To start, what was my criteria? I attempted to identify close-up magicians who entertain in the real world and not just for other magicians. This mostly rules out the finger flingers who mainly impress other magicians and don’t necessarily entertain the lay public. I wanted truly commercial performers who regularly do the trade shows, corporate events and restaurants - the bread and butter of the close-up world.
I easily compiled a list of 20 performers and ultimately whittled it down to my top ten. Here they are, in order, and why each magician is on my list.
1. Johnny Ace Palmer
To watch Johnny Ace Palmer in action is to see our art at its highest form. Palmer's close-up performances are technically bewildering, perfectly polished and immensely entertaining.
2. Bill Malone
This performer is completely commercial and the consummate pro. He can entertain any crowd at any time and under any conditions. His sleight-of-hand is impeccable and his stage persona is hilarious.
3. Michael Ammar
The warm and friendly performing style belies a close-up master. Just watch his cups and balls to know why Ammar has to be here.
5. Paul Gertner
I think that Paul Gertner resides at the apex, that elusive intersection between entertaining magic and sharp business acumen. He is one of the most successful trade show workers in the biz and a FISM winner.
6. Bob Sheets
Here's another guy that does it all. I have a special place for Bob Sheets because he's as hilarious as his magic is devastating. I became a fan of his early on, before I discovered magic myself and was an entertainment reporter on assignment reviewing Magicopolis. Here's one of Bob Sheets' commercial routines.
7. Ricky Jay
The only performer to make my Top Ten Magicians of Our Time and this list, he's a respected magic historian and author and highly skilled in magic as well as the methods of cheats. Here's an amazing card segment from his "52 Assistants" stage show.
8. Gregory Wilson
Another commercial performer with exceptional charisma and deadly magic chops. His "Off the Cuff" magic instructional video is a must have in any magic library. Here's his three coin routine.
9. David Williamson
Just about every magician knows about "Rocky" and classic "Sleight of Dave." He's one of the most outrageous personas in magic.
10. Shoot Ogawa
His magic is simply jaw-dropping. I love his thimble routine, but here's his three coins across that will demonstrate his devastating arsenal.
Admittedly, because I live in the United States, the list is weighted towards American performers. However, I am familiar with the artistry of Guy Hollingworth, Henry Evans, Boris Wild, Lennart Green, Juan Tamariz, Michael Vincent, Benjamin Earl and Etienne Pradier, all of whom I considered.
Other strong contenders for my list included: Doc Eason, Jon Armstrong, Aaron Fisher, Jason Latimer, David Roth, David Blaine, Danny Garcia, Whit Haydn, Kostya Kimlet, Brian Gillis, David Minkin and Andrew Goldenhersh. Also, I decided to only focus on current close-up performers, which left off such greats as Dai Vernon, Tommy Wonder, Slydini, Martin Nash and more.
Did I get it right? I want to hear from you. You can comment below.