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Justin Willman: "With Magic, It Takes Longer to Find a Voice."

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One question a lot of comedians get both from journalists as well as fans is, "Where do you get your material?" Songwriters are often asked this, too. What many may not realize though is that magicians like Justin Willman go through the same creative processes and face the same challenges as their musical and comedic counterparts.

Willman came to magic by accident. After breaking both arms when he was 12, doctors recommended learning card tricks to help regain his dexterity.

"The cards were a makeshift physical therapy," Willman explains. From age 14 to 24, he always had a deck of cards in his pocket. "That also was a makeshift chastity belt. Keeps the ladies away."

Learning magic, he says, is akin to the way musicians learn to write songs.

"You learn the chords, then you learn other people's songs," he says. "With magic, you learn the moves, then you learn other people's tricks and perfect the moves in a certain order to get the desired effect. It's like when you've mastered a cover song, you can learn to write your own songs."

While he knew he loved magic and the art of illusion, it took years for Willman to settle on a style that fit him. Comedians call this finding your voice, while musicians refer to this process as finding your sound.

"When I first started out doing magic I had a serious approach," he recalls. "I went to see David Copperfield when I was young, and he's very serious. I thought ,'That's what being a magician is all about.' So I tried being that."

After seeing magician Lance Burton performing in Las Vegas, Willman moved in the direction of a friendly but serious illusionist who wore a suit and always looked classy.

"I saw him do a trick where he made doves appear, and he was suave and perfect -- so bad-ass."

Willman began doing a similar trick, entering competitions and doing quite well, but later he realized it was essentially just a tribute to his idol.

"It took a little bit of trial and error and different styles of magic before I finally realized that what felt good for me was a tongue-in-cheek approach to doing magic, while making fun of the magic."

Comedians and songwriters need to find a unique voice or sound to be successful, but Willman reasons that many magicians don't feel the same way.

"With magic it takes longer to find a voice," he says. "One, because you don't really have to. A lot of magicians can make a career doing restaurants, kids' parties, and private functions, just by doing store-bought magic."

Often the tricks are so strong and so well-developed, the magician doesn't really have to add anything to them. "That keeps a lot of magicians from growing, and maybe creating a comedic voice."

IF YOU GO:

Justin Willman Acme Comedy Co. 708 N. First St., Minneapolis 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 10:30 Friday and Saturday $20-$35 For tickets, call 612-338-6393 or visit www.acmecomedycompany.com