TVEYE

LENAHAN'S UP TO HIS OLD TRICKS
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Comedy magician John Lenahan did the unthinkable: he went on How Do They Do That? and revealed how you do the three-card trick. The Magic Circle, to which he belonged, just about spontaneously combusted with fury. "I had to go to one of those inquisitions with a roomful of octogenarians, like at the end of Mary Poppins," he recalls with mock-horror.

The upshot was that he became the first person to be expelled from the Magic Circle in 85 years. "It's like being thrown out of the AA," Lenahan laughs, "although being thrown out of the AA is much more devastating because at least they do useful things like fix your car. But it was the best publicity I've ever had. I was a crossword clue in the Daily Telegraph - if that's not fame, what is? I looked at Ceefax and I was number four in the headlines after Bosnia. The only thing better that has happened to me was playing the voice of a toaster in Red Dwarf. I had to say things like, `I toast, therefore I am'."

As you may have already gathered, it is Lenahan's mission to shake up the world of magic. He comes from the alternative comedy circuit, having been compere at the Comedy Store for several years. His new television show, Stuff the White Rabbit, will have more unimaginative critics calling magic the new rock'n'roll - one act eats 200 lighted cigarettes on camera and scatalogical comedian-cum-card-magician, Gerry Sadowitz, will make regular appearances. The show is a reaction against the old-fashioned magic style of glitz and gormless grinning.

In the past, Lenahan says, "the performers were the remnants of music hall and variety shows on cruises. They had not very discriminating audiences and the magic that came out of their shows was quite dull. The performers on Stuff the White Rabbit have paid their dues on hard comedy floors. So if you've ever suffered a painful, fluffy show where people pull things out of boxes, then this is something different."

Magic, he claims, is sorely in need of an image makeover. "The truth is," he continues, "people like magic; they just don't like magicians, because they've seen too many bad ones. If you learn a couple of card tricks or do a children's party, you can call yourself a magician. That means there are a lot of bad magicians out there. Still, there are more bad bands than bad magicians. Have you ever been to a talent contest and seen a woman sing something from Cats?"

Lenahan's particular gripe is with the granddaddy of TV magicians, Paul "Not a Lot" Daniels. "There's nothing wrong with Paul Daniels's show that replacing Paul wouldn't fix," Lenahan reckons. "I'm just a young pup saying Paul's school should go. It's all glamorous assistants and neon lights."

The problem, in Lenahan's estimation, is that Daniels outstayed his welcome. "You can't slag Paul off," he argues. "He's done more magic on TV than anyone else in history. He had his own series for 15 years. But Paul was just too prolific. The British public hasn't got to see much magic apart from Paul - and familiarity breeds contempt. Magic should be special - and doing 13 hours a year isn't. In 1994, I did the New Year's Eve show at the London Palladium. My opening line was, `My goal tonight is to ensure that the first magician you see in 1995 isn't Paul Daniels'. Ali Bongo, another magician, told me afterwards that Paul was going to be on television once a week for 50 weeks that year. I said, `That's more Paul than I really need'."

Becoming almost evangelical, Lenahan concludes: "What is needed is another David Nixon. Magic is one of the top variety acts. It's gone bonkers in America. There were nine primetime TV specials featuring magic last year - and that's without David Copperfield. In Las Vegas at the moment, the top three shows are magic. But with Paul, we didn't get enough variety. It wasn't his fault, but he never had anyone competing with him. He had plate-spinners, but no comedians who did magic. You need to let variety in. That way, people will realise that magic isn't just Paul Daniels."

`Stuff the White Rabbit' starts a six-week run from next Fri at midnight on BBC2

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