When most people see or hear about what I do, there's a batch of inevitable questions that I expect to encounter from curious audience members. They have different variations, but they're all usually based in one of the following:
"How did you do that?!"
Can't tell you. If I did, not only would I be an absolutely terrible mentalist, but I can guarantee you'd be utterly disappointed.
"Tell me: does what you do give you an edge with the ladies?"
Nope. I'm just as scared of women and rejection as the next guy. (Luckily, I've managed to trick one into thinking I'm awesome, so I don't have to worry about it anymore.)
"But really though, do you have, like, intuition, or something?"
No. Although every once in a while, I manage to know exactly what the aforementioned lady wants for dinner before she says anything.
"How did you get into doing this? How does one become a mentalist?"
I like to think that the answer they're expecting is something like, "Well, I was an ambitious student at the Institute Of Magick And Mind-Reading in London where I spent unfathomable time and tuition dollars on honing this particular craft. Once I graduated, I decided to break my oath to keep my powers a secret in order to come here, tonight, and entertain you." The inquirer usually has a look of disappointment when I tell them that I learned how to do what I do by simply reading and research, rather than some fantastic story about attending a special school, being born with childhood "powers," or running away to join a circus and befriend a psychic gypsy-lady. From a distance, becoming a mentalist or magician looks an awful lot like getting a college degree. Research, read everything you find, practice what you've learned, and go back and re-learn when you make a mistake. While "I learned it from a book," is a very simplified explanation, it's basically how it is. At least, that's how I acquired the skills to be a mentalist. But, the steps that lead me there are far more interesting.
After hearing this question a bit more than usual lately, I began to think about it a little more thoroughly. So, I've decided to give you, dear reader, a step-by-step guide of how Jeff Newman: Mentalist came to be.
STEP ONE: BE BORN INTO AN ECCENTRIC AND FUN-LOVING FAMILY
For the most part, my family is a pretty normal one. It was my Mom, my Dad, my two (significantly) older sisters, and me. But, my Dad was (and still is, really) a giant man-child in the best possible way. Every day was rife with the possibility that you could be pranked, puzzled, tricked, or science-d between sunrise and sunset. Once my sisters and I were old enough to walk and talk, we were recruited as accomplices for some kind of chicanery or tomfoolery by Dad. Some of my earliest memories include an elaborate rope-and-pulley system in our front porch designed to swiftly and accurately dump ice-water on unsuspecting visitors. Or waiting patiently as my Dad booby-trapped the spray nozzle on the kitchen sink, with the full and pre-meditated expectation that my mother would get a cold, watery blast upon opening the faucet. My Dad would entertain us with science tricks and puzzles on a near-daily basis. Dad (and later, I) would cheat at card and board games. As an infant, my sisters would take advantage of my basic fight-or-flight response to launch mini-marshmallows across the room by placing them in my tiny, outstretched hand while I slept, and scaring the Be-Jesus out of me. Mischief was always encouraged, and it wasn't long until I was well versed in the subject. When I stumbled an episode of The World's Greatest Magic hosted by John Ritter, I was hooked. Max Maven stared at me through my TV set, and read my young and impressionable mind. I was inspired by the magicians I had witnessed in that TV special, and started learning everything I could about becoming a magician.
STEP TWO: FILL EVERY POSSIBLE WAKING MOMENT WITH SPORTS, AND THEN GET SURGERY
When I was six, my parents tricked me into playing baseball. I was shy and antisocial, and my Mom and Dad thought it would be a good way to socialize their youngest son. Little did they know that I would take to it like a fish to water, and baseball became an obsession of my youth. I filled every waking hour with it, and eventually found my way to Lethbridge to play college baseball with other players coming from across Canada. Of course, there was no better way to make new teammate-friends and pass time on the bus on long road trips than with the magic, mischief and games I had spent the years of my youth learning.
But, my college athletics didn't last long, and after career-ending shoulder surgery, I found myself with a LOT of spare time. After several failed attempts of trying to find a hobby (I still do try and attempt to play the guitar from time to time), I came back to where I started so many years ago. Before long, I was nose-deep into magic books, old and new. This became especially useful when I started bartending to work my way through the remainder of my University degree living on the tips I made entertaining drunk people.
STEP THREE: BECOME A SCIENTIST, AND THEN DECIDE TO BE AN ACTOR INSTEAD
Speaking of the degree, I was well on my way to becoming an academic. Believe it or not, for a short time in my life, all I wanted to be was a University Professor. I had made a home for myself in some of the labs at my University, and I was staring down the barrel of a Master's Degree (which was the first step to doing that whole "Professor" thing). I was ready to dive into learning the "how's and why's" of the human brain, but that was derailed. Quickly.
A friend of mine approached me one day with the idea that I should audition for a play that friends of his were producing at the University. It was absolutely absurd. I've never acted before in my life (except for a one-time appearance as Julius the Elf, Santa's head chef in my fourth grade Christmas pageant). Hell, I'd never even met an actor. Why on Earth would I audition for a play? What a silly notion.
The hall outside the theatre was full of University students waiting to take their shot at getting a role. I was one of them, and as I watched them, pace, whisper to themselves, and recite their monologues to no one, I couldn't help but think, "what the hell am I doing?! I'm no actor. This is a terrible idea." But, I went through with it. I went in, did a two-minute monologue, made an ass of myself, and carried on with my day. I was happy for the experience, but expected to be the laughing stock of the Drama department.
Fast forward a few weeks later, and I'm attending regular rehearsals as one of the lead roles. I had my first taste of theatre, and since then, I haven't looked back. I dropped my Master's, re-enrolled in a Bachelor's in Dramatic Arts, and dived head-first into the theatre life.
It was here that I really honed my craft. I don't mean the tricks themselves. I mean the scripting, presentation, stage presence, and creativity that help to build the act. I was approaching what I do as an actor, director, writer, and technician as well as a mentalist. And, with the help of my theatre friends and mentors, I learned how important presentation is, along with the tricks. I started watching magic shows with new appreciation, and I noticed how things like lights, sound, and staging impacted the whole performance. I even worked as a theatre administrator, where I learned the in's and out's of how to sell myself.
STEP FOUR: SURROUND YOURSELF WITH AWESOME, SUPPORTIVE PEOPLE
This is probably the single most important step in this whole process. I've been lucky enough to surround myself with hordes of people that I've collected over the years who have supported this whole silly little adventure. I've also made great friends (magicians, entertainers, comedians, actors, and more) who have the same goals and interests at heart, and see the value in collaborating with each other.
I never knew how important it was to find people like this. I also never knew how many people would also be in my corner. It takes a lot of guts to tell your family, or your significant other, or your friends (or anyone, really), "Hey guys, I'm gonna be a mentalist." It takes even more guts for them to stare back at you, stone-faced and seriously say, "That's great! How can we help?" It's one thing to celebrate your successes, but it's so much different to celebrate your successes with the people who are happy to see you succeed.
It's also no secret that my biggest supporter is also my most important partner. The aforementioned lady from above has been my right-hand-woman through all of this, and a lot of the creation, performance, and success have been built not only on my blood, sweat, and tears, but also hers.
So, that's it. That's how Jeff Newman became a mentalist. And it's true what they say. "Find a job you love, and you'll never work a day in your life." It's been a weird, winding, and wild path that led me to do what I do now but I'm so glad I got here.
So, now that I've done it...what's your path?