Diamond Jim Tyler Interview
by Marcus Hill for ABRACADABRA MAGIC MAGAZINE in the UK
How would you describe your own unique brand of magic?
There is an old West African proverb made famous by U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt that says “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” I feel like that proverb sums up my style as a performer. Typically, I try to keep things low-key during my performance and then I let the magic’s finale thump them between the eyes. I also try to incorporate some form of humour into my routines. I’ve learned that when an audience is laughing, and your befriend them, then they want you to succeed. Plus, I try to use plain and simple manners, because an audience doesn’t mind being fooled by a gentleman.
How long and in what ways have you developed your act?
I have been practicing magic since 1975 when I was five years old. Of course after doing magic for 33 years now I have evolved and so has my magic. But there is still a big part of me that feels like a little kid and wonders about the mysteries of life like E.S.P., time travel, black-holes, life after death, etc. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that magic doesn’t happen before someone’s eyes, it happens in their mind and thereforth is real. This is why people claim to see ghosts, U.F.O.’s, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, etc. So when I develop my magic I try to formulate every subtlety and word of my patter to fool not only their eyes but their mind’s eye.
On your website it says you performed 23 shows for 23 different clients in December 2007. That‘s a lot of audiences in a short space of time! How do you keep your act fresh?
Keeping the act fresh is easy for me because I have a large repertoire. For 20 years I performed my magic in restaurants. At one time I was doing 8 restaurant shifts a week. It was not uncommon for me to see the same people at each restaurant each week. So I had to constantly be expanding my repertoire. Nowadays, I only work corporate or private gigs and the audiences always change, which means that I can always be doing my A-material.
Have you overcome any stumbling blocks during your career?
I have overcome many. I paid my way through college performing magic and always thought that magic was something that I could fall back on. My senior year in college, after just getting married, I learned that I had Hodgkin’s Disease- a form of cancer. After the surgeries and radiation treatments I made up my mind to complete my degree but to pursue magic full time. My cancer is considered cured now. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that stumbling blocks can be stepping stones.
I read that you saw the legendary J B Bobo perform when you were young. What are your recollections of his performance?
His affect on me must have been profound. I don’t remember much about the performance other than being very entertained by his persona. He was extremely funny. About fifteen years later I crossed paths with him again at a magic convention. When I saw him I was dumbstruck and said, “Do you know who you are?!?” He laughed. And I think he was also moved because he knew I was a big fan.
Do you think it is true that the bigger the occasion the bigger the chance for things to go cataclysmically wrong? Have you any good stories to share on this theme?!
I honestly believe the opposite. When the audience is larger, then you have a better chance at getting laughs and applause. Plus, you’ll have a bigger pool of people to choose as helpers during the show. I’m an optimist at heart. However, things do go wrong sometimes:
Once during a corporate Christmas party the President of the company asked me if he could make an announcement before I went on stage. I complied and he began to tell the company’s history of how he and his wife started the business 30 years ago. He went on to speak of his wife’s recent death and that he wished to unveil a huge painting of her that he had recently commissioned. People formed a line and came up close to look at the heart-wrenching work of art. These people were family members, friends and employees who all returned to their seats sobbing. Once they were all seated the DJ announced, “And now for the magic of Diamond Jim!” It was like performing at a funeral. I tried to keep things up beat during my performance, but I was so flustered that during my cut and restored rope routine I cut off the tip end of my index finger while most of the audience was enjoying their desserts. Blood gushed from my hand for quite a while. However, I still finished the show AND I received a big tip that night!
Do you find that keeping a busy schedule leads to an increase in your creativity and inventiveness as a magician, or do you need quiet and solitude to invent new effects?
Both! An idea may pop into my head while performing, while driving or sometimes even sleeping. Some of my ideas come from spectators when they ask me, “But can you do this?” ‘This’ could be changing a one into a hundred, making their bill disappear, making something appear in their pocket, etc. Magicians should listen to their audiences more carefully. Some of my best lines and ideas have come from lay people.
But now that I have been doing magic for so long, sometimes I will literally dream up a method. About a year ago at 3am in the morning I awoke and drew a sketch of an idea on a notepad that I keep on the nightstand, and then went back fast to sleep. When I awoke the next morning I thought that it was very strange because it was a plot that I had never given any thought to. The device that I dreamed up can make one or more cards rise from your pocket without the use of threads. The idea uses rubber bands and magnets. I am working on mass producing this item. It will be called I.M.P. like the little devils that help magicians and sit on their shoulders in the vintage magic posters. I.M.P. stands for Instant Magic Pocket.
