ABC aired a special on Tuesday titled Beyond Magic, which featured tricks performed by the world-famous illusionist David Blaine. Once known for his guerrilla-style “Street Magic” sleights of hand, and then his dramatic public-square endurance spectacles, Blaine spends most of Beyond Magic performing a great variety of tricks — from dinner-party card flimflam to field-artillery miracles — in the company of celebrities such as Drake, David Beckham, and, naturally, Johnny Depp, who is an eccentric bohemian weirdo just like Blaine.
In Beyond Magic, Blaine harasses random passersby and Hollywood acquaintances alike to prove just how incredible, and occasionally nauseating, his magic is. He eats a wine glass in front of Don Cheadle and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He FaceTimes with Jennifer Lawrence for a private card trick. He enters Margot Robbie’s home and, with an assist from Robbie’s sister Anya, reads her mind to predict that she is thinking of the words “bunny” and “numerous.” In their amazement, the Robbie sisters are more gracious than Harrison Ford, who years ago famously told Blaine, “Get the fuck out of my house.”
In the most viral bit of Beyond Magic, Blaine regurgitates three live frogs into three different champagne flutes that he hands, respectively, to Drake, Dave Chappelle, and Steph Curry, who are all gathered at an after-party that the magician besets with Biblical plague. There are drinks on the table, but no one is touching them, not after that; who knows what Blaine might have done to that half-finished Corona? Chappelle is so disgusted with Blaine’s three-peat antics that he wraps his scarf around his face and retreats to the corner of the room. How does Blaine even make, much less keep, all of these celebrity friends when his signature behavior repels them? When I look at Drake, Chappelle, and Curry reacting so theatrically to the frogs erupting from Blaine’s throat, I’m retching, too, and that visceral camaraderie briefly places me — and all of Twitter — right there alongside them. It’s this rare and precious moment of relatability that quite possibly explains why so many A-list celebrities would subject themselves to Blaine’s gag-inducing magic for broadcast and posterity — if only to show that they are just like us.
But not everyone is happy with Blaine, let me tell you. Google executives, who pay top dollar to hire celebrity talent to speak and perform at their annual conferences, complained to anyone who would listen, including Page Six, after seeing Blaine cough up a live frog and then swallow it again — alive and whole — on stage at a VIP retreat hosted by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in Sicily. (This was just before a lunch break, according to the Page Six report.) Blaine explained to the Google crowd — as he also explains in Beyond Magic — that he’s working with physicians to turn his stomach into an aquarium where frogs could live for hours at a time; he’s not practicing magic so much as he’s studying biology. His tricks get you thinking about the climate and precise dimensions of various stops along your gastrointestinal tract, and insomuch as your imagination will run away with this imagery, it is fascinating and gross.
While Beyond Magic opens with a parade of Hollywood spectators so that you’ll know just how far Blaine has made it in life, the bits of the show that build up to his most complex and dangerous tricks show him solo, studying and consulting with experts, unlocking new levels of science. Where cynics might seek to reveal a magic show’s mundane backstage mechanics — say, the secret to sawing a woman in half convincingly — Blaine’s demystification yields the opposite effect. The research, the customized equipment, and the physical training ultimately make his tricks seem like great physical feats. Blaine is, in a word, secularism, which substitutes the great wonders of myth with the great wonders of reality.
The special concludes at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. For the evening’s final trick, Blaine — wearing a carefully crafted mouth guard — catches a .22-caliber rifle bullet in his mouth. He doesn’t die, though he does suffer a small laceration, according to a spot-check EMT who rushes to Blaine’s side. There are no great celebrities on hand for that performance, save for Blaine himself.