With his unique blend of magic and comedy, Pete Firman has built up a loyal following. He speaks to Brian Donaldson ahead of his lastest tour.
In the packed modern field of magic acts, Pete Firman certainly stands out. He’s recently appeared on the legendary stage of The London Palladium, handled some props that belonged to his comedy-magic hero in ITV documentary Tommy Cooper Forever, and even exercised his vocal cords during a song and dance routine for Comic Relief. Is there no end to the man’s talents?
As he prepares to launch his new live show, Marvels, which heads to Yorkshire in the autumn, Firman will promise one thing: he’s not going to be hammering nails or threading needles into his body. “I used to enjoy doing those things and I’ve got a soft spot for that kind of material as it would always guarantee a reaction. You can’t watch someone hitting a nail into their face passively. You’re definitely engaged whether it be disgusted or entranced.”
For the best part of two decades, Firman has been engaging audiences with his brand of magic and comedy with live shows such as Hokum, Hoodwinker, Scoundrel and Trickster, as well as TV appearances on the likes of Channel 5’s Monkey Magic, BBC’s The Magicians and ITV’s Tonight at the London Palladium. With Marvels, he’s aiming to amaze and enthral crowds across the country with an artform which never ceases to captivate despite its age.
“What does magic mean in 2018?” he wonders. “A hundred years ago, magicians were rock ‘n’ roll stars but there’s not a lot that’s left undiscovered in the world now. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the magic show is a popular form of entertainment because it’s a rarity for an audience to be bamboozled. I wouldn’t say that Google has ruined magic but if someone is persistent enough they could probably find out how a trick works. These are the kind of things that a 21st century magician has to deal with.”
While he admits to not venturing to see a great deal of live magic, when he does drop in on a show, he always takes his seat with an open mind. “I still like seeing a good magic trick and I do get fooled now and then. It’s nice to have that feeling of being deceived... it’s that sensation that got me hooked in the first place.”
While David Blaine might avoid any elements of comedy in his act, most modern magicians realise that a well-delivered spot of banter goes down well with an audience. Firman acknowledges that a master such as Tommy Cooper could never be emulated, but that shouldn’t stop him from inserting some good gags into his show.
“I’m trying to do good tricks and make it as funny as I can. I’m not doing a trick and then doing five minutes of stand-up about airplane food; the jokes are interwoven and integrated into whatever it is that I’m doing. You can get a lot of mileage out of that trope of borrowing a gentleman’s watch and smashing it up but where it ends up right in the end. Not only is that a good trick, it’s a funny situation.”
Should you find yourself up on stage during Firman’s Marvels tour, don’t be offended if he can’t keep hold of your name in his head. He has a lot going on in there during showtime. “I have a terrible memory. My biggest faux pas in performing is forgetting people’s names. Doing magic is a little bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly: you’re doing different things at different times.”
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 18, City Varieties, Leeds, October 19, The Civic, Barnsley, October 26. www.petefirman.co.uk