What would you class as one of your best inventions?
I am still very proud of one of my first creations called the Diamond Deck. I devised the deck as a teen-ager back when I was demonstrating at a magic shop in Dallas. To sum it up the routine is a colour-changing deck with a Triumph plot and the pack is examinable upon completion. Nothing is added or taken away. I sold the rights to this effect to Meir Yedid many years ago and he has sold thousands of them.
What do you feel strongly about in the world of magic?
I feel the need to pass on what I have learned and to pay it forward. By this I don’t mean to reveal magic tricks on the Internet like many of the young guys do today. Our art should be respected and nurtured and one who is genuinely interested in learning the craft should be taught through the proper channels. It breaks my heart to know that anyone can download videos or documents to teach them magic effects that it took others years to develop. When ideas are free for the taking they are not valued and held sacred the way magic should be.
Can you describe one of your career highlights to date?
This past October an agent hired me to perform at a house party in Dallas. When I arrived at the home I realized that it was not a home but an estate. As I entered the home it felt like entering the White House with long white-walled corridors covered with historical artefacts and domed ceilings. Without knowing it I was inside the home of a well-known billionaire whose name I won’t mention. I had been hired to entertain everyone, but the lady of the house asked if I might set-up in the library to entertain the children. I complied even though I was disappointed.
As I began preparing I noticed a stack of books written by the United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Then to my surprise HE entered the room. I have a degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice so I asked the lady of the house if I could purchase one of his books and have him sign it. She gave me the book and as Mr. Thomas was signing it he asked what my profession was. Once he learned of my profession his obvious reply was, “Can you show me a trick?”
Mr. Thomas was flabbergasted and laughed and screamed like a child. He insisted many times to “Show me again! Do more! Do more!” This of course gathered a crowd. The crowd consisted of the who’s who in Dallas. The lady of the house was enamoured with me and insisted that I do the show for everyone. The highlight for me was not so much entertaining a celebrity figure, but convincing the lady of the house that my talents were worthy of everyone’s attention. One of my favourite things to do is to convert someone who has never been excited by magic- into a fan who cannot thank me enough when my show is over.
You have performed at the Magic Castle on several occasions. During your last visit in January 2007 you were amongst some of the leading names in the magic business (including David Roth, Mark Wilson, Max Maven.) What is the vibe like when top magicians get together, is it mutually supportive or can you ever hear the clashing of ego‘s?!
The Magic Castle is heaven on Earth to me. I wish it were closer to Texas so that I might visit more often. First of all it is the most conducive place to perform because people are there strictly to see magic and that makes YOU the star! Some of the regular magicians seem stand-offish, but any time I have approached a well-known magician they seem very open and eager to talk. Some are eccentric. Some are downright strange. But all whom I’ve met seem to have a good heart and welcome a brother who shares a love for this art.
What can magicians in the UK expect from your lecture tour and when and where can we come and see you?
It’s like a long boring insurance seminar without the boring or insurance part. Honestly it’s fun! I got in this business to have fun. I have a wide range of effects from close-up to stand-up, from coins to cards, from mentalism to comedy, from using mirrors and fire, etc. I don’t want to spoil any surprises so I won’t say too much. I think my magic is practical, highly visual and most important of all- entertaining.
Have you anything you are currently working on/any of your effects that you would like to bring to the attention of Abra readers?
I’m always working on something. I just finished writing my new book called Bamboozlers. This new book is a collection of bar betchas, brain teasers, puzzles, jokes and magic. It was written with a lay audience in mind, but I think that magicians could learn a thing or two from it. However, I don’t think it will go to press until I return from the U.K…
I am also working on the sequel to my first book Pockets Full of Miracles. Some of those routines like my Ghost Writer have appeared here in magic magazines like Abra for the first time. Plus I am developing a full blown stage show with illusions, music, lighting and more.
Many thanks for taking the time to be interviewed for Abracadabra. We wish you every success with your UK lecture tour and look forward to making you feel welcome.
I am very much looking forward to this trip. I have family there in Leeds that I haven’t seen in 10 years. I love history and architecture and I cannot wait to take in as much of England as I can. I am a huge Jeremy Brett and Sherlock Holmes buff. One of my prize possessions is a collection of the first 20 years of the Strand magazine all bound in leather and in pristine condition. I love all things James Bond and even drive a James Bond like car. I’m also fascinated with Egyptology and cannot wait to visit the British Museum. I’m sure I’ll be delighted by many more surprises while visiting your beautiful country. And I look forward to meeting and making many new friends there.