Pete Firman is not a man who sits still for long, or stays put doing just one thing. You might know him for his fantastic and much reviewed magic mashed with comedy live shows, from Edinburgh or any one of a number of UK tours.
Then again, you might know him as the presenter of BBC1’s Stakeout and Wait For It, or maybe E4’s The Body Shocking Show?
No? Then maybe you’ll know him as the author of Tricks To Freak Out Your Friends, his beginners guide to magic for the 21st Century (If you know anyone who owns this, you best keeps your wits about you!).
His prolific output (and charm) have made him one of the most in demand magicians working on our Brit touring and TV circuit, widely recognised as the UK’s leading comedian/magician and labelled the “poster-boy for British comedy magic” by The Telegraph.
We grabbed a few minutes with him on his warm up tour, before a run (his ninth) at this years Edinburgh Fringe…
Can you describe your current show in 3 words?
Work. In. Progress.
How did you get into magic?
Textbook answer really – I got a Fisher Price Magic Set as a kid, I used to put on little shows at home for my family.
What’s your most memorable performance and have any reactions to your tricks surprised you?
I did a run of gigs working with Ronnie Corbett, which was pretty surreal but great fun. I also once made a fella faint at a comedy club with a trick I used to do that involved fake blood. I apparently shoved steel spikes through my arm, he fell off his stool and had to be carried outside! That was pretty surprising.
How do you come up with new tricks?
I have a notebook that I jot ideas down in. I also bounce things off my friends. I’m lucky enough to know some the finest minds in magic and comedy, that’s really useful.
Do you have a magical muse?
Edinburgh is my muse. She lures me back year after year with a new show. That’s the reason for being at The Firestation (Windsor), this is the show I’ll be taking up to the Festival in August and probably touring next year.
Has anyone inspired you throughout your career?
Too many people to mention, my family first and foremost. Also my best mate Geoffrey Durham, who used to perform on television as The Great Soprendo when I was a kid. He’s a constant source of inspiration and is my mentor really.
What did your family say when you first told them you wanted to be a magician?
They never said I shouldn’t do it, they just encouraged me to go to university to get some qualifications in case it didn’t work out. They are hugely supportive.
What were you like at school?
I was never in the cool gang, but was never unpopular, I was just a regular kid. I used to put on my little magic shows every now and then for Comic Relief and Children In Need type events.
What would you say to someone who is at the start of their career?
Perform as much as you can. That’s the most important thing, above everything else. The only way to get confident and good is to work a lot.
What would you be doing now if you weren’t a comedian/magician?
Probably selling cars. That’s what two generations of Firmans have done. I think I’d be a pretty good second-hand car salesman.
Do you have a preference between stand up, TV and street magic?
They’re all really good fun, because they’re all so different. I think I’d say I like stand-up the best. I love being on stage and I like the unexpected moments you get at a stand-up gig.
The Telegraph labelled you the “poster-boy for British comedy magic”. How does that title make you feel?
Very proud. I’m not sure what it means, but very proud.
Do you think the comedy element has helped to revive the magic scene?
I’m not sure. I sometimes think there should be more humour in magic. The notion of a human being doing impossible things is funny, certainly to me. Plus, magicians can sometimes be a bit smarmy and “look how clever I am”. Adding comedy into the mix helps soften that, I think.
Is it easy to find a balance between comedy and magic when you’re performing your shows?
I try and blend the two together, but I want the show to be as funny as it is magical. I want them to laugh hard and then leave scratching their heads on the way home.
If you had a time-machine and could alter one thing about your career, what would you do differently?
I’d maybe have started on the comedy circuit earlier. I was doing magic since I was a child, but only started on the circuit when I was about 25. I go to gigs now and see 17 year olds doing comedy, its great.
What’s your favourite trick to perform?
Too difficult! I like anything with people from the audience on stage. Those are the routines that are unexpected. No two people behave the same way, or say the same things. Those are routines to improvise and have fun.
How do you prepare before your performance?
Pacing. I’m a big fan of the pace. Lots of pacing and learning lines.
What’s on your backstage rider?
Water and a lager at the end of the show. I’m pretty low maintenance.
Has your show or your style changed much since your first performance?
I think there is more of me in it now. It takes a long time to become comfortable on stage and find a way to share yourself with an audience. I think early on I was relying too much on the tricks I was doing, these days I can find a way to do pretty much anything as me.
What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever done?
I once blended a mouse in a food processor. Its a trick, before you have me arrested. Its on YouTube if you fancy watching it.
What’s next for you?
The Edinburgh Festival. I’ll be there for the whole of August at the Pleasance Courtyard. This year is my 9th consecutive Fringe. I think I’m addicted.
Live dates, videos and other stuff can be found on his website here.