GIGGLE CITY: Jon Charles protected by magic

News scoop! Neil Hamburger was fake!

He’s actually some former punk rock musician named Gregg Turkington, who was only pretending to be an old school Catskills-style comedian, using the form to explore the concept of the “anti-joke.” Of course the problem with making a joke about jokes that aren’t funny is that the joke can get old, and it’s all just too confusing. That Mr. “Hamburger” was performing at a comedy improv festival should’ve been a dead giveaway. Amazing he was able to roll with questions designed for honest answers.

This week, we have the real “old school” deal for you – 75-year-old comedian and magician Jon Charles, born and raised in London, England, and made his golden age career in Edmonton. He performs Friday and Saturday (July 1-2) at the Comedy Factory.

Q: Who do you look up to in the world of magic?

A: My mentor was somebody in England named Ken Brooke. Dead, I’m afraid, but I watched him for many, many hours. I stood on chairs in pubs and watched him while he was pitching. I was about 19, 20. He was the magic demonstrator for a magic company that did monthly shows. He was the best one they had. I guess you could say he inspired me. He wrote one time, ‘hey guys, there’s lots of work out there if you’re prepared to go get it.’ So I did. My first show was in a pub that was so crowded it took 20 minutes to get to the bar.

Q: What’s your worst heckler story?

A: I’ve had lots of hecklers, but because I’m a magician and a comedian, I’m protected a little bit from the idiot hecklers. About five years ago in Morinville, I insulted one of them, and he said, ‘OK, I’ll see you in the parking lot.’ Oh, dear, I thought. Those kind of guys never show up, though I went home very carefully and looked over my shoulder. It’s not a good thing to insult hecklers. You can alienate the whole audience. Also, I’m an old guy now. I get a little more respect.

Q: Do you have a favourite joke you don’t do anymore because you think it’s stale?

A: They come and go. I’m not one of the modern guys. I use a lot of old jokes, but they’re dressed up well. The problem is topics. I can’t talk about going into a bar and meeting a girl because I’m 75. I do jokes about getting old.

Q: Do you have a good one that goes over well?

A: Well, my whole family lived a long time. Aunt Ethyl died at 98. She was a tough old bird. She buried three husbands – and two of them were just napping.

Q: What’s your favourite trick?

A: I have a favourite close up trick. I have a card chosen. Boring thought, I know. Face up and the person signs it. And I turn the card over and it says, ‘IOU $20.’ It’s funny and threatening at the same time. Then I tear up the IOU card and change the pieces into a $20 bill. That’s the second bit. Then I open up my wallet and inside the wallet is a sealed envelope with the original restored, signed card. It’s not originally mine, but I’ve made about $20,000 in tips doing that trick. I used to do a lot of convention crowds. Twenty dollars is a bit threatening, but it’s not $50 and if you’re fairly well off and having a good time, you’re quite likely to give me the $20.

Q: What’s the different between kids today and when you were a kid?

A: At shows, kids will shout out loud which they didn’t do when I was a kid. It’s a very different thing if you work for native kids on a reservation. They don’t shout out much, either. You have to coach them along and let them know it’s OK.

Q: Do you still do kids’ shows?

A: I gave it up about five or six years ago. The thought occurred to me one day while I was dragging my stuff through the snow for a bunch of kids in a community hall that this wasn’t an intelligent thing for an elderly gentleman to be doing.