Cosentino: Twisted reality in a real way

CosentinoCosentino is an Australian illusionist and escapologist. He’s a multi-talented guy. One of those people that you suspect might be better than you at everything. But he doesn’t lord that over you. Even though he came second in Australia’s Got Talent, won Dancing with the Stars and has received multiple Merlin Awards – one of the magic industry’s highest accolades, he’s humble, and a delight to interview. I was told I could talk to him for 30 minutes by the publicity agency, but we chatted for an hour. He and his publicist and I covered a diverse range of subjects, adolescent awkwardness, politics, film, rugby, the flag debate, and of course his craft: illusions.

Fortunately, when I busted out “tricks are for whores” apropos of nothing, he understood my reference and laughed about it before agreeing with Job’s sentiment somewhat.

His back story has been covered a lot, but in a nutshell he started learning magic as a socially awkward 12/13 year old as a way to overcome that awkwardness. He thought that it would be really cool to come up to someone and just boom! do a magic trick, as compared to saying “Hi, I’m Cosentino”. So really magic is his own illusion of self-confidence. His long dreadlocked hair suggests he’s still using tricks (sorry) to mask that awkwardness, but he’s a pro and so the conversation was never socially disjointed.

One of the first things he wanted me to understand was the amount of effort that went into creating illusions. He said that he’s often asked to go to a television studio to do an interview and then they’ll ask him to do a trick and that 90 second trick he does is actually 3 months worth of work. The audience sees just a minute and half of wonder, but he’s spent a shitload of time making it perfect. This was a strong opening, but it did mean that my intention of asking him to do a trick for me because I love magic went out the window.

Another interesting thing I learnt about the magic industry is that people steal bits. Having done some stand-up comedy I know that joke thievery is pretty bad, but I hadn’t realised that people stole illusions too. What a dick move. Cosentino has seen a few of his bits stolen and he knows they’re his because they even use the same patter. He’d be ok with it if the person performing them said “this is a bit that is Cosentino’s”, but they never do that. This copyright breach is an annoyance, but it seems one that he has to put up with.

Speaking of copyright breach, he was amused that our National party had used Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in its ad for the election last year. He said that he was here in NZ at the same, saw the ad and thought that it sounded awfully similar to Lose Yourself, but then wondered if it was just him. He was amused to find out that Eminem had actually lodged court proceedings.

His knowledge of things New Zealand is quite telling actually. He and his publicist had noticed two things had dominated the discourse heavily while they’ve been here: the naming of the All Blacks’ World Cup squad and the flag debate.

We also talked about the fact that he wanted to perform in Christchurch but that there isn’t a venue down there that’s appropriate. I talked a bit about how parts of Christchurch are still in quite a state of disrepair and how sad it was that they were missing out on shows. He agreed, and when I told him the Government was spending $26 million on a couple of flag referenda, he wondered if maybe that money would be better spent on something like Christchurch. Preach.

I wanted to know why he thought that illusionists escaped the intellectual snobbery that tends to come with wrestling fans. “Oh you like wrestling? You know it’s fake right?” is a common refrain. Cosentino says it’s because magic is actually incredibly honest. It doesn’t pretend to be real. He says that the beginning of his shows are often him telling the audience that they’re illusions. If he actually sawed a person in half “that would be gory”. He’s got a point.

So what about Uri Geller? He pretends that what he does is real. Cosentino is not a fan. He doesn’t think that illusionists should be representing themselves as wizards. They are there to trick the audience. “The audience actually demands to be baffled” he tells me. He also heaps Crossing Over with John Edward into the same camp as Uri Geller. I like Cosentino.

Magic to him is something special. It’s something spiritual. It’s the childhood wonder you got at the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. It’s different to each person, but that sense of wonder is important and something he really tries to sell in his shows. His favourite parts of his show are when he involves the audience because it’s a chance for him to experience that wonder – he never knows what he’s going to get from his participants.

He also loves magic because it’s a universal language. He’s just returned from Bangkok where he’s been performing the exact same show and they loved it there. They love it here. People love magic everywhere.

Who are his heroes? Houdini, obviously. But he says the first illusionist he saw was David Copperfield, so he’s a major influencer. Criss Angel is a good friend. Then we get some tangential heroes. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Walt Disney, Fred Astaire. Cosentino is a huge fan of pioneers. People who do an artform and do it in a way that’s new, or different.

In doing my research I looked at other recipients of the Merlin Award. It’s a total sausage fest. Illusions seems to be a dude-industry. Does Cosentino agree? Absolutely. Does he have any idea why? He’s got one or two.

He thinks that magic is about power – the power over somebody else, look at what I can do that you can’t! And that this is something that boys have imbued into them at a young age – the desire to be powerful. And so little boys who get into magic at a young age become illusionists and so you’re left with a male dominated industry. He thinks it’s a tragedy, but there are some magnificent female illusionists out there.

He talked about the masked magician. This was an individual (Val Valentino) who made a series of TV specials “exposing” the truth behind illusions. Cosentino wasn’t too concerned about the pulling back of the curtain on “tricks”, but rather it was the sexism. The Masked Magician went on about how every illusionist has to have an attractive female sidekick who was in a leotard Cosentino rejects that sexist trope and was upset that it was being perpetuated by someone who was revealing “the truth”.

I’ll be attending on Wednesday ready to be filled with a sense of wonder and goddamn demanding that I get baffled.

And if my words haven’t impressed you, check out his goddamn promo video, it’s an excitement machine:

Cosentino in Twisted Reality

St James Theatre
Wednesday, 2 September
Tickets from $41.95

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