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Las Vegas magician’s rates skyrocket after Magic Castle dustup

Updated June 16, 2024 - 6:26 pm

Murray Sawchuck has figured out how to quadruple his appearance fee. Ditch a couple of historic magic institutions.

Sawchuck has resigned from The Magic Castle and the International Brotherhood of Magicians (I.B.M.), effective this month. That decision ends a conflict that started in February, when the 22-year Strip headliner ran afoul of both organizations after posting a series of online skits exposing several magic tricks.

But the controversy has boosted Sawchuck’s bank account. During the saga, he has been commanding an appearance fee about four times his usual rate. The volume of requests for performances has spiked, too.

“What’s interesting is since this all happened over, my bookings have actually tripled,” Sawchuck says. “That’s pretty wild, because my material is the same, but all of a sudden people are like, “Who is this guy? What’s he about?”

Earlier this year, the Academy of Magical Arts, which governs The Magic Castle and I.B.M. filed grievances against Sawchuck for violating bylaws prohibiting the public exposure of magic. The magician’s wife and fellow entertainer, Dani Elizabeth, has been a sidekick in the video series, a role she plays on stage.

A Las Vegas headliner since debuting at the Frontier in 2002, Sawchuck stated his case in separate meetings. In May he met in-person with Academy of Magical Arts officials, on behalf of The Magic Castle, in Hollywood. In May, he hopped on a Zoom session with I.B.M. reps.

Known for his “It’s gone!” callout and blond-frocked image, Sawchuck argued that many magicians over the years have effectively shown how magic is performed through video tutorials and even in books.

For a Las Vegas example, magic legends and longtime Rio resident headliners Penn & Teller were banned from The Magic Castle in the early ’80s, when their show was running in Los Angeles. Their exposure of the famed cups-and-balls routine was not appreciated by the old guard.

But in 1996, and twice since, P&T were named Magicians of The Year by the Academy of Magical Arts and last month were awarded the Masters Fellowship from the Academy of Magical Arts.

Sawchuck referred to P&T’s in his meetings with officials. He quickly learned his was an insular case. The respective organizations told him there was no interest in comparing his web videos to any other magician’s history showing how tricks are performed. Both organizations ruled that Sawchuck could maintain membership only if he took down the offending videos.

The 50-year-old Vegas vet refused. He argued, vainly, that he produced the videos for entertainment purposes as a professional magician. He’d rather produce and post the skits than headline The Magic Castle.

“They gave me an ultimatum. They didn’t expel me, they didn’t fire me,” Sawchuck says. “They wrote me a letter back that basically said, ‘You’re against our bylaws.’ So I gave up my membership.”

In that decision, Sawchuck is forfeiting his right to perform at or even enter (as a member) The Magic Castle, the most famous magic institution in the world and where he has been a member since 1997. He has dropped membership in the prestigious I.B.M., which he joined in 1990.

The issue ballooned along with the increase in Sawchuck’s popularity online. His Facebook clips have drawn 70 million views.

“Obviously, with that kind of exposure, everyone sees me and Dani having fun with each other,” Sawchuck says. “I’ve been teaching these tricks for years before that, without anybody raising their finger.”

Sawchuck has performed outside of Las Vegas since his impressive closing show at Laugh Factory at the Tropicana in March. The magician has toured Australia, headlined a run in Stockholm and played 14 straight shows at The Loft in Lake Tahoe in May. His “Misfits” all-star roster played Milwaukee this month.

Sawchuck is at L.A. Comedy Club at The Strat on June 26-27, his first shows in Vegas since the Laugh Factory shut down. That club’s move to a new room has geared down as operator Harry Basil and owner Jamie Masada have been methodically evaluating options. Expect an announcement by mid-August, at the earliest, for the club’s future.

Sawchuck wants to return his residency show to Laugh Factory, where he has performed for a decade. Until there is a firm plan for the club’s return, he’s playing Alaska, returning to Tahoe, headlining Palm Springs and performing in Wyoming.

He’s also about to launch his “Murray Sawchuck: Hairlarious Deceptions” concert special on a streaming platform. The show was captured last August at South Point Showroom. Otherwise, he’s tapping into his increased demand.

“I’m a free agent, until Laugh Factory has a club open in Las Vegas,” Sawchuck says. “Until then, I can play any club I want, so I’m doing that.”

Cool Hang Alert

Brown Chicken Brown Cow String Band, which plays “down-home gritty, raw country blues-rock with Dead originals mixed in,” headlines Sand Dollar Downtown at the Plaza from 10 p.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday. No cover. As always, try the pizza.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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