Las Vegas Sun

September 26, 2018

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This magician’s also a card

Book mixes his life story with a healthy dose of humor

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Steve Marcus

Michael Close’s expertise is in jazz piano and sleight-of-hand magic. His latest work, “That Reminds Me: Finding the Funny in a Serious World,” is his first joke book. “Times are about as grim as they’ve ever been for most of us,” he says. “We need a good laugh.”

FROM THE BOOK

The jokes in Michael Close’s book, “That Reminds Me: Finding the Funny in a Serious World,” cover a wide range of humor, some of it off-color, some gross, some sexist. Many are for mature adults. Most are longer jokes, though there are some shorter, such as these:

• A jazz musician goes to the doctor. The doctor says, “We have your test results, and I’m afraid the news isn’t good. You have three weeks to live.” The jazzer says, “On what?”

• Two friends meet on the street. One of them is sporting two fresh black eyes. “Holy smoke,” says one. “Who gave you the black eyes?” “My wife,” says the other. “I thought she was out of town,” says the first man. The second replies, “So did I.”

• A grasshopper walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Wow, funny you should come in here. We have a drink named after you.” The grasshopper says, “You have a drink named Stanley?”

• A priest, a rabbi, a hooker and a kangaroo walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What is this, a joke?”

Michael Close’s book, “That Reminds Me: Finding the Funny in a Serious World,” is a painful read.

Your face and sides hurt from laughing.

It should be a breezy afternoon romp — it’s just 211 pages, but when you factor in stopping to laugh each time you read one of the classic jokes, it may take you a few days to get through it. Maybe longer, if you stop to tell the jokes to your friends.

It’s not your typical joke book because it includes personal revelations by Close, a jazz pianist and sleight-of-hand magician.

Close has worked as a magician and musician for almost 40 years — the past 10 in Las Vegas. He performed in the Monte Carlo’s Houdini Lounge and at the Eiffel Tower restaurant at Paris Las Vegas. He also is a frequent consultant to Penn & Teller and other magicians.

“I have the magic equivalent of perfect pitch,” Close says. “I can tell when you’re out of tune with a magic trick. When I watch a magician I can immediately tell if something needs changing — whether it is the movements, the blocking or whatever.”

When he performs magic, he says, his goal is to confuse people a little.

“I want to create a little conflict between your heart and your head,” Close says. “Your head will say this is a trick, but your heart will say this is very real.”

This is his first joke book. He has written several books on magic for magicians, including “The Complete Workers Series,” a 650-page tome that’s the bible for sleight-of-hand magic.

Close has never made a living from being a stand-up comedian, but he uses jokes in his music, magic act and speaking engagements. He has an encyclopedic memory for punch lines.

“I have a real good ear for how jokes are supposed to go,” the 55-year-old triple threat says. “Humor was big in my family and I tended to gravitate to funny people. I was never considered the class clown, but I loved to listen to people telling stories.”

“That Reminds Me” is written in a conversational style and ends up being a “how to” book — how to tell a joke and how to be a friend.

“There are some important points to joke telling people need to understand — mainly they add too much stuff to a joke,” he said. “I think, immodestly, the way the jokes are told in my book is the best possible way to tell them.

“It was going to be a stream-of-consciousness work, one punch line reminds me of another, but then I thought that would be like every other joke book.”

So the book meanders through a life filled with music, magic and friends. Close introduces us to some of his close friends over the years — including the late magicians Jay Marshall and Billy McComb.

Close was born in Ohio, raised in Indiana and has music degrees from Butler University. He became interested in the piano when he was 4 and magic when he was 6, hanging out at the famed Stoner’s Magic Shop in Fort Wayne, Ind. The two talents matured together. He began playing piano in restaurants and nightclubs when he was 17 and began the magic side of his career a few years later.

“I have never tried to do stand-up comedy,” Close says. “I have never been someone who sits down and just writes jokes. My humor tends to be situational. I’m a pretty funny guy if I’m sitting around doing something and a joke comes to mind. I have never tried to sit down and write material for an act and then try to do it.”

However, he did open for Vinnie Favorito when the insult comic headlined at Binion’s a couple of years ago. “Vinnie is a jazz musician with jokes,” Close says. “He has his licks, his riffs — the black guy riff, the Mexican riff, the Italian, the fireman. He’s brilliant.”

Close wrote “That Reminds Me” while he and his wife, Lisa, who’s also a magician, were in Guatemala to adopt a child. The adoption process stretched to almost nine months.

“I wanted to write a book about coping with what we’re all going through,” he says. “Times are about as grim as they’ve ever been for most of us. We have to find some way to get through it. We need a good laugh.”

His next writing project might be a book about the experiences he and his wife went through when they were adopting their daughter, Ava.

“She wants to do a book about the adoption business,” Close says. “It needs to be recorded for other families ... It was quite an experience.”

But no laughing matter.

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