Chris Kenner makes the magic happen. Not only is he a card flourisher, coin magician, and author, but also he’s been David Copperfield’s producer for 22 years. Chris is also the inventor of the Sybil cut, which is one of the most well known and replicated flourishes ever created. Any card-flourishing enthusiast knows his name—and if you don’t, it’s time to do some research (or read this interview). Chris was kind enough to sit down with our team in Las Vegas, and shared some insight about being Copperfield’s producer, the Sybil cut, and more.
Club 808: So you’ve been working with David Copperfield as the producer for what, 20 years now, right?
Chris: 22 years, yeah.
Club 808: How did that relationship even start?
Chris: He found me, actually. I was performing, trying to do my own career. Actually, I wanted to get into the movie business, and I was doing magic, which is kind of an easy place to be creative. I hate to say that, but it is. And I had published a book and a few tricks, and David was playing with one of these tricks, I heard through the grapevine. And he wanted to see me do it. I was in Indianapolis at the time, and he says, “Hey, I’m coming to the show.” So I met him at the show. At the time I was trying to do my own thing. . . So I met him that night, showed him a trick he wanted to see, and a couple of other things. He asked me to do two of the tricks right there. I said no problem, and pretty much gave them to him. I wasn’t money-hungry, I didn’t really care. I said, “I’m getting ready to put a book out. If you write the forward of the book, we’ll call it a day.” He said okay, and I spoke to him every day from that moment on. About a month later, he said, “Why don’t you come out and work for me for two weeks on, two weeks off, two weeks on, two weeks off?” And I went out there for my first two weeks, and I’ve not seen those two weeks off yet. So I stayed.
Club 808: 22 years, and you’re still waiting to see those two weeks off.
Chris: Yeah, 22 years. [laughs] Where’s my two weeks off, David Copperfield?
Club 808: What was the trick that he wanted to see?
Chris: It was a trick with a little baby tennis shoe. That was the trick somebody asked me to show, and the trick he was working on was linking two rubber bands. And he couldn’t really do it—not because he couldn’t do it skill-wise. It took a quirky knack. You know how—some people can bend their fingers a certain way? I can just do something with my fingers that allowed me to do it. Some people can and some people can’t. And his fingers are much longer than mine. I’d rather have his fingers and not be able to do the trick, to tell you the truth.
Club 808: You’re regarded as one of the most creative minds in the business, so we have to ask: where do you get your inspiration?
Chris: I dunno, I don’t think of myself as this super-creative genius dude. I’m just a guy who solves problems. I look at everything like it’s a problem, and how do you solve it? And sometimes I present the problem. Like, it would be great if I could take this phone and this happened. And then you go backwards to think of how it works. A lot of people go, “Okay, here are these 10 methods I know, and what tricks can I come up with, with that?” And I also am a formula-based guy, so I’ll take tricks that exist and break them down into formula, and go from there. A trick vanishes from your hand and appears in your pocket. That’s basically an item to an impossible location. So now you can just get any item to any impossible location. Same trick. When you think that way, it’s pretty easy.
Club 808: What’s your favorite deck of cards?
Chris: Circleback Tally-Ho® playing cards. Those are the cards that I love the look and the feel of the most. I gravitate to the old school Bicycle® cards that I grew up with. I love these new decks, and I love the look of the new decks, and I have zillions of them. But if I’m going to do something, I usually end up using a deck of Tally-Ho. Definitely if I’m gonna perform, I use Tally-Ho® or just a regular pack of Bicycle® playing cards. Rider Backs.
Club 808: Could you describe an ideal deck of cards, or if you could design it, what would it be?
Chris: I’ve been talking about doing a deck called the Red Deck, the Blue Deck. And have just the word “Red” on it, and the word “Blue” on it, just a red deck of cards, just a blue deck of cards. But make it nice and classy and very cool, as opposed to—someone recently did just solid red backs, and I just didn’t like it like that. But simple like that. Just with the word “Red” on it.
Club 808: What do you see for the future of magic? Who’s the next you, the next David Copperfield?
