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Comedian Jason Alexander talks about magic, acting, gambling

Crazy fact of the day: Jason Alexander is an award-winning magician. In fact, he says, “I actually can get out of a straightjacket.” Although, he downplays that particular feat.

“Remember, it’s meant to constrain somebody who’s not in their right mind,” he says. “When you relax, and you think about it in your right mind, the escape is not terribly difficult.”

But Alexander has other tricks up his sleeve. In 2006, Hollywood’s renowned Magic Castle named him its parlor magician of the year, after he staged a little show there.

So why doesn’t Alexander — who performs his interactive comedy act “Donny Clay” at the MGM Grand — put on a magic show here?

He chuckles at the very idea.

“The most competitive place on the entire planet for magic is Las Vegas,” he says. “I think there are like 12 magic acts in Vegas right now. I can’t compete on that level.”

Besides, his magic act is more fit for nonmainstream crowds of 90 viewers or so.

“The thing I enjoy doing at the Castle is not flashy. It’s very thought provoking. It’s a little bit highfalutin,” he says.

Alexander started making things disappear when he was a lad. Performing magic was his first great love. But he wasn’t good enough to be competitive.

So he transferred his energy to acting, where he became George in “Seinfeld” and the mean guys of “Pretty Woman” and “Shallow Hal.”

But as a “magic hobbyist,” he does have pride in his work at Magic Castle.

“It was a terrific act,” he says. “So now I’m dubbed a serious magician again.”

He’s thought about putting magic elements in his Donny Clay show. The comedy character Donny Clay is a self-help guru of sorts.

“So doing a comedy straightjacket routine as a demonstration of how to overcome obstacles, via Donny Clay, is not a bad idea,” he says.

“But you know, I wear a very bad toupee in the show. And every time I come out of the straightjacket, it’s hanging by a thread off my head!” he says and laughs.

“So I have to find some way to balance the effect.”

Paid to lie

Alexander is a liar. I don’t mean he’s a cruel liar in his personal life. No, he’s a professional liar. He lies for money.

First of all, he’s an actor.

“Actors are just good liars,” he say. “That’s all it is. We’re very efficient, dedicated liars.”

Second, he’s a poker player, a sponsored “friend of Poker Stars.” And what are poker players if not bluffers?

And third, he’s an award-winning magician, which means he creates illusions, which means he lies.

But he swears he and other magicians who gamble abide a code of ethics.

“There really is a high code of ethics among the card sharks in the world,” he says.

“I have met some guys that are unbelievable card handlers. You just don’t want to put a deck in their hands, because you’ll never see what they’re doing.

“They all gamble. I do believe them when they say they would never use those skills at a table.

“And the one or two of them that have tried have been banned from every casino in the world.”

Three Card Monte

1. On playing Texas Hold’em competitively:

“The more I hang in there with Hold’em, the worse I get at every other game, because my Hold’em strategy does not apply to any other form of poker.

“If somebody says, ‘Hey, let’s play some Omaha,’ I get flustered by the whole thing.”

2. On his frequent comedy gigs in Australia, “my second home”:

“ ’Seinfeld’ was, and remains, a big hit in Australia. So they are predisposed to be welcoming to me.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a member of Parliament or a guy sweeping up the bathroom, there’s the sense you’re all in it together. You’re all each other’s mate. It’s a beautiful spirit.

“If America ever really tanks, I’m booking Quantas the next day.”

3. On Houdini:

“In the Tony Curtis film, there’s that scene where he escaped from a chained trunk … in the river.

“Everybody knows this story. But the truth is, it never happened! It was a completely planted story in the newspaper that got national coverage.

“Even the publicity illusions he created have sustained for so long, that there’s this mystique about the guy — that he created.

“Not only was the stuff he was doing onstage fantastic and mysterious, but he knew how to create a real sense of mystery and wonderment about his very existence that people just rallied to. I don’t think anybody else is pulling that off these days.”

Doug Elfman’s column appears Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at delfman@ reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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