“Many times, it’s the costume that changes everything”
Rudy Coby also known as “Labman“, is an American comedic magician. He is a member of the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. In the early 1990s, Coby appeared in several small theatrical live shows, and on broadcast television. He is known for delivering eclectic and original comedic performances, of which stage magic plays a large part. He also works closely with rock musician and film director Marilyn Manson. (Source wikipedia)
Kristina: How you become a magician and why?
Rudy Coby: I used to draw comic books when I was a kid and make super 8 movies and I loved it. I used to do the special effects. That was my first love.And then I saw Alice Cooper, a musician on TV and he cut his head off. I asked my mom what that was about and she told me it was magic and she bought me a magic kit. I was nine years old and I didn’t even open my other presents. I loved it so much! That’s why I’ve been doing it for over 40 years. I won bunch of magical awards like “My Local Society American Magician”award, things like that. I came upon the idea of making my magic look like my comic books because my comic books never let me down. They were always fine. I threw away all of the card tricks, all the step that looked like normal magic and then I’ve concentrating of making my magic looked exactly like my comic book. First, I didn’t have the character. Instead of having cards and the same props or linking rings, I could do all that magic. I’ve done all that which I think you need to do to become a really good magician. You have to learn the classics. You have to know the rules before you can break them. But even though I was really good at doing card tricks, I realized that any card trick to a normal person looks like a card trick. It doesn’t matter if your grandpa is showing it to you when you’re a kid or David Blaine’s doing on TV. A card trick is a card trick. That’s why people will walk up to professional and offer to show them a card trick because they think they’re in the same business as the magician. I consciously took everything and look like any other magicians props out of my house and then put rubber arms and legs, special effects thing weird, props and had my comic books litter around and toy and then try to do magic that looked like the things I loved when I was nine years old.
Kristina: When was your first paid performance?
Rudy: I was 10 years old. I’ve been in magic for one year and I was doing magic for the kids in my neighbourhood. All the kids were four years old or five years old. I felt like an adult doing tricks and this lady hired me because she know I was a magician. She hired me. I came dead serious. I was wearing a black turtleneck sweater because I love James Bond when I was really little. I had a black turtleneck sweater, all dressed in black, very serious. I started performing my very serious magic and the kids weren’t paying attention so I stopped the show. Five minutes and I said, “You don’t deserve to see magic.” I walked out. I stormed out. The lady beg me to come back and I said, “No, not until they’re mature enough to appreciate it.” And that’s kind the way I feel the audience is down. I always had a chip on my shoulder about that. I really do, even now. I think it’s the greatest art form there is Opera and dance and all these other art forms get the respect but magic outdoes any of them. Magic is a theatrical art but with equal parts. It’s just funny that one discipline – dance is respected as an art where another discipline magic isn’t respected at all, even now. Which is mostly our fault for doing bad magic.
Kristina: How did you came up with your Hairstyle?
Rudy: I looked pretty normal up until I was about 20 years old. I was shy, I was tall, 6 foot 4. Even though I was not a normal kid but I would go and do these things for like GQ magazine. I thought that was going to be a close-up perform. I was working on stage magic and close up magic in the same time but it made my living doing close-ups. I was on a track to become like a Las Vegas close up. I get all these sort of exclusive fancy pants gig where they would dress me in tuxido i look like James Bond. They styled my hair. And then when I started doing my stage act, I came up with the four-legs act. I had the costume but on my head, still looked normal. My body looked comically but my head kind of had a normal haircut. I just tried to make my head looked as cartoony as the rest of my act. One day, accidentally blew dry the hair the wrong way and it looked weird and it was an accident. I think sometimes the best think happened are accidents. For example, I wasn’t raised with a lot of money. My first idea for the four-legged man act was – I saw him sort of mysterious like a spy character. So that’s why he has sunglasses. And that’s why that Peter Gunn music, it’s a spy music. I thought it’s be black trench coat, black pants. But when I went to do the act – I was working in a hospital putting myself to college. I didn’t have money to buy a new trench coat and new clothes, new suit and few pairs of pants. I went to the hospital laundry and I stole a lamb coat in two pairs and surgeon’s scrub pants and shirt.. It made it weirder and more of a cartoon than I even anticipate.
Kristina: Why the sun glasess?
David Bowie, for whatever reason, he changed my life.
In the early 80s I was at the Madison Square Garden and I didn’t have a ticket to go see him. I was outside and I only had a hundred bucks, which is a lot, early 80s or something. I was walking around outside and one guy was trying to sell a ticket for a thousand dollars. Finally, the show is starting so
the guy said, “How much do you have?” I was like, “I had $120.” Every penny I had I gave it to him for the ticket. It was in the third row. Third row at Madison Square Garden was 25,000 people. As soon as the show starts I jumped right in front. It’s just me and Chinese girls. That concert changed my life for one reason. He has this song called the “Cracked Actor” he brings out a skull. He put sunglasses on and he sings to a skull, like sort of Hamlet. All lights go down and you’re seeing this skull and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life. It was a pair of sunglasses and a skull. I was 17 years or something. I used to worry about growing old. I thought I was a huge failure because I thought I was getting old, “Oh my god I’m going to be 18 next year.” And really, it was affecting me. But then I saw David Bowie on stage and he was the oldest person in that room. Anyone in this room will change places with that guy. Age makes no difference. You know how old he was? Thirty-seven. That night I went home, threw away all my magic. I gave all my magic way everything and I’d never done a show since, without sunglasses on.