Chris: Who’s to say? I think the next very famous magician might be a girl. Something has to be a little unusual and different. Magic might revert back to its origins a bit, where it’s less television and more about live, because magic is best live. There’s all this YouTube and all these things you can see on the Internet. And that’s progress, you can’t stop that, that’s why there’s so much card artistry. It’s “Look at me, I can do this move, and I can prove by doing it online.” And someone else has to go, “I can do this also, and better.” And the next guy even better. And it’s elevated so quickly, thanks to the internet. . . Old-school magicians don’t do that; they think it’s bad. I think you can’t stop the future. These kids were given these tools. Who am I to get mad at them for having these great tools? I’m like, “Embrace them. Go for it. Be awesome.”
Club 808: Do you still get a rush when you see new and exciting tricks?
Chris: Absolutely. Always. I get a rush just seeing people who are that interested in something where they actually take the time and practice, and they care about it.
Club 808: You’re widely referred to as the inspiration behind Cardistry, especially with the Sybil cut. Are you amazed at how one move has energized and transformed this whole platform, and how did that came about?
Chris: Yeah, I am amazed, I don’t like necessarily taking credit for it, because due to the Internet, and the flourishing, that eventually someone would have done something. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I had the right name—Sybil is a great name. It’s simple, it’s one word. People get it. The reason I called it Sybil is because it had multiple cuts, and Sybil had multiple personalities. And I’m shocked at how they’ve taken it to a level that’s ridiculous. A lot of them have the Sybil base in them. They have that Sybil-Z-cut kind of feeling, which isn’t necessarily mine. Couple people did just a simple cut with a Z in it, where they—Paul Harris published a Bill Kalush thing that had a Z-Cut in it. I can’t remember the name of it. And it’s a very early version of that. Sybil just went one step further, which is me basically, taking that to that, then everybody else ran with it. I’m amazed it is what it is. . . Instead of Sybil 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 it’s Sybil 6000. It’s amazing, what these kids are doing. And they’re all great. I hope they just take it further and further and further.
Club 808: So for someone who’s just getting into cards, give me your spiel on why it’s a great thing to be part of, and what you like about cards. Being into cards is great to be part of.
Chris: Well for me, I do it for my own personal—I got interested in watching a Bowery Boys television show when I was a kid, when I was 12 years old. And a magician did a bunch of one-hand cuts and shuffled the deck and turned the aces over. I was hooked at that moment. I got a deck of cards and I played around with it. I wanted to learn flourishing, I wanted to learn fancy things. Just like these kids today that are doing flourishing. Same exact thing, but I didn’t see stuff on YouTube, I saw this one little black and white TV show. And the only place I could learn these things was from magic books. So I went to the library and got every magic book I could, and learned flourishes first. One hand cuts, one hand shuffles. And then I realized this magic stuff is kind of fun also. Started to play with magic. What I did was interesting—I just assumed everybody could do everything in all these books. So I learned everything I could out of these books. Until I met another magician, who basically didn’t really do that. . . they didn’t really memorize these books. I was pretty advanced at a young age. . . I just stuck it out. I had a deck of cards in my hands every day of my entire life since I was 13. Like I was telling you guys, on my drive over, I was bored in traffic. There was a deck of cards in my cup holder, I take it out, just played with one-hand cuts while I drive. And I’m always trying to do something new, always trying to do something different. And I push the level on the hardest, difficult moves I can do just for fun. And I do it all for myself. That’s where I get the satisfaction—because I’m doing it for myself. . . but I love playing cards. They’re awesome things to me. The technology that goes into making them. . . and I hold that box in my hand—it’s so important, what that deck of cards is to me.
Club 808: Since you do it for yourself, you’re not trying to impress anyone, which is awesome—is there something you still want to accomplish, like when you were memorizing those books, that you still want to do?
Chris: I’m the opposite of most people; I’m going through this total circle. I used to do just technical slight-of-hand. I didn’t want to use any gimmicks, I just wanted to do slight of hand to do a magic trick or to do whatever I did. And then I had to make a living at it. So when I was doing that, I needed to be funny. And entertaining. So I realized, hey, I’m actually kinda funny. So then I’m doing comedy magic and comedy clubs, and then that took over and the magic became less important. Then I went through a phase where I never performed card tricks because everyone does card tricks. Which is hence why I was noticed by David, because I did different things. Now I’ve gone completely backwards, because I only want to work on pure skill and only slight-of-hand. And I try to take any move possible out of any magic, so it looks like it’s effortless and there’s nothing. I’ve taken flashy out of the mix. So I’ve gone in a circle.
Club 808: Thank you so much, Chris.
Chris: Thank you.
You can find Chris Kenner on Twitter @ChrisKenner.