Who'd have thought David Copperfield could do comedy?

Piff The Magic Dragon chooses his favourite clips

Stuff the White Rabbit: Tom Mullica

Growing up it's fair to say I hated magic. Whether it was the smug, quipping tricksters insulting audiences in the 80's, or the illusionists with wind machined hair, pointing at large boxes like life in a glamorous Dixons stockroom, it all left me cold.

Then along came Stuff the White Rabbit, hosted by John Lenahan and featuring acts like Jerry Sadowitz, David Williamson, Amazing Jonathan and on and on. It single-handledly changed my perception of what magic was, what it could be, and it's safe to say, without it, I would not be spending the majority of my life in a heavily pocketed onesie.

This clip, one of only three I could find, features Tom Mullica eating far too many lit cigarettes, almost as an aside to an otherwise lovely card trick. Bork.

Ricky Jay: Astrologic Card Trick

I was 15 when Jay played a season at the Old Vic, much to the disgust of critic Nicholas de Jongh. I queued for three hours to get the last two tickets at the back of the rake and expected to see the greatest sleight of hand artist working today. What I didn't expect was to lose my shit over one of the funniest routines I've ever witnessed.

This section came out of the blue, amid a series of studied expositions on the nature and fate of card magic, presented with the same deadpan seriousness and pure eloquence as the rest of the show. The rabbit that will find your card or die remains one of my favourite moments.

Steve Martin: Flydini

Ricky Jay was also responsible for what I consider one of the greatest acts of all time. Steve Martin started out in magic shops in Disneyland and obviously retained enough of an interest to create Flydini. Developed alongside Ricky Jay and Peter Pit, this act was performed on Carson and really what more could you want? It's all in the details; the hanging basket, the way the girl tucks the phone line back in, the curtain call bubbles.

I don't know how many times Martin performed this, but it wasn't enough. There are acts who have spent their entire lives working far inferior six minute acts. Thank God for YouTube.

Carl Einar Hackner

Carl Einar Hackner has a very special place in my heart. I saw him at Edinburgh in 2005 at a guest spot in La Clique, and watched his solo show almost daily for a week.  His shorter spots don't really do justice to the carnage, chaos and complete uniqueness of his full show. 

He breaks all the rules of magic and taught me that a magician can be vulnerable, lost, lonely, and loveable. A complete antidote to the egotists I grew up hating and always an inspiration. 

This clip is one of my favourites as, although I can't speak a word of Swedish, so have no idea what he is saying, he takes the audience on a journey from indifference to delight, disgust to bewilderment, shock to amazement in just over five minutes. The sequence with the dove is just perfect.

David Copperfield: Singing Tie

The first memory I have of Copperfield is watching him escape from Alcatraz. What did he do, I wondered, that was so bad they locked him in Alcatraz, but not bad enough they couldn't televise his escape?

So it was only few years ago that I finally laid aside my prejudice and re-watched his work. Sure, it might be high on the camp and heavy on the billow, but there is no doubt he took magic to a level of perfection no one has really matched.

But who'd have thought Copperfield could do comedy? Look up his duck routine. Or his vanishing egg. They are just plain funny. But by far and away my favourite is this singing tie routine. It takes a while to get into it, but skip forward two and a half minutes, and you have a tie singing Harry Belafonte. What more do you want?

Penn & Teller: Rabbit Chipper

To say Penn & Teller have been good to me is something of an understatement. The spot I did on Fool Us in 2011 went viral and made my act so well known, it even inspired a Russian copydragon.

Not only that, but offstage they have been nothing less than mentors to me. Teller has to be one of the wisest and kindest men in magic, and Penn and I share a profound love of dessert. This clip from their UK series shows why they remain at the top of their game. A perfect concept, immaculately executed and spot on comic timing from Teller. Their Vegas show, playing for the last ten years, is the height of what magic can be. 

The Muppets

This probably won't be news to many, but I'm not really a cutting edge political comic. I just like making people laugh. For me, there is no one who brings happiness better than the Muppets. A highlight of my life was sharing a dressing room with Statler and Waldorf in New York last year. And this video is why I love them. The idea of a frog and a bear sitting in a tree, ruminating on life, well, it brings me happiness.

Seinfeld: George's Answering Machine

Everyone seems to have a Seinfeld clip on their playlist and this is mine. One of the minefields of comedy songs is the repeated chorus, telling the audience the same joke twice. But here, repeating the song is why this is genius. My favourite sitcom of all time. 

Videos I couldn't find online… Harry Anderson opening his first time hosting Saturday Night Live by eating his guinea pig Skippy, then later, responding to viewer complaints by declaring that ‘pound for pound, nothing beats Skippy for nutritional content’. The episode of Dexter's Laboratory written, storyboarded and narrated by a six and a half year old, who keeps introducing characters, losing focus and leaving them stranded in the frame. A legal copy of Episode 23 Season 3 of Adventure Time. Come on internet, you've got work to do...

  • Piff The Magic Dragon stars in Jurassic Bark at the Soho Theatre from March 19 to 23 at 7.45pm. Tickets.

Published: 18 Mar 2013

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