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Photo courtesy Michael Kent

Sleight of Hand, Sharp of Wit

By Mark J. Lucas

Published February 1, 2012

Magic is a tricky business. To most, there are two kinds of magicians: the best one they’ve ever seen . . . or absolutely terrible.

If a magician can get a laugh out of his audience, however, they’re given a pass for not making the Statue of Liberty cry tigers. For years, Hilliard’s own Michael Kent has grabbed the attention of college students all over the country with his hipper version of the traditionally kiddie/campy artform, and this year his talent has earned him a national nod with a nomination for Entertainer of the Year in Campus Activities Magazine.

Harnessing both illusion and comedy is what has made Kent so well received. Think Gob Bluth without the dead doves and rainfall of pennies.

“If I came out with fog machines and a glittery shirt on, people would probably just laugh,” Kent said. “I don’t have the look or the posture or the timing. Once I realized that comedy was my avenue for magic, that’s when it actually started making sense, because you run everything through that filter.”

Kent tried his hand at stand-up in college, but the magic came first.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I was trying to be David Copperfield,” Kent said. “A few people called me Magic Mike, and in college, that’s what people knew me as.”

After graduation, burnt out on doing close-up magic for customers during several stints in the restaurant industry, and more than 300 gigs a year with very little to show for it, Kent broke down and took a job in marketing.

“I got sick of it, but I got really good,” he said, adding that he almost had to face his calling reluctantly.

“The defining moment was that I’d used up all my vacation time doing magic and I made more money with magic than at the marketing job. I thought, ‘S**t . . . I’m a magician.’”

The nomination caps a solid year for Kent, but being a magician still brings with it some quirky circumstances. He usually has a small trick to do if someone asks for an example of his talent, yet he’s reluctant to tell his barbers what he does for a living. Once, airport security opened his luggage and found a rubber chicken. It’s the kind of thing that would end up in a comedy, and, of course, Kent has a appreciative place in his heart for the most famous modern magician: the aforementioned Bluth from Arrested Development.

“It’s awesome. They’ve captured something that no one ever really acknowledges,” laughed Kent. “Magic has this stigma to it – the overly-dramatic magician takes himself too seriously. It was probably funnier to magicians, because we know so many people who are that character. There are so many magicians in so many small towns who take themselves way too seriously.”

Besides the desire to entertain, Kent’s main goal is to not take himself too seriously. Even though he’s psyched about being tapped for a national award, he keeps a level head.

“I have no idea who’s going to win. Everyone in that category has their own merit. Every one of us has a different audience. The politically correct answer is that I’m just happy to be nominated.”

An Evening with Michael Kent will be held at Wild Goose Creative (2491 Summit St.) on February 18th at 8 p.m. For more dates and information, visit www.kentmagic.com. To find out more about the national nomination, visit www.campusactivitiesmagazine.com.