Kristina: What do you think what is important in a magic act?
Rudy: That’s a really hard question to answer because we can talk for five or six hours about that. Most magicians don’t care what’s important. But what’s important in magic is, for me, the same thing when I drew comic books when I was four years old. Basically what that was about was, it’s imparting my world of view. That sounds self-important but that’s exactly what it is. When I go see George Lucas’ “Star Wars”, you’re looking into his mind. When you see a Steven Spielberg movie, you’re seeing his mind, his world. You go to Disneyland, it’s a good example. You walk. You’re walking the streets created by that guy. When you walk into a theatre and you’re seeing the “Rudy Coby Show”, from the moment you walk in, it feels like a different place. And that’s not me bragging, that’s just a fact. If you go see Penn & Teller or you go see David Copperfield or you go see David Bowie, those are my idols when I was a kid. I wanted to do this because I saw Alice Cooper cut off his head on the stage. He created this world that was better than the comic books I worked with Marilyn Manson for 10 years. People all the time said, “Oh that was cool. That must be incredible working with such a big rock star.” And “No, he was excited to work with me. He came to me because he was excited to put magic in his show.” I don’t have Marilyn Manson music in my show. I don’t say that to brag. I’m saying that just to tell people. If you look up to people like David Bowie or to Marilyn Manson, Marilyn Manson wanted to put magic in his show. That shows you the high art of what magic is. He is the most dangerous performer there is, literally… I’m not joking around …even on stage but he still sees magic a dangerous thing. David Bowie started off as a mime. He went to mime school in France. You could say he’s a mime. My favorite performer is Steve Martin. They started off as a magician. Magic is important and it’s cool and it’s the greatest art on Earth.
Kristina: How important is the costume & costume designs for entertainers or magicians?
Rudy: The costume it’s one of the most important thing. It says “Because when you walk on stage, that’s what you’re seeing.” If you’re in a huge arena, they can’t even see your face. They’re seeing that graphic representation of what you look like as soon as you walk on stage. That’s what I learned from watching David Bowie, the great rock artist. It’s like a comic book. You’re a comic book in a panel when you walk on the stage. To me, it’s 50%. Your audio, your music and it’s 50% the visual. It’s funny. I’ve watched different performers trying to find their character for years and years. And many times, it’s the costume that changes everything. Like Kevin James is a good example. I’ve known him for years, a dear friend. But 20 years ago when he first did it, he didn’t know what his image was on stage. He was exactly the same magic, exactly the same. It was finding which costume looked correct on his body. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for what gets across of the character and the feeling we’re trying to impart to the audience. But it’s a never ending struggle, never ending struggle. It’s amazing how everything about that choice changes everything the audience perceive. Whether your shoulder pads are really big or they’re small or what fabric it’s made out of because it tells everything about the character. I can’t tell you how many times a magician walk on stage and I will hate them immediately because of their jacket. Because it’s the most important. About David Copperfield, people think of him as sort of classic magician but he’s certainly not that. He’s a very graphic look. It’s a white shirt with black pants but it’s a certain white shirt. He has a cartoon physique on stage because of his wardrobe choice. I think it’s incredibly important!
Kristina: What is the secret to create a succesful magic act?
Rudy: I do a lecture where I basically tell people – I do it just to big international magic event. I tell them that anyone of them can travel the world tomorrow if they had a three minute act that’s strong. That’s all you need. You don’t need hour show. You could travel the world tomorrow. You could be on TV shows all over the world – just three minutes. I’m trying to make it sound simple to inspire them. There’s only two requirements. There’s only two things in any act – it’s character and material. But you have to have strong character and original material. That makes a little more difficult. For magicians, your tricks have to be original and your character has to be strong. It’s very, very simple. But you take a lifetime trying to discover it. It’s basically, for me, I’ll give you the short version. If you want to become a strong performer as far as a magician, you have to know how to do everything. You’ve had to perform in front of as many audiences as you can. That means doing free shows in prisons, in mental institutions, birthday parties – everything. But that’s going to get good. Because you have to do thousands of shows before you even have a personality on stage! I tell people all the time, don’t try to learn all the newest trick. Go back to basics. Take the linking rings, the cut and restored rope – those basic things, do it in hospitals and prisons.Until you could do those basic tricks with an original slant and sudden you’re doing the linking rings with a different personality. You’re not using stack lines. You find yourself, your personality on the stage. That’s when you get a personality. You have to have a personality on stage. Lot of people – and I get to trouble for saying names ,I tried to not do that – could use that lesson now!!!
