Max Maven is a magician and a mentalist. But not in a mental patient sort of way. And not like the TV show either. He uses the power of his mind and your mind, mixed with theatrical skill and raw humor, to deliver an unbelievably entertaining and captivating show. Though Max doesn't consider himself a comedian per se, there's a lot of laughs involved. He presents "An Evening of Knowing and Not Knowing" at the Cerritos Center for the Preforming Arts on Oct. 28.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): Not to point out how dumb I am on this subject but...what is the difference between a mentalist and a magician?
Max Maven: [Laughs.] One of the ongoing difficulties of my career is that people don't know what to call me. Myself included! I'm not a magician in the way that most people think about that. You know, there are no rabbits from hats or sawing ladies in half. What I'm doing is a really different area. On the other hand, in the larger sense yeah I'm doing magic in the cultural sense. The mentalist part, "mind reader" is overly simplistic but it tells people the territory. I frequently modify it by saying; I am a theatrical mind reader because I don't claim to be any kind of psychic. But I don't think it's much harder than that! It's an odd psychological dance.
So then, how did this psychological dance evolve?
Well I think everything kind of grew simultaneously. When I was little I was interested in stuff like horror movies and strange graphic art as well as being drawn into the more traditional factors of magic. I wasn't exactly sawing women in half at the age of seven, but learning cards tricks and the kind of beginners magic that kids do. I got into this dark but not necessarily solemn world view. And this all evolved over time. As I got older I started encountering writers and performers that were not necessarily magic oriented, but that were dealing with themes and ideas that resonated with me. I also started to realize there was a certain depth within magic.
Have you ever had a trick gone wrong and how do you recover from it?
Absolutely! I try to recover gracefully! [Laughs.] I sometimes say I am from the "Karl Wallendas School" of entertainment. The Flying Wallendas were a famous act that specialized in high wire acts without a net. He died while walking a tightrope.
I knew that story wasn't going to end well.
Right, so when I say I am from the "Karl Wallendas School" of entertainment what I mean is that I do fall down, but the only thing that gets injured is my pride. I do really like the idea that there is risk. I'm working with human beings that are not always predictable and will sometimes behave in ways that you have never seen before! Even after so many years of doing it I encounter people who seem to have been raised on Mars! [Laughs.] But it keeps the show very fresh for me. That's why humor is an important part of what I do.
You've been doing this for so long, how do you keep your craft fresh?
Well, you never stop. I don't think anyone every really does. I always look to people like George Carlin who kept working on his skill up until his last years. That to me is just a great thing. If it's something worth doing you can't just sit back and say, I'll just keep doing it at this level.
In your act you do some drawing and you're a great artist! Is there something that you aren't good at?
Ha! There are lots of things I'm not good at! There are also some things I've deliberately taken my hands off of that surprise a lot of people. I'll tell you one, I don't drive. I'm like, the only guy in Southern California that doesn't drive. I'm not sure that fully answers your question. I mean, I might be bad at driving but we won't know.
What? Why would not want to enjoy the road rage on the 405?
I took not wanting to drive to the next level. People ask how I can possibly exist in L.A. without driving and my answer is, everyone else has a car! At the insistence of my parents many, many moons ago, I took a driving course. At five out of six of the required driving hours I decided I hated it. It was a challenge I just decided to side-step.
Wild. Do you find the audience responds differently to you around the world?
It's certainly interesting because the differences are far less than they used to be. We've really become a much more global community. When I first started doing this back in the 1970's, there were very distinctive differences not just around the world, but here in the United States. Although they still exist, they are much softer now because of the internet. It's really had an influence. The American reactions are still much louder than every other country! Around the world they applaud, but they stop much quicker than we do.
Your bio says you read 150 books and magazines a month. Seriously?
It's approximately that. I don't count every single month. But if I'm at home any given month it's a constant. In fairness when people see that, they think it is 500 page books. Some of them are but, some are on the internet and very slim magazines and newsletters that are very quick reads. I read a lot and the 150 figure seems to have held steady.
Ever take a suggestion from the Oprah Book Club?
Ummm, no. [Laughs.] A vast majority of what I read is non-fiction.
Your show states, "It is not exactly a one-man show, because it involves hundreds of minds...including yours." What exactly do you need from the audience in Cerritos?
Just their minds, hopefully some energy, their sense of humor and interest too! What I will say about my show is, it's work. It's not unpleasant work, but it's not like kicking back and watching the slap-stick. It's fun but at the same time, I'm opening some interesting doors! I think the audience has to work to stay with me and happily, I am able to engage them the way they want. The show is a mixture of mentalism and monologue. It blends the two. It's an exploration of mystery that is fun and at the same time provocative.
To your knowledge, has any magician ever actually sawed someone in half?
You mean literally?
In the spirit of Halloween, yes. Literally.
[Laughs.] It's been the subject of a few horror movies! The closest thing to someone doing it for real that I know of is a Greek magician in the 1940s. He was driving in a station wagon with a bunch of props in back and among those props was a very big buzz saw blade. At one point something happened when he had to slam on the breaks and it happened that the position of the saw blade was exactly that of his neck.
Ugh. Ok, in the spirit of I gross out easily...
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Hey, you asked!
I guess the equipment was like, that's enough!
[Laughs.] Probably! Like it was some kind of cosmic karmic payback! The worst that can happen in my show is that I get a paper cut!
Get ready for a funny and mentally stimulating night with Max Maven at Cerritos Center by getting tickets through their Become a fan on Max's Facebook and check out his website at www.maxmaven.com. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts is located at 12700 Center Court Drive in Cerritos.