There’s no way he could have known and yet somehow, he did. The card in my hand is, in fact, a five of spades.
”Magic Mike” has turned up at the Region Christmas-in-July party and is working his way around the room, leaving more than just my bewildered face in his wake. And to make sure your head is not careering towards the gutter at this point, the second line on his website reads, “Not a stripper”.
The description goes on: “If you’re after an easy going and approachable magician with 15 years of magical experience and over 300 five-star reviews to roam around your corporate event, Christmas party or wedding and fill your friends and guests with raucous laughter, keep scrolling …”
His real name is Michael Webb and he is a born-and-bred Canberran who manages to make a living by using magic to melt brains and install smiles. He has six older brothers and – you’re already writing this story in your head, aren’t you? – he began by playing tricks on his older siblings.
“But I was actually fairly late to the party and it started the other way around,” Mike says.
“The first trick I ever saw was one of my brothers doing it to me and I wondered how on earth he did it.”
After graduating from year 12 at Marist College (where he was also school captain), Mike took a gap year in the UK to try his hand as a school assistant, see the sights, and find out what to do next. It was the veritable land of the magician, as it turned out.
“One day, I was performing a fairly basic trick for a student who was waiting for his father to pick him up from school,” he explains.
“About three-quarters of the way through, the father arrives and allows me to finish, but he then turns to me and pulls his own deck of cards out of his pocket and said, ‘That was great! Another alternative is to do it like this … You know what? I think you’re worthy of the club!'”
A matter of days later, Mike was part of a group of local magicians who met weekly.
“These guys were all veterans and I was an 18-year-old novice from Australia – so I had this one big year of learning everything about magic.”
When he returned to Canberra, magic took a back seat as “something socially interesting” while Mike embarked on a degree in actuarial studies and economics at the Australian National University (ANU).
He kept at it, however, and soon enough the friends and family morphed into “random little events” at venues across the city. At first, Mike says people – especially his target audience of “pretty girls” – found it a little odd to have a guy turn up at their table with a deck of cards. After all, it was 2009, before shows like Penn and Teller Fool Us and America’s Got Talent made street magicians mainstream. But he soon found a way in.
“I learned quickly that if I pretended to work at the venue, people would be more comfortable.”
Until one day, when the inevitable happened.
“This one particular night at the Hotel Realm, I had spent 20 minutes doing magic tricks at a table when one of the guys says to me, ‘That was so much fun, but I own this bar and you don’t work here’.”
Before his heart had time to pounce into his mouth, however, he was offered a job. His career as a magician had begun.
“It was very lucky because I would be reaching a lot of people each week, who would then ask me to come to their birthday party or wedding or office party. It scored a lot of gigs.”
After each one of these gigs, his thoughts would turn more and more to leaving his day job as a stock trader behind, until 2018, when he did.
“It was a big jump and a ridiculous pay reduction, but over the last few years it has started to really ramp up.”
There is no average day, but Fridays and weekends are his busiest. Mike’s social media platforms are filled with performances at events with stars like Hamish Blake, Andy Lee and Pat Cummins. And last weekend alone, he attended a function at the National Arboretum along with several politicians and business owners, before driving to Sydney for a hens’ party.
“It’s always funny being introduced as Magic Mike at a hens’ party,” he laughs.
Then it was onto a 60th birthday party and finally a wedding.
“I get to see a lot of different events and meet a lot of different people.”
Before you ask about the tricks, Mike says people skills are more important than sleight of hand.
“Sleight of hand doesn’t need to be bullet proof because people are having too much fun to even care how it’s done. They just want to enjoy the roller-coaster.
“I always tell people not to practise their tricks at home in front of a mirror but to go out and practise on people. Your performance will be a lot more natural.”
Problem solving is also critical.
“The way that you come up with a trick is backwards,” Mike explains.
“You want a result – you want the card to be in the person’s beer bottle – and then you work out how to make that happen. These are all the different moves I can use.”
Just remember – “not a stripper”.