Amazing Johnathan prepares to take final bows in ToledoWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Amazing Johnathan was performing in front of a crowd full of fans in San Diego about two months ago when he knew it was time to call it quits.
He’d planned for this moment for a while now. The famous comedy magician was diagnosed back in 2007 with a serious heart condition, cardiomyopathy. It means the heart muscle, for whatever reason, is beginning to deteriorate, leading to heart failure. At the time, the situation looked grim. Johnathan, who’d been a regular act in Las Vegas for years, made plans for retirement. But then, after losing weight and getting on blood thinners, everything seemed OK. He decided to cancel the end of his career.
Now, more than six years later, he was once more preparing to bow out of the spotlight, but on his terms — this year-long nationwide tour would be his farewell before he would quit performing for good. But he’d already learned the hard way that with this condition, even the best laid plans of mice, men and magicians are built on a foundation of quicksand. And in San Diego, it all came crashing back.
“Everything starting shutting down,” Johnathan said in an interview with Toledo Free Press. “My heart’s not allowing enough oxygen to be pumped into my legs and my arms. So halfway through the show, my hands started cramping up, and my legs started freezing up on me. And I pretty much made the decision then to cut this one-year tour short to only about three months.”
Johnathan — last name Szeles — will perform in Toledo at Laffs, Inc. from May 1-3. Then he’ll head to Los Angeles for a gig in Hollywood at the Magic Castle. And then … that’s it. He’ll retire to Las Vegas and work on maintaining his health as long as possible.
“It’s supposedly supposed to deteriorate more and more. In fact, I’m getting ready to go right now to the doctor’s to see if the medication that they gave me [is working]. And that’s my last resort. Because if that’s not working, they told me I probably have about a year. So, that’s not what you want to hear.”
Johnathan’s voice spoke of his mortality — which he gleefully pretended to imperil on a nightly basis for much of his adult life — in matter-of-fact terms. This is happening, and that’s that. “They were wrong last time about it. They said that it was going to deteriorate, and it didn’t. For six years, I was fine. And now, it’s just starting up again. So we’ll see what happens.”
In some ways, one gets the impression that the saddest part of everything for Johnathan is not that his health may be failing, or that he must give up his livelihood. No, the real tragedy is that he has to give up his act right when it’s getting so good.
For 30 years he has performed his wild brand of comedy magic — part purposefully bad tricks, part old-fashioned geek show, part prop comedy, part genuinely great illusions — and just now he’s reaching a point where he feels like he’s perfecting it.
“The show is actually better than it’s ever been. Before we announced that I was retiring, we started getting standing ovations, which was always sporadic throughout my career. Everybody loves the show, but to get a standing ovation is not an easy thing,” Johnathan said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, great. Now that I’m finally getting standing ovations, I’m sick and I can’t go out and enjoy that.’”
He’s also found a connection to a whole new generation of fans, thanks to appearances on fellow magician Criss Angel’s series “Mindfreak.” The shows opened the door to younger fans who weren’t around when he first made a name on the national stage 25 years ago through appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman” and FOX’s “Comic Strip Live.”
“Comedy Central is a good gauge for that. Because they called me after 10 years — after I thought I’d never hear from them again — they called me out of the blue after 10 years of not calling me and said, ‘Hey, you want to do an hour special?’ I’m like, wow. I can’t believe it. I thought it was a joke.”
Despite his condition, Johnathan is doing everything he can to make this truncated final tour as epic as it can be. He has plans to record the entire run of his final week at the Magic Castle for possible release — he even hinted that the Toledo stops may be recorded, as well. And don’t even think about asking if he has any regrets.
“The good news is that even if I did go tomorrow, I’ve had such a great career. I’ve been so blessed for 30 years. A lot of the people I started doing comedy with are either working regular jobs, or out of the business or dead,” Johnathan said. “I’ve been on the top for at least 25 of those 30 years, I’ve headlined.”
It’s remarkable — Amazing, one might say — how many lives a performer can touch during their career. Even if said performer swallowed razor blades or took swigs from a bottle of Windex while he was onstage.
“It’s been tough to announce the farewell tour and tell people it’s a health issue — I’ve had a huge outpouring of love from these people. You don’t really think about the effect you’ve had on their lives until they come up to you and tell you, ‘I had cancer and going through my treatment, you made me laugh during that time.’”
Tags: bad tricks, cardiomyopathy, Comedy Central, comedy magician, Comic Strip Live, Criss Angel, FOX, geek show, Hollywood, Inc., Johnathan Szeles, Laffs, Las Vegas, Late Night with David Letterman, los Angeles, Magic Castle, Mind Freak, prop comedy, San Diego, serious heart condition, The Amazing Johnathan