There’s more to being a magician than simply doing tricks. Gary Maurer has built his career on the business behind blowing people’s minds.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Mike Ritterback
A funny thing happens to reality whenever Gary Maurer is around. Whereas it tends to proceed at a fairly ordinary pace for the most of us, around Maurer it bends and sways, creating impossible situations that leave you stunned. And just as you’ve come to grips with this new reality, one where a playing card can turn from a king of clubs to a four of diamonds in the blink of an eye, one where your very thoughts can be plucked from your head, it’s on to the next illusion.
Gary Maurer is a magician, and a good one at that. And for 17 years, he’s mystified the Lowcountry, building a business and a brand around his personal brand of prestidigitation. As we begin our look into the coolest jobs in the Lowcountry, there’s no better place to start than with our resident wizard.
“It is a cool job,” he said. “Where else do you get a chance to constantly have fun with people, have people laugh, have people be amazed? If you have a job that you love, it’s not work.”
FOR MY FIRST TRICK…
Being a magician is one of those career choices most of us entertain at a young age, shortly after receiving our first box of simple tricks. We wow our friends with some slight of hand and some disappearing scarves, and we tell ourselves one day we’ll stand on stage and make magic.
Gary Maurer was not one of those kids.
“I liked magic, I always enjoyed watching magic, but I was not that little kid sitting in his room with a deck of cards learning how to do finger-flicking,” he said.
Instead, he embarked on a career as a teacher, leading art classes in Pennsylvania. He didn’t pursue magic until he was 35 years old, and even then it was only something he did as a side hustle.
“When I first got started, it was learning a trick or two and doing it for friends,” he said. “Then it turned into, ‘I’m hosting a party, would you come do some magic,’ then another person would say ‘There’s an arts festival coming up, could you perform.’ I slowly put it all together.”
He finally went full time in 1998. Four years later, Hilton Head Island was calling him.
“That first year was a tough year,” he said. “I think I had two shows in the spring, and maybe eight shows during the summer.”
Just as he had before, however, he started putting it all together. Regular shows at Pineland Station led to regular offers for birthday parties, and eventually a residency at the island’s Marriott properties that still make up the bulk of his regular shows. That’s not to say they’re his only shows.
“The weird thing about being a magician is when you do it for a living, you have to take all the shows–kids shows, bar mitzvahs, arts festivals, fairs–because you have to generate the income. As you get older, you like to get a little more selective.”
As far as his natural stage presence and exceptional skill have taken him, a huge part of Maurer’s success lies in the fact that he treats it as both business and passion.
“When you do this for a living, it becomes all-consuming from when you wake up in the morning until you go to bed at night. If you go to a Dollar Store or go to Home Depot, you’re thinking, ‘I wonder what I can do with that.’ You’re thinking about it all the time.”
And there are the usual trappings of the solo entrepreneur that no one thinks about: Insurances, taxes, visits to conventions, and competition from other acts. It’s no hobby.
“When you tell them you do magic, they ask, ‘Well, what’s your day job?’ When I explain that this is my day job, they can’t believe that sometimes.“
“I remember my dad, before he passed away, saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this for a living,’” said Maurer. And it seems like at times Maurer can’t believe it himself.
For him, even after all these years, it’s the coolest job in the world. Whether he’s performing for family crowds at his Monday evening shows at Comedy Magic Cabaret during the summer or adult crowds during his Bamboozled shows at corporate events, he’s reminded with every show how cool that job is.
“I’m probably one of the luckiest guys in the Lowcountry. I have a great family, I have a wife who supports what I do, I get a chance to entertain people, make them smile and laugh, even if it’s just for an hour,” he said. “Now don’t get me wrong, there are days I’m working my butt off, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”