David Needle: What got you into magic?
Robert Strong: When I was 12 years old, I saw a magician perform in Baltimore’s inner harbor area. He connected with people in a way I didn’t even know was possible. I wanted to learn how to make those connections with other people. I went home right away and told my parents I wanted to be a magician and they were very supportive.
You are billed as a comedy magician. Were you a funny kid or did that come later?
Strong: Comedy at first was a way for me to misdirect people’s focus and attention. When someone laughs, they don’t see your hand dip into the pocket and grab an extra $100 bill or a dove. But what I learned is that comedy makes people’s experience more fun and offered even a stronger way to connect with people.
How are you adapting now that live, in-person performances are on hold?
Strong: I’ve used my degree in TV and Film Production to build a home video studio where I’ve created amazing illusions for Google’s Meet, Cisco’s WebEx, and Zoom. Even when the audience is thousands of miles away, I can still read minds and predict the future (he says with a wink).
When you’re working with tech professionals at Google or elsewhere, do they especially enjoy finding out how a trick works?
Strong: They love understanding the secrets as a solvable puzzle. But between you and me, and your readers, it’s so much more enjoyable to simply experience it as magic. It’s always disappointing when they figure out how a trick works.
Since you’ve been known to share some of the secrets behind your tricks, is that idea of the magician’s code kind of a myth?
Strong: I am going to unveil the biggest darkest secret in magic. Whenever magic is exposed in a grandiose way, it promotes magic and we grow more magicians and interest. Every few years the magic community is up in arms over some big expose. But every time it happens the magic community grows.
I never reveal the secret to a magic trick with one exception—if I can teach you and you’re going to share it with other people and spread more joy. If you promise to practice it and share it like I do at Google, you’ll help us make an army of magicians.
Is the world a better place if that happens?
Strong: Yes, absolutely. Magic is usually not political or social, it’s a way of bringing joy to other people and sharing a moment together. Magic is the ultimate theater in brevity. If you go to a great show like Hamilton you are completely immersed in that for three hours. A magic trick can be 30 seconds and it’s completely immersive, with a beginning, middle, and end.
Do magicians get heckled?
Strong: Of course. Heckling is my favorite thing in the world because I’m always improvising. You let go of the magic and comedy and you go down a rabbit hole you’ve never been before. The audience becomes a ticking time bomb; they have no idea what direction it’s going to go in. Everybody is on the edge of their seat.
The exception is the heckling that no magician or comedian likes. If a drunk person blurts something out completely random, all you can do is acknowledge it and go back to your script.
But if someone shouts, “Hey, I want to see that from behind.” My response is, “Challenge accepted. You, sir, step right up and stand there so you can watch me do the trick from behind.” Now everyone is on the edge of their seat because this performance will never happen again.
What’s next for Robert Strong?
Strong: I’m trying to produce a few television shows and I’ve been shopping pilots. I’m doing a lot of summits for CTOs, CFOs, and CISOs. The whole idea is that through the magic I’m able to teach concepts that they’ll remember. I coordinate that with the themes of the conferences. I want to help people be smarter.