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Portsmouth magician’s career is on the rise

By Selene D. Guerrero
Virginian-Pilot correspondent
© April 7, 2014

Joseph De Paul took out a stainless steel trap from his suitcase and carefully set it on the table.

“The trap is the most dangerous because I can really lose a finger with this one,” he said, taking extra precaution to set it.

To demonstrate just how real the trap was, he took a ballpoint pen and tapped the spring. The stainless steel jaw immediately snapped the pen in half.

“I’m going to put my hand into the trap and hopefully not do too much damage to my hand,” the Portsmouth resident said.

The trap snapped around his hand, but it did no harm aside from a red mark. De Paul’s interest in magic and the uncommon sideshow act started when he was 23 – a little later than most magicians, he admits. His late start hasn’t discouraged him though and he has spent many hours reading up on the subject and practicing.

“It’s an art form I adore, you don’t see it much,” said the engineer by profession.

“You do see it on TV, and to me TV violates the essence of magic.”

He considers himself a comedy magician and his act isn’t restricted to illusions and sleight of hand. He incorporates sideshow acts reminiscent of early 20th-century carnivals when performers ate swords, breathed fire and walked on beds of nails.

While he isn’t exactly eating swords, he does swallow balloons and needles, and “eats” fire. His favorite is the human blockhead where he hammers a 4-inch nail into his face by way of the nose.

De Paul, who grew up in New Jersey, said he first practiced with cotton swabs but kept failing. After a bloody accident or two, he finally learned he had a deviated septum, switched nostrils and has succeeded with the act since.

He began with a few card tricks until he went looking for more learning material when he lived near Baltimore. He was directed to Denny and Lee’s Magic Studio where owner Denny Haney, a renowned magician, became a guiding figure for De Paul.

“He is this encyclopedic resource of knowledge,” De Paul said.

He began to perform during monthly open mic sessions at the shop and learned by osmosis, he said. At first, he worked on close-up magic, such as sleight of hand tricks, and eventually evolved to stage performances.

De Paul, now 28, moved to Portsmouth in 2011 for his job and found a small community of magicians. He performs at comedy clubs, theaters and private engagements across Hampton Roads.

“It was just amazing,” Marvin Waller said about a recent performance. “I’m supposed to be a scientist and I’m still trying to figure out how he did that!”

He was referring to De Paul’s tricks where cards rise up from a deck without De Paul touching them. By the way, the cards were also inside a glass that was encased in a glass dome.

“He is talented, it takes a lot of dedication and skill to do what he does,” said Patty Wray of Norfolk’s Venue on 35th.

“I’m not someone to assess these illusions but he does it and I don’t know how he does it and the audience doesn’t know but they love him.”

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Selene Guerrero,

Watch video of De Paul: