Article 11: Expert at the Lounge Table
Expert at the Lounge Table
Jan Rose - Round Table Member Since 2018
Periodically, Jan Rose will be sitting “close-up and personal” with one of the table-side magicians from the Chicago Magic Lounge. You’ll learn their strategies for success doing table-side magic and maybe some performance surprises as well. This month, she interviews Luis Carreon, Resident Magician at The Chicago Magic Lounge and Head Demonstrator at Magic, Inc.
Interview with Luis Carreon
Jan Rose: It’s been such a pleasure to do these interviews. Now we continue with Expert at the Lounge Table, Luis Carreon. Luis, talk for a little bit about your youth, where you’re from and your early years in magic.
Luis Carreon: I got into magic about the age of eight. My grandfather was a circus performer in Mexico and whenever he was in town he would always do little magic tricks for me. But here’s the thing, he never showed me how they were done. So magic had this special fascination for me — the connection to my grandfather and always trying to figure out the secret.
Jan Rose: And how old were you when you came here to the States?
Luis Carreon: I moved to Chicago when I was about nine years old. I grew up on the south side, near 63rd and Pulaski. We call it “the hood” now. [Chuckles.] I spent a lot of time at the neighborhood magic shop called Izzy Rizzy’s.
Jan Rose: Was learning English a challenge?
Luis Carreon: They were supposed to put me in sixth grade but they put me in fifth grade because I needed to take an ESL class — English as a Second Language. Moving from Mexico was a big adjustment socially. I had trouble making friends because my English wasn’t good. I tried a bunch of things, including going to the magic store. I would buy these tricks, but I was not very good at those either, at the time. So I stopped and lost interest in magic for a while. While I was going to high school, I needed to do something else besides schoolwork — something a little bit different, just for myself. My parents encouraged me to get after-school jobs. So I went to work at Burger King. I delivered papers. I worked at a candle shop, a pizza place, and then a cardboard factory.
Jan Rose: Wow, good for you. There’s real value in that, because at a very early age, you learned discipline and your family taught you to be responsible and to contribute to the family income. All of those skills you learned as a teen. I bet you applied those skills to learning such a disciplined craft as magic.
Luis Carreon: You are right — and magic was still a fascination for me during high school. After I worked for a while, I went back to learning tricks here and there, mostly from books at the library. Then I started doing little shows for my teachers in high school. After high school, I was without a job for a while. I went to a casting call. They said, “Actors needed, no skills required.” I remember I had eighty dollars in my bank account. I went there and they told me, “Oh, you’re great. You have a good look and you know how to do magic! We can help you.” So they took pictures and had me read lines. Then they charged me eighty dollars for the photo session. And they never called me. I was heartbroken.
Jan Rose: Sure.
Luis Carreon: It was stressful because my parents kept asking, “What are you going to do to make money?” I liked magic, but my parents, honestly, were never supportive of the whole idea of me making a living doing magic. So I went to Richard Daley College, where I studied zoology. And about two months later, I visited Izzy Rizzy’s Magic Shop again, and Michael Rzeminski offered me a job there! He was the owner.
Jan Rose: Wow!
Luis Carreon: Yeah! He had helped a lot of guys like Bill Malone and other magicians who grew up on the south side of Chicago. I’ll never forget, I walked in and he said, “You come here a lot. You look like you do good magic. You want a job?”
Jan Rose: What a great break for you!
Luis Carreon: It was amazing. I started working at the shop, but I was there just two days a week while I was at college. Then one day Mike said, “Listen, I want to hire you for a Christmas party. We’re going to have a party for some people and I want you to come and do magic.” I was clueless. Okay, what should I do? So I show up to the party. I do my show and, at the end, Mike gave me eighty dollars and he told me, “Listen, I think you’re really good and I want to help you.” I said, “What do you mean you want to help me?” He said, “I think you have talent and I want to help you build a magic career.” If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
Jan Rose: What an awesome story!
Luis Carreon: Yeah. He went out of his way to help this kid who just walked into the shop and bought magic tricks. He paid for my first business cards, my first pictures, my first website, and he drove me around to gigs! He was always booking gigs for me because he knew a lot of people.
Jan Rose: According to Bill Weimer’s book Now You See Them, Now You Don’t, Michael was quite a magical force on Chicago’s south side in the 1980s. In addition to the magic shop, he owned the restaurant Little Bit o’ Magic. What a great man to have as a mentor.
Luis Carreon: He truly was.
Jan Rose: He saw that you had potential. He saw discipline, talent, and skill.
Luis Carreon: And he never asked for a penny. I’m very thankful. I worked at the shop for a couple of years, until it closed in 2011. And Mike helped me get my first restaurant gig, at Santiago’s in LaGrange.
Jan Rose: Tell me about that.
