Originally published in Branson Tri-Lakes News by Joshua Clark
The Awesomeness of Christopher James
Oftentimes, when people think of Branson, they think of a certain type of show, or a certain type of entertainer, which has always rubbed me the wrong way. Not only do we have some of the best shows in the country, we also have some of the most talented people on the planet headlining said shows.
One longtime performer who has very quietly redefined what is possible for a Branson performer also happens to be one my favorite entertainers.
Christopher James, who is an emcee and performer aboard the Showboat Branson Belle, is often billed as a “Comedy Magician,” is technically correct, it completely undersells the awesomeness of what this man actually does.
James refers to himself as the “Funny Hyper Magic Boy,” and he sure did hit the nail on the head when he did so. See, he’s “real world” funny, not just “Branson funny,” which is so difficult for so many performers to accomplish, and his illusions, sleight of hand and other magical prowess are not only often funny, but quite frankly, they’re amazing.
Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, James was all set for a career in the United States Navy, but just a few weeks before he was set to begin training, his life was forever changed. While volunteering to help teach a children’s martial arts class, a “freak accident occurred, causing a catastrophic injury” which left his left arm paralyzed.
As he lay in bed recovering at a nearby hospital, a naval recruiter entered James’ rooms with discharge papers.
Just like that, his time in the Navy was over before it began. Devastated and facing uncertainty with his paralysis, James began to think back to childhood where he and his grandmother would make up little magic tricks.
Through his arduous physical therapy, James saw his love of magic return to the forefront. After graduating college and starting his own successful business, James began to work on his act. He played at “every venue that would have me,” from churches, prisons, and everything between.
After several years on the road perfecting his act and winning a few contests, he made the move to Branson, where he’s been a featured performer aboard the Belle for 14 seasons.
Over the years, he perfected adding genuinely funny comedic elements to his illusions, which are always as impressive as they are funny. He’s also a student of magical arts and one of his favorite things to do is surprise folks with the familiar.
“I take some old things in magic, and I revamp them for younger audiences,” he said. “I don’t simply do the cutting of a rope, then putting it back together and ‘ta-dah.’”
That “rope trick” James mentioned may be a classic, but his presentation and execution are most assuredly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. While he always lives up to his “FunnyHyperMagic” moniker in some way, shape of form, the best example of this is during this trick.
Like he does with many of his bits, James begins by plucking audience members to assist him. Even before the trick comes close to starting, there’s hilarity and hijinks, as well as some very subtle magic.
See, not only is he concentrating on doing the main rope trick, he also juggling having to work with two untrained audience members performing two unrelated tasks, but he does it all while nonchalantly making 20 bottles of water appear from nowhere.
It’s funny and amazing at the same time, and there’s so much going on, if you blink, you may just miss something, dare I say, magical.
While the audience members always stand out during their time on stage, James often laments the lack of awareness folks have in regard to the hard work that goes into making that seem natural.
“People tell me all the time after shows that I was ‘so lucky’ to get the person I did from the audience, and to be honest, it’s a little insulting to me that people don’t realize everything that goes into that,” James said with a laugh. “It’s not just getting lucky, because if it was just getting lucky, of the 460 shows we do here, we’d have a whole lot that weren’t good. You know, obviously I have a few that aren’t as funny, but that does have a lot to do with the people I pick.”
Once the Showboat wraps for the year next week, James is getting the chance to do some of those shows working as part of “Founder’s Week” at the iconic Magic Castle in Los Angeles. He’ll also do some shows aboard cruise ships.
“When I do my own show, I do it biographically, so theres a thread running throughout,” he said. “I had writers and playwrites sit down with me to help script it out. When I do cruise ships, I do two shows, the first being the ‘Magic and Comedy,’ which is very much in line with what you see here at the Showboat. Then once the audience gets to know me over that first 50 minute show, in the second show I get to do all the things I love to do. I love to do mentalism and mind reading.
“When I tell people I also do ‘adult’ shows, they always get the wrong idea. I don’t do anything dirty or anything like that, but using the term ‘adult show’ simply means they have to pay more attention.”
I don’t know about y’all, but that sounds pretty awesome to me. In fact, I personally would love to see James perform his own show a few times a year.
He’s one of those rare performers that could slay at your child’s birthday party, then do another show with an equally awesome response at a bike rally in Sturgis.
Get up, get out, and go see Christopher James and the rest of the cast aboard the Showboat Branson Bell between now and Jan. 1.
-- Joshua M. Clark Entertainment Writer, Branson Tri-Lakes News