You can find a former Caesars Palace headliner inside a blues club in Adams Morgan every Monday night.
Alain Nu, billed as The Man Who Knows, is a renowned mentalist and magician. He frequents a dimly lit dive bar; a place that smells of beer and obscured memories. You’d wonder why he agreed to do a show in Madams Organ Blues Bar, once a week, every week, for three years.
Nu is part of Hocus Joke Us, a combination of standup comedy and magic. He comprises the magic and mentalism portion of the show, while a slew of aspiring and established comics do their best to make an often raucous, distracted crowd laugh.
The magician professionally dazzles the audience, as the ground tremors from the funk band below, and patrons shuffle to get a closer look. He pulls a “black veil” from his mouth, which is a handkerchief, then quips that the two best audience members for magic are children and drunk people. The audience eats it up. Alain smiles and bows and relinquishes the stage back to the comics.
We go to the back, the smoking area, where I ask him some questions about his philosophy of work, career, and the gig at Madams Organ.
Some of his resume reads as follows: His own TLC television show: The Mysterious Mind of Alain Nu; Caesars Palace headliner for four years (2000-20004); performances in Abu Dhabi; resident entertainer of the Watergate Hotel; authored two well-received books, Picture Your ESP, and State of Mind; headliner at the Clarion Hotel, and now performs weekly at the Lexington Hotel, in New York, on Thursdays.
Nu told me about his passion for magic, which was kindled at a young age. Both of his parents were librarians, and when they wanted a young Alain to read, all he would read was magic books. The rest, as prophesiers say, is history.
It’s one of the reasons Alain comes to Madams. He simply enjoys the act of performing and trying new tricks, most of which, he informs me, he’s created himself: they are a pastiche of the old and the new, wherein, he’s constructed something unique and difficult to pull off. He also sprinkles in mentalist feats, like bending forks, and reading minds, that are difficult to explain away.
He says doing this show provides a challenge. It helps him connect with the audience, which is different every time, no matter the situation. This provides opportunities for growth. He sees it as an art. And there’s nothing more annoying to The Man Who Knows, than a magician who can’t work a crowd.
He referenced the great Tony Woods, coming in to perform last, nearly at midnight, at many of the Hocus Joke Us shows. He does it, Alain says, for the challenge.
It’s always about the challenge and doing something that’s unique. That’s why he used to travel with a flock of ducks that he’d materialize on stage. They lived in his Atlantic City backyard on days off. He’d also manifest goldfish and drop them into bowls of water.
His mind proved to be a Rolodex of magician history, delving through centuries. To be in magic, its good to know a lot about it, he informs me, even though he doesn’t follow other magicians or enjoy watching them on TV.
“Eighty-five percent of magicians are skeptics,” says Alain. They use magic to disprove its existence. He uses it, on the other hand, to materialize glimpses into the unknown.
As an outlier, he maintains contrasting opinions with these luminaries in the field. And he knows pretty much all of them, including Penn and Teller, personally.
Magic is a much smaller circle than one might imagine.
He believes magic and mentalism can bring one closer to universal truths, can provide hope and wonder, and is sometimes inexplicable. It creates synchronicities: for instance, Alain has two unsuspecting audience members join him on stage, they sit down, close their eyes, and visualize the same scenario according to Nu’s instructions.
He taps the one on the left’s shoulder, gently moves a feather across his nose. With closed eyes, he asks the two gentlemen to hold up their fingers denoting how many times they were tapped.
They both raise their arms with two fingers up. But, only the stranger on the left was tapped. He asks them to raise their hands if they felt a feather. The one on the right raises his hand. He was not the one who was tickled with a feather.
The one who was, felt nothing. The audience laughs knowingly, genuinely confused, shocked, and with faces denoting sheer joy. The two audience members take a seat with plastered grins.
“Its just a huge party, what else would I be doing on Monday nights?” Nu quips and goes back inside to take the stage.
By Jamie Benedi