Doug McKenzie is a world-class magician based in Brooklyn who specializes in tech magic. We met through work nine years ago and have become dear friends since. Among other things, I have Doug to thank for giving me my first DSLR camera which led to photography becoming my primary hobby. Here's some shots I've taken of Doug performing over the years, made possible by Doug himself. (That sort of seems like... a magic trick?)
If you're wondering what I meant by, "specializes in tech magic," watch this profile CNN did on Doug:
Doug came up in the New York magic scene and is a longtime friend and collaborator with another New York based magician, David Blaine. David recently launched a Vegas residency, a show called In Spades. Doug helped create the show and travels out to work on it whenever he's available. Last weekend, he invited Rachel and I out to see it.
The evening started with an intimate pre-show where David rehearsed a routine that they were installing for the first time that night.
When the show started, David shared a brief monologue, then climbed up to the ceiling of the theater, and jumped into a pile of cardboard boxes nine stories below – a callback to a stunt he did in Bryant Park twenty years ago. When the stunt goes well, the landing puts the same amount of trauma onto David's body as a 60mph car crash – AND THAT'S THE FIRST TEN MINUTES OF THE SHOW!
The next night, he dislocated his shoulder doing the jump. Fortunately, there was an orthopedics conference in town, and a doctor from the audience popped David's shoulder back into place onstage.
Then David did the rest of the show.
To avoid spoilers, I won't go into great detail about the show. I'll just say that in some parts, David deployed his generational powers of deception – and we were giddy for it. In other parts, David legitimately risked life and limb to create some of the most vulnerable and authentic moments I've ever seen on stage – and it was the most stressful thing we'd been through all week.
If you can see the show, go see it. It's not a typical magical show. It's not flashy. It's not an easy watch. It's something different. It's a profound commentary on the human experience, and a performance that I've found myself thinking about every day since we saw it. It's a magic show, and it's also very, very real.
After the show, we had the opportunity to hang out with Doug, David, and a number of other magicians. Most of the times I've hung out with Doug over the years has either been 1:1 or in my community of tech people. This was one of the few times I've hung out with Doug in his community. It was a special experience for Rachel and I, watching modern wizards ply and trade their craft.
This is Doug with Harold Jordan, "Charleston's Finest Close-up Magician."
Jeffrey Wang is based in LA and does unbelievable coin magic. Like, he had a room full of magicians making a whole lot of noise. And he did the whole thing with the most innocent, joyful smile.
Blaise Serra is based in New York and was standing near the entrance of the bar when Doug and David walked in. Doug says to David, "You should see what Blaise does." David looks at Doug and goes, "Yeah?" Then he turns back to Blaise and nods.
I have to imagine that Blaise grew up watching David's specials on TV. I have no idea how long he's been working on this particular trick, but at 12:55am on a Friday night at a bar in Vegas, he got the nod. One shot, on a moment's notice.
And he nailed it.
To be honest, I didn't even catch it. I stepped back to take this shot, because you could sense that this was one of those meaningful moments in someone's life. But thirty seconds after it started, David's smiling, pointing at Blaise, looking back at Doug and saying, "We have his info?"
Mac King is known as the world's best comedy magician and has the longest running one-man show in Vegas – going on 20+ years now. Just before he introduced us, Doug told me, "I idolized him growing up."
This photo represents three generations of magicians two hours after the man who will go down as my generation's greatest magician performed a genre-defying show that may not last all that long, because he keeps getting injured while doing it. It was a privilege to be present for this moment -- to be a fly on the wall while modern and future legends of magic traded knowledge, respect, and admiration.
Doug kindly arranged for Rachel and I to see Mac's show at 3pm the next day at the Excalibur. It was very funny. It was illuminating to see two shows within twenty-four hours that represented different ends of the magic spectrum. From "oh my god he might die" to "how did the gerbil get back in his pants?" And to realize, "Magic can look like all of this."
A huge thank you to Doug for making this weekend possible, to David for the performance, and to Sarah and Sara for the accommodations.