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Amazing Johnathan’s latest trick: A return to the Vegas stage

The Amazing Johnathan has mastered the art of re-appearing.

The comic-magician will headline Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort Oct. 6-7, his first appearances since being diagnosed with a heart ailment nearly five years ago.

“I don’t have to worry about spending a ton of time on advertising and billboards,” the Amazing Johnathan (last name Szeles) said Wednesday. “I’m just going in and doing it.”

As has been well-chronicled, the 58-year-old headliner learned he had a degenerative heart conditionin 2013, not long after leaving his gig at Bally’s.

His doctors estimated he had a year to live. In November 2014, Johnathan told a hushed audience at Andy Walmsley’s ENT Speaks celebrity speakers series at Inspire Theatre that he would be leaving the stage for good.

Despite his grim prognosis, he maintained an active lifestyle.

“Sitting in bed all day doesn’t work for me,” he said. “I was just getting weak, but I have found that if I can get up and move around, I feel better. I have some of my stamina back.”

A.J.’s most recent Vegas booking was a performance with his performer wife, Anastasia Synn, at the Wonderground magic showcase at The Olive restaurant last October. Prior to that, he and sidekick Penny Wiggins (who has long portrayed Psychic Tanya) co-hosted an all-star show at Baobab Stage at Town Square on Jan. 25, 2016. That show was to raise money for Wiggins’ knee surgery.

This year, with Synn as his sidekick/road manager and the Best Agency of Las Vegas managing his career, A.J. has performed one-offs around the country for the past several months. Friday, he headlines the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee. The couple is also scheduled to appear at the Beyond Brookledge event Riverside, California May 19-21, and perform at least one weekend a month at improv comedy clubs across the country.

It hardly sounds like the schedule of a man easing into retirement.

“It’s the kind of schedule that is actually light for me, something we just started trying to see if I could do it,” Johnathan said. “I have done well. It’s not easy, though. It was effortless before I got sick, but it’s really (expletive) hard now.”

Where does Johnathan find the strength?

”I am getting standing ovations every show,” he said.

Occasionally, Johnathan needs to halt the show, with Synn filling six- or seven-minute segments so her husband can rest. Onstage, Synn plays the “dyslexic wife” — she is not dyslexic — with her condition masking her shortcomings as a stage assistant.

In a typically dark routine, Johnathan tells the tale of meeting Anastasia at a carnival, under a sign reading, “Hit Me Over The Head With A Sledgehammer for 5 Bucks.” Johnathan then cracked her with the hammer, and Anastasia spent two years in a coma. When she wakes up, her first words are, “Ta-da!” When he heard that, Amazing Johnathan had to have her.

Synn is an onstage foil, but she does run much of Johnathan’s career.

“New things are being added all the time,” Synn says. “I really enjoy working with him. I think he likes working with me, too.”

Johnathan has been the subject of a documentary film during his recent revival, being produced by Simon Chinn, who also produced the Academy Award-winning “Waiting for Sugar Man” and “Man on a Wire.” The film delves into Johnathan’s childhood, family and career and is targeted for a January release.

Johnathan plans to work until he’s unable to finish a show. He’s forever working on new material and has 10 new minutes added to his show this year.

“I still need to develop my act,” Johnathan said. “I’ve found that people are turning out because it’s the last time they’ll see me. I don’t want that to be the reason.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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