarious… and amazing. And that more or less describes him both on stage and off.
When students and colleagues ask me what books to read in their study of mentalism, I usually say that once you’ve read the required standards—Corinda and Annemann—and after you’ve read the modern neo-classics of Barrie Richardson, Max Maven, T.A. Waters and Ted Lesley—and along the way you’ll no doubt accumulate a few more dozen of this and that from among the hundreds of mentalism titles in the literature, and the dozen or so more that I might think to recommend for one particular reason or another—but that once you’re that far along beyond the basics, and not all that much further, then just buy a copy of The Artful Mentalism of Bob Cassidy (H&R Magic Books, 2004) and read it... over and over and over again, until you start to understand it.
I’ve been reading it for years, and I think I’m starting to get it.
Bob and I first met at the “Magic in the Rockies” convention in Colorado in 2002. There had been some behind-the-scenes drama leading up the convention. Bob was making his first convention appearance in some years, and mentalists were eager to come out and see him. But some mentalists in general, along with many in the Psychic Entertainers Association (an oxymoronic title to be sure), took issue with the fact that I was also booked to appear, likely due to my tendency to tweak them now and again in my book review column. (It’s really just too easy. NLP anyone?) This band of Colorado snowflakes, it seems, had secretly (!) gone to the producers and threatened to boycott the conference if my booking wasn’t cancelled. (I wasn’t cancelled, but they showed up anyway.)
None of that matters much except that there’s an extra tad of seasoning in the stew because Mr. Cassidy is one of the founders of that august organization. And so the available witnesses were apparently gathered, waiting for fireworks they anticipated hopefully. But that’s not exactly what happened.
What happened was that the first event of the conference was an afternoon lecture by the master himself, which I attended. It was the first time I’d ever seen him perform, although his reputation certainly preceded him. At the conclusion of the lecture, once he had finished making sales and had begun to pack up, I stepped up onto the platform and introduced myself.
“Bob? I’m Jamy Ian Swiss. And I just want to say, that is one of the best mentalism lectures I’ve ever seen, if not the very best.” And I meant it. Boy, did I ever.
Bob shook my hand, said he was glad to meet me, and was looking forward to having the chance to spend some time and talk.
We would do that. But the next memorable encounter was at the big public stage show that the convention produces every year, in a beautiful 1100-seat theater, with tickets available to the public and well attended. (If memory serves, I think there were about 400 convention attendees, and the rest of the theater was definitely sold out.) Bob and I, along with the rest of the stage acts from the convention, were part of the public show. After I did my spot, I rushed to the back of the theater. I wanted to see Bob’s set, but I also wanted to see if he could deliver in this large theater, and I wanted to be able to assess the audience’s engagement and reaction.
I think Bob did about twenty minutes. It was a terrific performance, and an education. His larger than life personality reached all the way to the back of the room, and his version of “4DT” was a post-doc lesson.
Bob and I ended up spending a lot of time at the bar together, and we had plenty to talk about. We might not see exactly eye to eye about every little thing, but in many ways Bob reminded me of my old friend, Tony Andruzzi, aka Masklyn ye Mage. For all Tony’s public posturing about Bizarre Magick versus mentalism versus magic, the fact of the matter was that Tony knew more about conjuring than 99% of magicians. And the real truth was that he’d have rather watched a great magic trick than a lousy bizarre magic routine. What Tony most appreciated was good work, above all.
Bob’s exactly the same way. When I watched his lecture, I noticed that he did a perfectly executed false in-the-hands riffle shuffle, and I recall thinking to myself, “Hey, here’s a mentalist who can do something.” Bob has chops. He also has deep expertise. I once asked him about pocket writing, a rather obscure subject, and he proceeded to provide a masterful mini-lecture on the subject, discussing principles, applications, skills, and props. It was a marvelous presentation, entirely off the cuff, that could have passed for a polished convention lecture.
We’ve since encountered one another many times over the years, including when he performed at Monday Night Magic; at a fine lecture he presented a decade ago at Tannen’s Magic; and of course at the Magic Castle, where I’ve seen him perform many times. I last saw him there less than a year ago, during a week we both worked the club, and I brought layman friends into see him more than once that week.
I love Bob’s demeanor and personality, his eccentricities and his professionalism. You can tell when a guy has done more shows than you can count in more kinds of venues than you can imagine. It lends a confidence and surefootedness that makes audiences feel secure and gives the performer complete freedom to be himself in any given moment. I love watching young hipster audiences look somewhat puzzled at the wild old guy with the white ponytail and the Wolfman Jack laugh, and then slowly find themselves engaged, then laughing, then astonished. It’s a gradual process that’s fun to watch, and invariably instructive. I love him making up-to-date pop culture references, mentioning social media and Google Glass, keeping the audience on its toes with surprises small and large throughout the show.
Bob’s effects are crystal clear, his methods practical and deceptive, his instructions precise, his spectator management expert, his speech never overly worded or weighted. Yet he manages to thoroughly inject himself into and throughout his work, and you get a sense of a real person there—a person you’d like to spend some more time with, a person you’re not likely to forget anytime soon. A person you’ve learned some things about, but not everything, because there’s clearly more to know, if you only get the chance. There are few magicians of any sort, and far fewer mentalists, about whom the same can be routinely said. Perhaps all I’m trying to say can be simplified down to this: Bob is interesting. Watching him, being in the same room with him, you want to know what’s going to happen next. That’s an excellent goal for any performer, but a particularly advisable one for mentalists to consider.
Bob is in poor health currently, and so I’ve been thinking about him lately even more than usual, although I rarely talk about mentalism without thinking or talking about him. Bob and I have laughed a lot together, laughed over our agreements and disagreements, our similarities and our differences. I have enormous respect for him, and even greater personal fondness. I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every bit of time we’ve spent together, and there hasn’t been nearly enough. Now you can spend a few minutes with him yourself. Put aside the smart phone, please. Expand the browser to the max. Turn up the sound. Experience mastery. It’s the Master Mindreader: my friend, Bob Cassidy.
This is an effect that’s probably performed by more magicians than mentalists, and while its many possible methods have long been fascinating to many amateur magicians, there are few professionals who go so far as to put it in their repertoire, because it’s difficult to put it across effectively, clearly, and engagingly. I love Bob’s performance here. “That’s called ‘mojo,’ Yvonne!”
Here’s a routine of Bob’s that is a lesson in construction. If you’re a smart and thoughtful mentalist and you try to make changes in this routine, you will find its brilliance increasingly revealed, because any alteration promptly starts to weaken the other elements. While those elements are classical—and what great mentalism isn’t based on classic fundamentals?—Bob’s thinking here is a study in building a sound approach to a mystifying and entertaining effect. And then of course there’s also this: “Jake Gyllenhaal’s a white guy.”
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