Joseph Kerr (magician, economics student)
Income $7250 (1999)
Health Insurance covered by grandmother
Seven squirmy little boys look up in awe at Joe Kerr as he stands in front of the red velvet curtain at the Abracadabra magic store. He opens up his wallet. The wallet bursts into flames. But the dollar bills survive intact.
Kerr, 18, who knows several hundred tricks—he can make a paper moon become a star—says it is the money tricks that drive the crowd wild. He makes pennies grow, cash appear out of thin air, and he can stab a pen through a dollar, rip a hole in it, and then restore it to its original state.
“Money tricks have a good impact on laymen because it kind of flips their world to see things happen with it,” says Kerr. “Money is legal tender, put out by the government, and money shouldn’t be able to do these things. One of my favorite effects is, I’ll borrow a bill from somebody and make the portrait of Jefferson or Washington smile at them.
“There’s also a suspension of disbelief when it comes to money. People know it’s not possible to pull money out of nowhere, but somewhere, in the back of their minds, they want to believe it’s possible. Thousands of people come up and ask you to change a dollar bill into a million.”
Magic and money are both about transformation. Flowers turn into rabbits. Dollars turn into houses. Kerr, who is also an economics student at Hunter, is in both lines of work. Though he says he got 1290 on his SATs and without studying at all, he seems a little more enthused about the magician part of his life. He says the bedroom of his parents’ house in the Bronx is packed with boxes of magician supplies (Linking Rings; Rabbid Rabbit, which he pulls out of his fly: “a great effect”) plus everything ever written about magic, and “just one economics book so far. I think it’s by M. Schiller.
“I got into the magic business when I was 15, while I was going to Bronx Science. I started doing it professionally at 17. I was intrigued. Magic baffled me. I didn’t want to be fooled. But I don’t plan to be a professional magician. I don’t think it’s a very stable profession.”
He is studying economics because “I am interested in the business aspect. I’m working with other young entrepreneurs to create an entertainment company of magicians, DJs, and caterers to provide for any social gathering or event. Studying economics, you learn how to start up companies, the impact of other businesses on you. Also it’s interesting that just by researching economics, you can look at any period of time and see how the economy affects social life and reforms.”
Kerr is always deliriously happy in October. “It’s a killer month for magic. It’s Halloween. I made over $2000 that month. I want to get a job on a cruise ship. You can make $300 an hour, five hours a day.”
This year he got hired at Abracadabra, the masquerade shop on 21st, “a very desirable position,” he says. It is like being admitted to the London School of Economics. Though he makes only $6 an hour standing behind the magic counter selling floating lady tricks and advising customers on how to make a fireball, he gets to perform in the store’s free magic shows on weekends and gets a discount. Magic is addictive. “I spent about $700 on tricks last year. I never leave the house without a deck of cards and a couple of coins.”
His parents are not magicians. “My mother’s a health consultant, my father works in a hospital. I grew up near Gun Hill Road. It was pretty dangerous on most occasions. I get along because I’m the magician man. I have a lot of things that shoot fire. They respect that.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 18, 2000