Fearless of angry audience response or litigation, Piff the Magic Dragon on Monday night recalled once being offered a glass of apple juice by a man “looming over me like a plaid Bill Cosby.”
This man was his friend, and a friend to all, Mac King.
King is the beloved, respected but often overlooked comedy magician headliner at Harrah’s Showroom. He performs at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily (dark Sundays and Monday).
With this unbroken, 20-year run, King is no less than the longest-running headliner on the Las Vegas Strip. The 60-year-old, sleight-of-hand wizard was thus honored with a roast during the Society of American Magicians Convention at Golden Nugget. He was also inducted into the organization’s hall of fame.
Vegas entertainers once used the afternoon slot to springboard to a prime-time position. Not King. He’s been in his afternoon groove at Harrah’s, first at the cabaret room and later the big room, since January 2000, rolling with his trusty Cloak of Invisibility, plaid suit and ever-present Fig Newtons (which were served over ice cream as dessert at Monday’s event).
More than 600 attendees, the vast majority of whom were magicians or somehow connected to the magic industry, were on hand to pay tribute to King. The show was replete with playful, and profane, testimonials.
Magician Vinny Grosso, a two-time guest star on on “Penn & Teller’s Fool Us,” produced the show. Four Queens headliner Mike Hammer, unleashing his brand of comic ferocity, hosted. The Amazing Johnathan, in a rare appearance (and they are all rare these days); Penn Jillette, Fielding West, Michael Carbonaro, Derek Hughes, Harrison Greenbaum, Nick Diffatte, Chris Kenner and “The Bear” (a staple in King’s act for years) made up the lineup of roasters.
Yours truly also participated, after waffling on whether to appear. But King’s wife, Jennifer Sils, really wanted a nonentertainer to take part. I filled that role spectacularly.
Piff opened with a superbly crafted introduction speech that recounted his meeting with King, which culminated in what was either assault or consensual sex, depending on your interpretation. The costumed Flamingo headliner referred to goldfish, carrots and a guinea pig. It was not pretty.
Hammer set the freewheeling tone early. “Mac has the longest-running afternoon show in Vegas. That’s like saying you’re the oldest hooker on Fremont Street.”
Johnathan, an entertainment and medical marvel, took the stage in the same hotel in which he headlined during the apex of his Vegas career in the early 2000s. “Look at all these magicians. If you were to drop a bomb on this place tonight, the headlines tomorrow would read, ‘Bomb Wasted.’”
The magician also recalled his days at the hotel. “I had to leave because they had a rat problem — upper management.” He said of King, “He is to magic what John Wayne Gacy was to clowning.”
A.J., who in 2014 related that he’d been given a year to live because of a fatal heart diagnosis, was on the business end of a lot of fake-death jokes. Kenner, a highly regarded magician and David Copperfield’s longtime producer, said of A.J., “You’ve been dying longer than my 10-year-old daughter’s been alive.”
In a throwback to vintage-Vegas shtick, Jillette revised Red Buttons’ “Never Got A Dinner” routine. As in, “Mac King got a dinner, but, Wilbur Wright, who said to his brother, Orville, ‘We were only in the air for 12 seconds! How’d my luggage end up in Cleveland?’ Never got a dinner!”
That’s a mere sampling, of course. The collection of roasters, and the hundreds seated in the room, showed their admiration of King. He’s not the flashiest magician, but he is consistently excellent, the type who can fool anybody with, say, a simple rope trick for decades.
King also has a dark sense of humor, not displayed in his family show at Harrah’s. Of Johnathan, he said, “I’ve known Amazing Johnathan so long that when we met, he was actually amazing. How do you roast someone who is already burnt to a (expletive) crisp?”
King said he was reluctant to be roasted, but has always loved the “Dean Martin Celebrity Roast” telecasts originating from the old MGM Grand in Las Vegas in the 1970s.
“The big part of it was watching these people, who were obviously friends, laugh together. … All of these people are people I care for, and who care for me.”
And that, ladies and gents, is no joke.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.