Kristina: What do you like most to be an entertainer?
Rudy: I like to travel.
It was Channing Pollock, the most famous dove magician who’s Lance Burton’s inspiration. He gave me incredible advice. I think Marvin Roy, Mr. Electric said the same similar thing. But he said basically, “Being a magician, you get to live the life of a millionaire without actually being a millionaire.” And It’s true. I’ve gone to a hundred different countries. We’ve dined with royalty. I have met the biggest stars in the world. I’m doing what I love since I was nine years old. There’s nothing better than that. We don’t have real jobs and we get to travel the world for free. But no, they pay us a lot of money and they get us free food. But we got to grow up to be what we always dream to be. Whenever I have people working in my show, like assistant staff, travel sometimes are pain in the ass especially now. But When people in my show start getting cynical, Ahhhh“We got to get to the airport two hours earlier Ahhhh ….you’re immediately fired because I don’t want that around me. If people don’t appreciate the gift that we’re given by living the sort of fantasy life, they don’t deserve it!
Kristina: What was your biggest success and your biggest failure in your career?
Rudy: My biggest success was my first US TV special where they called me “The Coolest magician on Earth.” It’s on my website. Just because when I was a kid, I saw Doug Henning on TV, I saw David Copperfield on TV – that was what I dream of, to have my own TV special. Rudy Coby, the coolest magician on Earth. In 1995, it’s 20 year anniversary. Twenty years exactly. The funny thing about that was the name of that show, I hate it. That was suggested by the producer .He literally was offering me my TV special in the room. He was the Vice President or the President at the network Fox televiosion in America .He goes, “We can call it “Rudy Coby, the coolest magician on Earth”. If you know me, you know I hate that because I don’t want to be called “the magician” at all. Him saying, that I knew every magician in the world would hate it. I start hating the title. But then when it came out, I loved it because the magicians did hate it. Because it is a comic book title. It’s such a bold-faced lie that is awesome. But I’ve had people get incredibly mad at me. “You’re not the coolest magician on Earth,” and I’ll be like, “Whoa, why?” They were like, “David Copperfield is.” My second TV show which people can also say, I did a whole routine where David Copperfield comes on stage and challenges me because I called myself “Coolest Magician on Earth”. That’s one of my proudest routines I’ve ever done also. When David Copperfield lost but I did it with a respect. That’s what I mean. It’s like sometimes your enemies give you the greatest idea.
My biggest failure – there’s been moments in my life where there’s failures “I don’t look at failure as that anymore.” Because very few people are willing to take a chance at failing at something and going on a show and then not going good ,trying something new in front of an audience and you shit the bed on stage in front of people. You give your enemies because they are – people are jealous in our business. They want you to fail. So You never want to give your enemies a reason to gloat and to go “Haha,” that was horrible. But you know what? If I wasn’t willing to walk on the stage and be willing to fail utterly and completely, then I wouldn’t have had the great successes I’ve had.
Kristina: If you could start over, would you choose the same path?
Rudy: Yes. Because there’s no way to get to where I am today by not taking that path. I was a shy kid. Literally, I had social anxiety disorder. I couldn’t go to parties. I was kind of a loner. I drew my comic books. Came from a strange household. There’s so many things that in life, if you could change them, you think you would change them. But my mom was literally a crazy person. But at the same time, maybe because she was crazy, she supported me having a crazy dream. Where, if I were to had the ideal dream mom, she would have said, “Stop playing with that magic stuff, what are you doing? Stop drawing your stupid comic book. Here, study to be a lawyer.” All the way from the top, from Marilyn Manson to people you’ve never heard of. I would say that all great art comes from pain. It seems there’s nothing good comes from being happy all the time. You have to have a yearning in your heart. All my favorite musician heroes even now seems like some of their best work was when they are going through tough times. Sometimes you’ve got to have your heart broken. Because if you’re in love and you’re happy, you are not creating new stuff. You’re too busy with the love aspect. I wouldn’t change everything but of course, I wish I could change lots.
Kristina What is your advice for the new generation?
Rudy: Watch performers that you love. Instead of copying them, find out what they were inspired by. Learn everything you can about your heroes, including what their inspirations like “Where did they come from?” One of my favorite books is Skywalking. It’s probably my favorite book. It’s about George Lucas. How he created Star Wars? You know what I mean? He was a super shy guy, shyer than I was as a kid. He went from a small town in California. He created this empire, this dream world. Instead of trying to do a Star Wars act or copying him and make a Star Wars movie, like other directors have, I learned every night about how that dream came to be from the page to being this big flick. Sometimes, you’ll meet someone you’d admire and their inspiration is totally different. If you ever get to meet your hero and get occasion to go to their house, here’s a secret thing: Look at their bookshelf. Their bookshelf will tell you everything they know. And if they don’t own books – that tells you everything you need to know.