When magician Derek Hughes performed a mental telepathy trick on America’s Got Talent, the television audience erupted into applause and celebrity judge Heidi Klum’s jaw nearly hit the floor. The same thing happened when Hughes repeated the trick on the opening night of Bag of Tricks, his new month-long gig at Downtown’s Liberty Magic, as the audience shook their heads in disbelief for pretty much the entire 90 solid minutes.
The mind-blowing telepathy act in question (not gonna spoil it, but it’s easily accessible on YouTube if you can’t resist) helped land him a spot as a top 10 finalist on the talent competition. Before Hughes began his performance in Pittsburgh, a brief clip from the show played on a screen before the audience as an introduction. (Tickets for this run started selling out even before he hit the stage on opening night, so it appears folks here have seen the show.)
The video shares how Hughes decided he wanted to become a magician after having open heart surgery at the age of 10, when getting a magic set helped pave the path to his future during his recovery. Now, grown with a brilliant mustache accessorizing his baby face, Hughes uses those skills to both amaze audiences with his sleight of hand, and entertain them with his gift of gab.
During Hughes’ set, it’s hard not to appreciate that Liberty Magic is in the spot where Arcade Comedy Theater once stood before moving down the street to a larger venue. The self-dubbed “stand-up magician” isn’t just clever, he’s funny. Really funny. Between card tricks and conjuring acts, he kept the audience in full belly laughs throughout the show; his quick wit, a perfect match for interacting with unpredictable audience volunteers.
During his audition for America’s Got Talent, Hughes impressed celebrity judge Howard Stern by pulling a card out of his butt. There’s nothing as juvenile in the Pittsburgh show, though there are a few dick jokes — more along the lines of, “I want to measure my junk in centimeters not inches, hardy har har,” — but nothing overly annoying, if you don’t like that kind of thing. Instead, Hughes has a natural talent for making people genuinely laugh. Even skeptics.
It’s not uncommon to see a too-good-to-be-real magic trick performed on television and think, “If only I saw that up close, I could figure it out,” which is exactly what I thought when I realized Hughes was repeating that clever mental telepathy trick from the TV show. But even though I was hyper-aware and stared at every single move Hughes made during the trick, determined to figure out his secret, abra-fucking-dabra, the trick was over and I realized he had, once again, blown my freakin’ mind.