Greatest Bets: Delaware magician Capehart fools Penn & Teller – Delaware State Information
Chris Capehart, a magician from Wilmington who frequently appears at the Dickens Parlour Theatre in Millville, appears on stage with “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” host Alyson Hannigan during a taping of a recent episode where Mr. Capehart fooled the magic duo. (The CW photo/Jacob Kepler)
Chris Capehart is a master magician. In a career that spans 50 years, he has won almost every award you can think of in magic, appeared all over the world, including frequently at Millville’s Dickens Parlour Theatre, and has lectured about the art of magic to scores of people over many years.
But one of his biggest achievements came recently when he appeared on the magic duo Penn and Teller’s CW television show “Fool Us.”
Each week, four magicians come on the program, perform a trick and Penn and Teller have to figure out how they did their magic. If they fail to do so, the magician gets a coveted Fool Us trophy.
Mr. Capehart, who has known Penn and Teller for 40 years, did just that on a show that aired Jan. 22.
The Wilmington resident performed three routines. He made a light bulb turn on in his bare hands; made an oversized card fall down without touching it; and popped a balloon, which was inside another balloon, without the outer balloon breaking.
Penn Jillette, who does the speaking for the two, told Mr. Capehart on the program that they knew how he did the first two tricks but they took a guess at the last one and they were wrong, thus giving the trophy to Mr. Capehart.
Although he won the award for the final trick, Mr. Capehart isn’t sure they really knew how he did any of his routine.
“They acted like they did but they didn’t explain it. If they explained it, I would have felt better. That’s all they said, ‘Well, we knew how you did them,’” Mr. Capehart said.
For the final balloon trick, Mr. Jillette said they thought he had a pin inside the inner balloon and it was jostled and the balloon popped. But Mr. Capehart told them they were wrong. Producers backstage know how each magician does the trick so they can verify what he or she is saying.
Although he received the award for the balloon trick, Mr. Capehart said he is getting the most feedback on the card routine.
“People have been calling me and emailing me asking me how I did that and wanting me to sell the trick to them but I haven’t yet,” he said. “There’s a video out there saying that I blew on the card but that’s not it. You can’t blow on a card that precisely. That’s crazy. None of that’s true.
“So I made a video after that just to show them I can do that with my back turned. I can do it from another room.”
Mr. Capehart, an African-American, has been mystifying audiences ever since he walked by the Apollo Theater in New York City in 1969 when he was 19 years old.
“There was a circus that was at the Apollo Theater. And the circus was featuring the first Black magician I’ve ever known. His name was Earl ‘Presto’ Johnson and I got a chance to meet him. He got me interested in magic,” Mr. Capehart said.
Although he didn’t have a particular interest in magic at the time, he wanted to see Mr. Johnson’s act.
“I had never heard of a Black magician before. This was 1969. And then he made something disappear in my hands. I didn’t know how he did it but that was great,” Mr. Capehart recalled.
“It’s like my thing on ‘Fool Us.’ How did I break the balloon? It leaves you with a feeling that it was funny and all but how did he bust that balloon? That really appealed to me and still does.”
Mr. Capehart said the two hit it off right away.
“You can’t get any friendlier than Presto. You started talking to Presto and he started acting like he was your uncle right away. Everybody who knew Presto knew that he was the friendliest character you’d ever want to meet,” he said.
After meeting Mr. Johnson and learning some routines, Mr. Capehart hit the streets of New York and later Philadelphia for the next 15 years performing magic for passersby seven days a week.
He said he loved doing it.
“I was 20 years old. It was exciting. You met people on a daily basis. I liked to talk to people on the street. I liked to talk to people anywhere,” he said.
“I felt very comfortable talking to people. So that’s why we went out every day. It was more than making money. We just had a lot of fun doing it.”
It was performing on the streets of Philadelphia where he met Penn and Teller and they became good friends. In fact in the episode of “Fool Us,” Mr. Capehart calls Teller by his first name of Raymond.
“They were always smart guys. You have to be smart to come up with the things they’ve come up with. They have their own show in Las Vegas. They are millionaires. They became a big deal,” he said.
Mr. Capehart has become a big deal in the world of magic himself.
He is a regular headliner at “Monday Night Magic,” New York City’s longest running Off-Broadway magic show; at The Magic Castle in Hollywood; and at the Dickens Parlour Theater. He has performed in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, New York, Philadelphia, Hollywood, Chicago, Denver and numerous other cities.
He is one of the few American magicians who has been asked to perform at the Magic Circle in England. He has also performed at The Blackpool Magic Convention, one of the biggest magic conventions in the world.
He won the Legend award just this week from “Monday Night Magic” and after being nominated 16 times, he finally won a Magician of the Year award from the Magic Castle last year.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has cut short his live stage performing, he still performs regularly for “Monday Night Magic” over Zoom. Tickets can be obtained by visiting MondayNightMagic.com.
Although it keeps him going, Mr. Capehart said performing virtually isn’t the same as doing it in front of a live audience.
“You don’t feel like you are giving the people your all. But it is what is. I always feel like I’m cheating the people. You can’t do a lot of the things you would normally do with them. There’s no personal contact with the people,” he said.
COVID really dictated limitations for his appearance on “Fool Us.” He was tested before he flew out to Las Vegas to appear on the show. He was tested regularly while in Vegas. He was quarantined in his room at the Rio hotel for three days. He performed his routine and then returned home.
Mr. Capehart, who is known for his work with three rings, has appeared all over the world in 50 years of doing magic. (Submitted photo)
“You basically are not allowed outside the building. Once you are in the building and you’ve been tested, you live in that bubble,” he said. “Penn and Teller lived on the top floor (of the Rio where it is filmed) for the whole time they filmed the show and never left. The hotel is closed down so the only people in the hotel at the time were the people who were doing the show.”
Mr. Capehart can’t wait to get back to doing live shows again. And he especially can’t wait to get back to the Dickens Parlour Theatre. He said it’s one of his favorite places to perform and is looking forward to the new theater they are building.
“I call it my vacation spot. You can’t beat the job. It’s right by the beach. I have performed there two weeks out of the year,” he said.
“The first time I went down there I heard it was in Millville and I thought ‘Where is Millville? Whoever heard of Millville?’ Then when I got down there and saw the theater, I said ‘Why you have been hiding this from us?’ I love it down there. It’s great.”
For more information on the Dickens Parlour Theatre and its upcoming plans, visit DPTMagic.com.
Stitch in time
The African-American “Stitch-In-Time” Quilt Guild has exhibited their quilt artistry at the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover for several years and each year with a different theme.
This year’s theme, “Keeping Our Culture Alive, A Stitch at a Time” explores African-American culture through more than 40 colorful quilts. Also featured in the exhibit is a special salute in fabric to the Tuskegee Airmen.
The exhibit opens at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Agricultural Museum on U.S. 13.
Patrons pay regular museum admission fees: $5 for adults (age 18 and up) $3 for youths (age 6-17), children age 5 and under are free.
Persons who are unable to attend the opening of this exhibit are encouraged to visit the museum during regular business hours: Wednesday–Saturday (10 a.m.-3 p.m.). The exhibit will be in place through April 10.
For additional information and directions to the event, visit www.agriculturalmuseum.org or call the museum at 302-734-1618.
New in theaters this weekend is the animated “Hedwig and the Witch.”