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April, 2014 Issue

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Michael Kent

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This is a big, BIG win for Michael Kent this year, finally pulling down the Entertainer Of The Year Award after two previous hardfought battles in 2012 and 2013 where he was a very close runner- up. The self-billed "Comedian, Magician, Smart@$$" has become one of the most respected and in-demand entertainers in the campus market and this win proves it.

He couldn't be happier about the win. I couldn't be happier. See, Told ya. I was shocked to hear the news and obviously extremely excited. It has been a long time coming and I am very thankful for everyone who came through with the votes and supported me through all three years of going after this Award.

The tag line he uses works pretty well to describe his show in just those three words. I started with magic when I was a kid, that was my hobby and passion and where my interest in the stage and performing initially came from. Comedy was always something I loved on the side that I loved watching, but it wasn't something I was mature enough to incorporate into my magic yet. I had the normal magic icons I looked up to as a kid like David Copperfield and Penn & Teller (which I still do), but I really looked up to the guys like David Letterman and Bill Murray. I feel like now those are the people who influenced me even more without me even realizing it at the time. It was much later in life that I realized Bill Murray in particular was such a big influence on my comedy." A decade and a half after the magic bug bit him that he realized his passion for comedy ran just as deep. "I was in college and I started doing standup at open mic nights. It wasn't much later after that that I realized I should be combining the comedy and magic for a show that could really hit hard on audiences and be my own."

The first problem Michael saw with this was the amount of competition. "There were (and are) tons of guys doing comedy magic shows. When I started choosing what material was going to go in my show and excluding the material that didn't fit, I realized that the stuff that I really enjoyed performing were the things that sort of made me a smartass: the material that made me come across that way. There is that saying that 'nobody likes a smartass' and I have always viewed that as sort of a challenge (laughs). I wanted to be a likable smartass, and I think it is okay to be a smartass when you are doing it with your friends. It obviously doesn't work well with your parents, teachers or boss, but those people aren't in my audiences. The students I perform for quickly become my friends and I think the way I come across as a smartass endears me to them somewhat, rather than alienating them, because they are all in on the joke. That is how I want my show to feel. We are just a big room full of friends and I can razz on you and you can razz on me and it's all totally okay. So 'Comic, Magician, Smart@$$' became my tagline. It went on all my poster and ads and marketing materials and really became my unique brand in this market."

Michael says the realization of finding a brand "a label that truly fit him" has not confined him into a box, but in fact opened him up to being able to really hone in on a show that is uniform, cohesive and conducive to his brand. "It is nice now, because I can look at every little piece of material in my head that I am thinking about putting in my show and figure out if it meets one of those three criteria. Is it comedy? Is it magic? Is it smartass? If it's at least two of those things, then I know it fits in with my show and personality. I think you see many magicians who's shows seem disconnected, disjointed or not true to their form because they have a hard time figuring out what really fits seamlessly into their set with their personality." Think of how David Blaine's street magic has a uniformity. Not all of his effects are the same, but they all have a common thread of the sort of creepy and supernatural about them. You won't see him with white tigers, just like you wouldn't see Siegfried & Roy push a needle through their eye, or Criss Angel pull a rabbit out of a hat and turn it into a bouquet of flowers.

It's not all goofy comedy. Most shows need some contrast to have more impact. Not contrast for contrast's sake, but contrast for the sake of a more powerful performance. "Not everything in my show has to meet all three of those criteria. There are moments in my show when I want to be real with the audience. I want them to get to know me and sometimes it's difficult to get that through being a smartass 100% of the time. Sometimes I want to just feel like we are just hanging out and having a more serious moment. There is a thing I do in my act with a balloon where I pop it and put it back together. In that part of my act I want it to be real and more focused because that is an illusion I created myself. I now sell it to other magicians to perform in their shows. So when I present it, I say, 'here is something that I really care about and spent tons of time creating and developing and is an example of how my career allows me to be creative.' I really appreciate that and I want the audience to understand that; if I treat it as just another gag, the feeling doesn't come across."

We all live and work in a market with a wide demographic when it comes to the types of schools we work with. Each entertainer would be well-advised to keep this in mind and Michael is no exception. He's learned that adaptation and flexibility go a long way when it comes to pleasing schools that may be more on the conservative side. "Every show I do, I send posters to the schools. The ones I have preprinted for them have my tagline 'Comic, Magician, Smart@$$' on them. For those schools who are very conservative and can't use the word 'smartass' on a poster, I offer one that just says 'Comedian and Magician' for download on my website. It is the same poster, but they have to print them. So I give them the original poster for free and often a school will still want to use them, so they will just cut out the word 'smartass' (laughs). That becomes a neat sort of litmus test, because I know when I show up to campus and see that word redacted from the poster that I need to steer toward a cleaner show. My show is not 'blue' or inappropriate by any means, but sometimes it is nice to know which direction to steer in order to keep the audience and the programming boards happy. I would call my show edgy, not dirty at all, but I can obviously cater it one way or the other based on request."

Michael is a versatile performer that can (and does) perform for a wide variety of audiences, but clearly the campus market is a huge priority for him. We want to know why. "I really, REALLY enjoy it. When I go and do a show at a corporate event, I have a great time. When I perform on a cruise ship, I have a great time. But when I perform at a college show, I feel like I am hanging out with my friends, doing magic. That is really what I want my job to be. I want my job to be so comfortable that it doesn't feel like I am going to work and when I perform at colleges, that is exactly how it feels. It doesn't feel like work to me. That is really important in late October when I have been on the road for three months doing shows in small towns across America I have never been to and don't know anyone in and I haven't slept for days. To get there and do the show and feel like I am just having a good time doing what I love and hanging out with a fun crowd is very important. I hope to be able to do it for a long time to come."

For Bookings: Fresh Variety, Laura Gilman at (603)518-5783 info@freshvariety.com

RUNNER UP: ADAM GRABOWSKI