Mario the Magician Knows the Real Magic Is in the Faces of the Kids

Mario Marchese, also known as Mario the Magician, performs his family magic show once a month at Space on White, 81 White St. ( He also teaches magic at afterschool programs. Here, he tells his story to April Koral.

The first show I ever performed was at a funeral. Yes, it’s true. I was living with my girlfriend’s family and there was a wake at their house for a relative. Her father said to me, “You have to do something because everyone is going to be so sad and it would raise people’s spirits.” I was like, “What? Like, are you serious?” So I just did a bit where I have a coin in a handkerchief and I keep putting it in my pocket and then it reappears in the handkerchief. It’s from a beginner’s magic book I was stu­dying. I couldn’t believe it, the audience went crazy.

It was such a high that I decided this was what I should do with my life. Then I did the same bit at a show at a coffee house a month later and it was the exact opposite. I failed miserably to the point where I left the stage in the middle of the performance and put my stuff in a dumpster. That’s how embarrassed I was.

But I kept practicing and then I met a retired firefighter who did magic tricks for tips at a Chinese restaurant. He said, “You take one half of the room, I’ll take the other.” That was the first time I made money from magic.

Eventually, the girl and I broke up and I came back home with my head down to live with my parents. I didn’t know what to do. I had tried to make a living doing woodwork, making marionettes, music, art and nothing had worked. I was 25, everyone else had grown up, graduated college. But I had a dream one night that I was doing magic for disabled kids and I was glowing and happy. I took that as an omen and I went to college to be a teacher’s aide for disabled kids. On weekends I did kids’ magic shows through an agency and they took half the money.

Then I met Katie, who’s now my wife, and she saw something in me—a little spark. She said, “We could develop something here and maybe we could do this full time.”

So I left college and we quit our jobs and we just made cold calls every day for a month. We were freaking out, but the first month we were able to pay our rent by just doing magic. Katie was a master with marketing and she rocked it all out. That was six years ago, and now we just had our first baby and bought our first house. All because of magic. It’s insane. I can’t believe it. 

The first year and a half was like walking through thorn bushes. It was so painful. I made a lot of mistakes. But after I learned all the classics, I started to want to use my own tricks. It’s always risky to try out a new trick. Even now, I’ll spend the whole show thinking about that one trick that I’m trying out for the first time. I don’t want the room to be dead for even one second. I’m hypersensitive to that stuff. Every second has to be leading somewhere.

To me, ma­gic is an art. It’s not this weird thing where you go buy props and do tricks.

I try to look at children’s performances like a science. What makes a kid laugh? Kids in general are always being told what to do and how to act and yes and no and what’s right and what’s wrong. In my routines I often have a problem and I try to solve it but it’s the kids who solve it.

They love seeing an adult mess up and be a fool. My sign says “World’s Greatest Magician,” and then all of a sudden my sign falls off the suitcase and I fix it and I’m trying to be serious and say things like, “We have a great show here,” and then the flags break and the flowers fall to the floor. They can’t stop laughing at seeing a grown man who is supposed to have it together and actually has nothing at all together. It really gets them going.

That’s different from adults. Adults want the opposite. They want to be impressed. If I levitated four feet off the floor, an adult would think, “Wow, that’s amazing. I can’t see scientifically how that’s possible.” But kids couldn’t care less. They want to be entertained. They want to laugh. They want to join in the fun, to come up and help me. When a child comes up in front of a whole group to be my assistant, I can see a little fear in their eyes. They’re always very serious. Then I give them one of my wands and it falls apart in their hands. And I give them another one, and that one breaks. Or I give them a bell that I ring and when they try to ring it, it doesn’t ring. Then they realize that it’s just all a big game of fun.

I always make sure that at the end of the routine it’s the kid who does the magic and that all the applause goes to them. For a moment, this kid thinks he really has coins coming out of his ears and his nose and that he can really make anything appear. I can see it in their eyes. They’re thinking, “This is awesome!” “I can do anything!” And who doesn’t want that?