Guy Duvernois: Don't Worry, The Rabbit Was Insured
“I despise the word ‘trick.’”
Guy Duvernois takes a sip of his lemon echinacea tea. He senses he is “coming down with something,” and wants to rest his voice before tonight’s performance. “That’s the cost of working with kids...” he grimaces, “...germ monsters.” I laugh nervously; I can’t tell if his disdain is earnest or jokingly affectionate.
I had few expectations about interviewing a professional magician, but I certainly didn’t anticipate Duvernois’ intensity. In the living room of his Sherman Oaks condo, I feel strangely self-conscious sitting on Guy’s black sectional couch. Duvernois speaks slowly, and his prolonged pauses make me all too aware of the ambiguously flatulent noise my jeans make against the pleather as I cross and un-cross my legs. I try to stay still as I ask him, “If you don’t like the word ‘trick,’ how do you describe your style of ‘magic’?”
He lets the question hang in the air, staring into his mug and stirring his tea methodically with a silver spoon. “‘Trickery...’” he says, inhaling deeply, “... implies deception.” He looks up and continues to stir. “My goal is not to deceive children, but to educate them.” With unblinking eye contact he lifts up the spoon. The stem bends in the middle like an overcooked noodle.
“Wow!” I say, “Very cool!” He shakes his head slowly. “It’s the opposite of ‘very cool.’ That’s what the kids need to learn.” He continues, “Pure silver is a soft metal, extremely sensitive
to heat. Most of the world’s silver is produced by mines in Mexico. Colonial mining displaced thousands of pre-Colombian Mexicans to satisfy the European demand for luxury metals. The real ‘trick’ is the Eurocentrism of the American education system.” I sat corrected.
“Ahhh,” I say. Searching for any semblance of a follow-up question. The smell of wet newspaper coming from the dove cages is distracting; I’m feeling a bit nauseous. “So you teach children about history through your magic?” He looks frustrated, “History is a just a part of it. You’re thinking too small. I am teaching them about reality.”
“Through magic? Isn’t that a bit ironic?” I ask.
“Irony is for punks and fools.” He leans forward, “In 2018, the world is a harsh place. Indulging in a childhood of ‘fantasy’ and ‘tooth fairies’ will only handicap you in the future. Parents call upon me to teach children lessons they’re too afraid to talk about. Walk with me to my studio.” He stands abruptly and I follow him down the hall.
As we pass by his bedroom I jokingly say, “Heyyy, is this where the magic happens?” He stares at me blankly. “Cribs? MTV?” I offer. “Crib? I don’t have a baby.” I just let that one slide. He continues into his home office. “I want to teach our next generation...” he says, unlatching a rabbit cage, “...that nothing is certain. We must be prepared for disappointment, impermanence, the transience of life on earth...”
As he pontificates, he absentmindedly pets the big white rabbit he’s holding in his arms. Pulling an exceptionally dandy- looking top hat from a shelf, he says, “Would you like to see my second act?” I nod. He asks me to inspect the top hat, to verify it is indeed a normal top hat. Without much fanfare, he places the rabbit in the hat, covers it with a cloth, and once the cloth is removed voilà! The rabbit is gone. “Isn’t the rabbit supposed to appear in the hat? Not the other way around?” I scan around the room, searching to see if the white rabbit will pop up on a shelf or the desk. Nothing. “That’s lesson number two.” He says, putting the hat back on the shelf, “Sometimes when your pets go away, they never come back.”
“Isn’t that a little dark? You know, for a birthday party?” He shrugs, “Birthdays are just a tally mark on our slow march to death.” Jesus Christ. Duvernois rummages in his desk drawer and pulls out a pair of handcuffs. “Whoa! Buy a girl a drink first!” I say with a wink n’ nudge. “I offered you tea earlier, do you want some now?” Nevermind.
“This is a new act I’m developing. I haven’t quite figured out the kinks yet.” I resist the urge to make a gauche pun. “Cuff me,” he says, hands outstretched. I oblige, although at this point I’m not sure I want to see where this one was going. He steps back, reaches his hands over his head, and with a puff of smoke, the stainless steel handcuffs fall from his wrists. “Do you know how I did that?” he asks. “Well...Houdini used to hide a key in his belt?” He shakes his head again, “The key is the patriarchy. As a cis-white male I’m less likely to be incarcerated than any other racial group. The incarceration rate of black males is six times higher than that of white males...” I cut him off right there. “Guy, I’m sorry—shouldn’t magic be entertainment? Escapism?”
“Houdini was an escape artist. I’m a realist.”
Three days later I got an e-mail from my editor with the subject line: “We need to cut the magician piece.” The body of the e-mail was just a link to a story by the LA Times:
“LOS ANGELES, CA—Following an incident at a local 6-year-old’s birthday party, a magician’s assistant, Daisy Goodfriend, is suing her employer for negligence after a near-fatal incident that transpired during a variation of the “saw the woman in half” trick. Goodfriend claims that upon the magician’s encouragement, a 5-year-old named Bobby Henderson was armed with a hand saw and cut into her midriff before being stopped by a supervising parent. The magician in question, Guy Duvernois, denies responsibility, claiming his performances are entirely educational and the act was a “valuable lesson in the chaotic nature of free will.”
Illustration by Joseph Fiedler