If John Edward Szeles wasn't going to be a great magician, at least he was going to be a very funny comedian.
Szeles, also known as the Amazing Johnathan, brings his magic/comedy act to Albany's Funny Bone for five shows over three days Friday through Sunday.
Szeles grew up in the Detroit area and had always planned on being a magician before he decided to incorporate humor into his act, in a big way. He began by performing on the streets of San Francisco and got his first big break when he appeared on "The 8th Annual Young Comedians Show" in 1983.
He became a popular act on television, and from 2001 to 2014 was a headliner in Las Vegas, calling himself the "Freddy Krueger of Comedy." Always accompanied by a variety of props, the Amazing Johnathan typically uses a lot of gore in his performance, and that could include pretending to cut his own wrists, suck his own eyeball and skewer his own tongue.
In March of 2007, at the age of 49, the Amazing Johnathan was diagnosed with a heart condition that eventually forced him to retire from show business in 2014. In 2017, however, he is back. He talked to The Gazette earlier this week about his career and his health.
Question: How is your return to show business going?
Answer: It's getting hard to do, and it's certainly not like it used to be. It is great to be performing again, but I think I'll probably slow down a bit. It's been a busy year this year, getting back into it, and I think next year I'm going to be a bit picky about what I do.
Q: What came first, the magic or the comedy?
A: I was doing magic before the comedy, but some people would say I was doing the comedy before the magic when they saw my magic show. The magic didn't pan out for me, but it's still a hobby. I think I found the right blend of both. Not too many people can do it. Penn & Teller do it, and I do it. There's only a few of us.
Q: So you were once planning to become a serious magician?
A: Yes. I grew up in Detroit planning to do serious magic. Then I performed during my high school talent show and I bombed so badly I decided that night, never again. I did six tricks and they all failed. They all went wrong. From that point on, I never did another serious magic show. So I'm a comic, but I would never go onstage without my props.
Q:How do you feel about magic and psychics and mind readers?
A: Everything is trickery. I believe everything has an explanation. UFOs and all that stuff, there is an explanation for it. Psychics, even Kreskin doesn't tell people he's a real psychic. It's all fake. There are very few who say they're a real mind reader because they could get busted so easily by scientists or magicians. Spiritualists, they're all fake. For me it goes as far as religion. Most of the magicians I know are atheists, and I include myself in that group.
Q: Did you ever want to do more TV or films?
A: I have done a lot of TV. I had my own game show with Merv Griffin for a while, and I've done a lot of comedy shows. But movies are something I never aspired to. I never wanted to be an actor.
Q: What do you do when you're not performing?
A: I draw and paint. I try to do portraits, and I've been doing it on and off for seven years now. It's a lot of fun, but I'm really quite bad at it.
'The Amazing Johnathan'
WHERE: Funny Bone Comedy Club, 1 Crossgates Road, Albany
WHEN: 7:30 and 10 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $22
MORE INFO: (518) 313-7484, www.albany.funnybone.com