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Coast performer meets Penn and Teller

Damien James
Damien James
Ventriloquist and special effects artist Damien James with Sid will appear on Penn and Teller’s TV show on Aug. 13.

Hang on to your seats! The magician-comedian duo of Penn and Teller, usually seen in their Las Vegas show, is about to be fooled. At least that’s the hope of Gibsons’ special effects (FX) artist Damien James. He’ll be a performer on the Penn and Teller: Fool Us TV show on Aug. 13 on the CW channel with his original magic trick that incorporates ventriloquism. 

It’s a big step for the man who saw his first live magician at the age of six and immediately went home to build his own magic wrist chopper. Fortunately, his parents rescued him from severing his hand and bought him a book of tricks and a Tommy Talker ventriloquist dummy from the Sears catalogue. 

He earned his way through school years by doing shows and eventually attended a Toronto-based special effects make-up school. He was keen on the two-week introduction to animatronics course, as he really wanted to build his own puppets. 

The FX make-up came later, once he was accepted as a student of the Academy Award-winning Dick Smith. “To transform the way someone looks is like a magic trick,” James said, “but one done on a real person.” Since those early days, James has worked on an ever-growing list of films and TV series for such shows as iZombie and Arrow to more recent films such as Predator. 

The idea behind the Penn and Teller show is that magicians perform tricks in front of the duo. If they cannot figure out how the trick was done, the magician who performed it wins a five-star trip to Las Vegas to be the opening act in Penn & Teller’s show at the Rio Hotel & Casino. 

“I had a few friends who had gone on the show,” James said. “I had done some consulting and building for them, and they actually went on to be successful ‘foolers’ so I thought I should give it a try for myself!” Casting gave him the green light for one of his ideas and he went to work. The routine he would use had yet to be built so between commuting into Vancouver every day and working at nights on building his trick, he managed about two hours of sleep. 

“It was so nip and tuck that I was still building, tweaking and repairing things up until two minutes before I hit the stage at the actual shoot.” Of course, he is sworn to silence about whether he fooled the duo until the show is aired on Aug. 13. 

He does say that the show is not only about fooling the two. “It is the only platform of its kind in the world whose main goal is to showcase unique magic! The entire productions job is to try to make you look as good as possible. I can tell you that the prop department, headed by a man named Dutch Merrick, was amazing. They had to custom build a whole new piece of furniture for my act and do some rebuilding at the last minute.”