The Great Tomsoni & Co.

Tops in Top Tens

By JAMY IAN SWISS
 
What a surprise — Johnny Thompson declared one of magic's Top Ten Funniest Acts! What a news flash. Who'd have expected that! Now, maybe if it was one of magic's Top Ten Silent Acts. Or Top Ten Magic Creative Consultants. Or Top Ten Close-Up Acts. Or Top Ten Card Men ... or Gambling Experts ... or even going back a ways, Top Ten Trade Show Workers ... or maybe Top Ten General Practitioners - as if you could find nine more.

But okay, if we must, let's go with Top Ten Funniest. There are all kinds of ways we see comedy in magic. Sometimes — far too often — it's just magic props serving as an even lower branch of the already lowly branch of what comics sneeringly call prop comedy. ("Paging Mr. Gallagher — your watermelons have arrived!") The result is usually a poor excuse for comedy or magic, in which attempted comedy is used to mask a lack of magic ability, or alleged magic is used to mask a lack of comic ability. There are, of course, exceptions — the rare comic who uses the premise of magic as a jumping-off point for satirizing magic and more, with examples ranging from Carl Ballantine to Steve Martin to The Amazing Johnathan.

But here, today, we pay tribute to the real thing: a master magician who is also a masterful comedic performer. John Thompson is a genuine sleight-of-hand artist, and you can sense it every time he touches a prop or uses a sleight, be it producing a dove or executing a bottom deal, performing the Balls in the Net or the Malini Egg Bag. There is simply never anything to actually see, save the purity of expert sleight of hand and the resulting clarity of magical effect. But his skills don't stop there. He also comes equipped with the fully stocked toolkit of a trained comic actor — the subtly executed raised eyebrows, the extended double takes, crossed eyes, funny accents, and other touches of a truly funny man. Not bad for a guy whose first success in show business was as a bass harmonica player and who once had a job working in Chicago's sewers.

Of course, the signature achievement of this showbiz veteran and consummate raconteur is that legendary act, The Great Tomsoni & Co. The "Co.," of course, is his wife, the inimitable Pamela Hayes Thompson, a.k.a. "Trixie," the gumchewing, attitude-laden New Jersey blonde who could not be less impressed with the pompous self-importance of he whom we may call "Great." While she is busy losing her gum, her patience, and eventually her dress, he is failing on the small stuff, dropping the stolen silverware, but then, in the clinch, coming through with magnificent, perfect magic — and finding real-world motivations for what in the hands of others are merely tricks. It is this complex set of dynamics that has made T & Co. the iconic masterpiece it is, the only silent comedy magic act that ever matched Cardini's for being driven as much by character and plot as by superb magic chops. Through an extraordinary blend of character and craft, ability and point of view, John and Pam embody the essence of what anyone would call true comedy magic.

John's undoubtedly going to be around on Top Ten lists for a time to come. His passion for magic remains unflagging and timeless, and he has mentored generations of magicians the world over who have grown up under his tutelage and inspiration. So, it's a fine thing to be a Top Ten Funniest Magic Act. But while we're at it, let's throw in Top Ten Most Internationally Beloved Magic Family as well. Tomsoni & Co. win that one too - hands down.

Printed with permission from MAGIC Magazine.