Illusionist Johnny West Casts Spell on Cambodian Children

Given the fervent interest in all things magic-related and few homegrown magicians, it is perhaps not surprising that the public’s reaction to US magician Johnny West has been so enthusiastic.

With a new TV show, “Kids Ex­press,” airing in the mornings on CTN, bookings for live shows and private events rolling in, and a popular slot as a DJ on Love FM, Cambodia is once again proving a happy hunting ground for West after a year working in Kuala Lumpur.

“Magic is fresh here,” the droll New Yorker said in an interview last week, “It is a new experience for Cambodian people to see magic as entertainment.”

Amid the daggers through people’s heads—“I rarely make mistakes!” he said—the comedy, the psychic mind readings and the ela­borate card tricks, West’s most popular trick reflects the current state of Cambodia.

“I’m always getting people coming up to me asking me to make money magically appear!” he said.

West, whose father was a professional magician and illusionist, has plied his trade all over Asia, but Cambodia is a sentimental favorite for him.

The 45-year-old, who used to work as an intelligence analyst with the US Army, described his new TV show as a Sesame Street-type concept in which magic is presented in creative ways, that also teaches children English.

Having run for four months, the show is proving popular with viewers, more and more of whom are starting to recognize him on the street.

“People of all ages come up to me,” West said.

This latest program, which follows the very successful Johnny West Comedy magic TV show of a few years ago, backs up his bread and butter work: live magic shows.

He goes to great lengths to keep his live performance fresh and claims to have refined his best material over years of trial and error.

“I call it an experience rather than a magic show,” West said. “I want to avoid the cliches.”

A recent highlight was when he performed at the New Day Center, which helps the children who live at the Stung Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh.

It was the first time he was invited to perform by an NGO and he was very happy to do it for free.

So far, there are few signs of Khmer magicians taking up West’s baton, but he’s starting to get more and more inquiries, predominantly from Cambodians, as well as the odd Chinese gambler, to give them lessons.

But he sticks mostly to teaching the close-up magic, like card-tricks, as he doesn’t want to give away his secrets.

The International School of Phnom Penh has even booked him to give lessons next year.

“It should be a lot of fun,” he said.

  (Additional reporting by Lam Bopha)

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