Luis Carreon: I worked at the restaurant for two years. I never got paid, because Mike always told me that we can’t charge money if my skills are not good. He always reminded me to first build up my skills, and the money will come later. Now I can see the truth in what he was telling me. But at the time, it didn’t make much sense to me. Still, I just kept working on my magic. My goal was always to make him proud and not make him feel like he was wasting his time with somebody who was not appreciative of the gifts he had given me. Because of Mike, I got to meet a great magician, a legend in the Chicago bar magic scene, Ernie Spence.
Jan Rose: Wasn’t he the magician who worked at The Old Barn in the southwest suburbs?
Luis Carreon: Exactly, in Oak Lawn. Ernie Spence was a bar magician, one of the great ones of his generation. Very, very funny. Mike sent me to watch him work. Mike always said, “Luis, you got the skills, but you’re not entertaining.”
Jan Rose: Ouch!
Luis Carreon: Right, ouch! I didn’t know what he was talking about, until I watched Ernie Spence work. For two years, I went every Wednesday night to meet him at a bar at 35th and Harlem.
Jan Rose: Not at The Old Barn?
Luis Carrion: No, that had closed. But he got another job at this bar. He was an old man already, but Mike said it was my job to go see him perform and watch how he entertained people with just a few simple little tricks.
Jan Rose: What tricks do your remember him doing?
Luis: They weren’t technically difficult, but he was so entertaining. I remember he did the Bra Trick.
Jan Rose: My husband went with Eugene Burger to see him at The Old Barn. I’ve heard stories that by today’s standards his material was inappropriate toward women.
Luis: Yes, it’s true. It was a different era. Bar magic back then had different standards, and audiences had different expectations. No one today could do or should do the Bra Trick the way he did it.
Jan Rose: I completely agree. What other tricks did he do?
Luis: He did Card on Seat. A spectator’s selected playing card vanished. He had her stand up and look at her bar stool, and she discovered that she had been sitting on the card!
Jan Rose: Hilarious and amazing!
Luis: Yes, it was. Every time. He did the Sugar Cube trick. He also did Rocky Raccoon. When he brought out a “live animal” from behind the bar, people screamed.
Jan Rose: I’ll bet they did!
Luis: And he taught me Mike Kozlowski’s Hundred Dollar Bill Switch — the entire handling. It was so much easier learning it from a person than from the book. I watched Ernie every Wednesday for two years. When I visited, he let me perform behind the bar. He gave me so much confidence, showed me how to entertain people and how to get tips! So that’s how I learned how to be a magician who could also entertain. In about 2009, the last time that I was to go see Ernie, he wasn’t there. He was in the hospital. When I went back the following week, they told me he had died. That hit me hard.
Jan Rose: I bet. So sad.
Luis Carreon: It was. Then there was a big change in my work — from Chicago’s south side to the north side. Izzy Rizzy’s had closed and suddenly I didn’t have a day job!
Jan Rose: What did you do?
Luis Carreon: I hopped on the train and traveled over to the north side to Ash’s Magic.
Jan Rose: And so now where are we in time?
Luis Carreon: That was the summer or fall of 2011. I had long hair back then. [Chuckles.]
Jan Rose: I've seen the picture, with the fan of cards.
Luis Carreon: Mike paid for that picture. That was my first photoshoot.
Jan Rose: Very extreme. And that look is back now.
Luis Carreon: I know. It was great for me then. But I can’t pull off that look anymore. You always want to look the part that you’re getting paid for. That’s a very important thing.
Jan Rose: Yes.
Luis Carreon: So that winter, I asked Mr. Ash, “I heard about Magic Inc. Where is it?” It was nice that he drove me there. When I got there, I met Pedro, the manager. It was just after the annual Christmas party, so he offered me leftover cake. I got sick from the cake, but that didn’t stop me from visiting Magic, Inc. every weekend. When he found out that I had worked at Izzy Rizzy’s, he said, “Maybe you can work here someday.” I immediately thought of a way to get a job there.
Jan Rose: What did you do?
Luis Carreon: Every weekend, when I visited, I would bring a box of donuts. It worked. A couple of months later, he finally offered me a job and I’ve been there ever since.
Jan Rose: Donuts did the trick!
Luis Carreon: I also did private events on the side, working a lot of Hispanic parties. I was a very good fit for the Hispanic community.
Jan Rose: And now, seven years later, you have such versatility. The combination of your discipline, working at magic shops, having your fingers on the pulse of new magic releases, being bilingual, and being aware of what appeals to the general public, this makes you a great addition to the Chicago Magic Lounge.
Luis Carreon: Thank you.
Jan Rose: You’re a tableside magician, a stage magician, and this weekend you’re entertaining in the 654 Club. Benjamin Barnes can put you in any of these arenas and you are always a success.
Luis Carreon: I think the reason I became versatile was because of Mike. He was not afraid to throw me into any type of performance. There was one weekend in 2008, just before Thanksgiving, when he booked me in six different bars.
Jan Rose: Wow.
Luis Carreon: I was underage, but they still let me in. One of those days, I got punched in the face by a drunk because he didn’t want to believe in the magic. He said, “This junkie’s not going to fool me!” But Mike just threw me into those arenas that I wasn’t really prepared for. I think he wanted to challenge me, and I think because of those experiences I’m not afraid to try any performing situation.
Jan Rose: It sounds like the man who struck you was upset because he couldn't figure out your magic.
Luis Carreon: Yeah, I fooled him with Sponge Rabbits. Of all the tricks! Later, he came back and gave me a ten-dollar tip.
Jan Rose: That’s a lot to go through for a ten-dollar tip! So, here you are now, at the Chicago Magic Lounge, working intensely in all the rooms. Do you have a favorite room to work?
Luis Carreon: I really don’t. To me, every room I work in offers a unique experience. Each is a different challenge.
Jan Rose: When you work tableside here at the Lounge, do you find that experience different from when you do close-up at a special event? Do you feel like that because people specifically have come to the Lounge to see magic, is it easier to approach them?
Luis Carreon: Yes, it’s easier. But I use the same approach at the Lounge as when I do walk-around at a normal event, an event where people don’t expect to see magic. For me, it’s about how confident you feel approaching them.
Jan Rose: And that makes a lot of sense. When someone comes into your home, you are the host, you want them to feel comfortable, you want to give to them and make them happy. In a way, that’s what it’s like when you approach a table. We’re welcoming them, and we want them to have fun.
Luis Carreon: You want to make them feel that the time that you’re in front of them is going to be worthwhile. I think that’s our goal here at the Chicago Magic Lounge.
Jan Rose: Yes. When people are so happy, that’s wonderful. When I see you perform tableside, I always see everyone having such a great time. Do you have a favorite trick that you like to do when you do tables?
Luis Carreon: I have so much material in my repertoire, it’s hard to think of my favorite. But it’s probably the trick called Your Mind in My Pocket. It’s a Laurie Ireland handling that’s from his book The Ireland Yearbook. It’s a very straightforward effect in which a spectator just thinks of a playing card and it appears in my pocket.
Jan Rose: For those who don’t know, Laurie Ireland was Frances Marshall’s first husband. It’s nice to see an older trick make its way into a young magician’s repertoire.
Luis Carreon: I developed it when I used to work behind the bar. I read the effect in the book and worked on it there. It’s still one of my favorite things to do.
Jan Rose: And you taught it in your Penguin Live lecture.
Luis Carreon: Thanks for the plug!
Jan Rose: Okay, tell me who are some of your idols, people you admire in magic?
Luis Carreon: There have been so many great magicians. But for me, I’ll always pick the ones who know how to entertain with magic. So I’d include Karrell Fox and Wayne Dobson.
Jan Rose: I remember when Bill Malone was doing his Q&A here at the Lounge, he talked about just wanting to make people laugh, wanting them to have a great time and be so entertained that they just throw their heads back laughing.
Luis Carreon: Because at the end of the day, people who we do magic for, we want them to go home saying “Oh my God! That guy made me laugh so hard!” So, yes, Fox and Dobson for entertainment, but when it comes to sleight-of-hand magic, my favorite is René Lavand.
Jan Rose: Ah! Why?
Luis Carreon: Because he was so elegant, the way he carried himself. He was just this elegant man and he was doing this very complicated sleight of hand. He inspired me to do that, and I felt that if I could take his skill and combine it with entertainment, that was the challenge for me. I’m always looking at ways to challenge myself.
Jan Rose: The best of both worlds — super-duper skills that you’ve made incredibly entertaining. That’s what you’ve done.
Luis Carreon: Thanks. Yes, that’s my goal. There are certainly magicians who are very skillful but not that entertaining. But when you add entertainment, it’s like adding candy. When you combine both, I think people can see the difference.
Jan Rose: Do you have a favorite book that you would recommend to our readers who are interested in performing magic but don’t have a lot of experience or knowledge?
Luis Carreon: Sure. One of them is The Art of Close-up Magic by Eugene Burger. He knew exactly what he was doing and he knew how to connect with people. He was very entertaining in a very charming way. So I think the material is great for the serious beginner.
Jan Rose: Yes, both Danny and I learned so much from him.
Luis Carreon: But if you’re looking for fun routines that are out of this world, I would definitely recommend any Karrell Fox book. My favorite one is called Another Book. If you want to learn card moves, the book I like is Expert Card Technique by Jean Hugard. It’s available as a Dover paperback now, and you can even download it as a PDF. Those three books are actually the foundation of my work.
Jan Rose: It’s really great to chat with you, Luis. The experience of interviewing you and the other magicians at the Lounge has been wonderful. I’m learning so much about all of you — and so are the readers! I also want to thank you because you’ve been incredibly supportive to me, recommending tricks and helping me learn magic.
Luis Carreon: You’re welcome. I will always be there. I’ll leave you with one last thought. Sometimes people get into magic because they think magic is cool. But for me, it feels like magic found me in the moment I needed it the most.
Jan Rose: Whoa, goosebumps! So beautifully stated. Thank you!