The novelty of seeing a magician expanded the missionary outreach
by Andy Gray
In 36 years of doing magic and comedy, Eric Thompson has performed for everyone from drunken crowds at comedy clubs to teetotallers at church fundraisers.
The one thing those diverse audiences have in common is they all speak English.
But in the last decade, he’s discovered that comedy and magic also can speak a universal language when performed by Senor Magia Loco.
In recent years, Thompson has performed in Cuba, Guatemala, Africa and Peru, entertaining in villages where they never have seen a magic trick or a professional entertainer. He’s already planning a 2018 trip to China, Vietnam and Japan.
“It really can impact people’s lives,” Thompson said. “We joke that I’m affecting U.S. foreign policy in the most positive way possible. The only problem is I’m only one guy, so it’s going to take a while.”
The idea was born a decade ago when Thompson, a Warren native who lives in Newton Falls, spent a day in the Bahamas while on a cruise.
“I did a magic trick for some kids in the street and had never heard laughter like that,” he said.
Trying to find opportunities to perform for the locals became a regular part of his vacations abroad. Then he was asked by someone from Believers Church if he wanted to accompany some parishioners on a missionary trip to Guatemala.
“I want to go to Guatemala but I don’t want to lay bricks and dig a ditch,” he said. “What I do is community outreach to people and get food to them.”
In Guatemala, the audience got “dinner and a show,” in this case a show from Thompson and enough staples to feed a family for about a week. When the missionaries saw how much food $5 could buy, those on the trip gave the money they brought for souvenirs to buy food for those in the next village.
The novelty of seeing a magician expanded the missionary outreach.
“When I went to Guatemala, we had people come out who would never come for a church program,” he said. “I saw fathers, and in that culture, dad doesn’t go to things with mom and the kids.”
Children have the strongest response to Thompson’s act. One young girl in Guatemala attached herself to Thompson when he was in her village and never left his side. She’s the one who gave him the name Senor Magia Loco, which translates to “Mr. Crazy Magician.”
“She didn’t know my name, so she named me ‘Senor Magia Loco’ and was introducing me to all of her friends,” Thompson said.
The name has stuck. When he traveled to Peru in April, there was a billboard-sized sign announcing one of his performances that said, “See Mr. Crazy Magician and his tricks” in Spanish.
“It’s funny because this missionary spoke to that missionary thousands of miles away (and the name traveled),” he said with a laugh. “Senor Magia Loco, that’s how I’m known throughout Latin America.”
That little girl stayed in Thompson’s memory for another reason. Before he left, she kept saying “ropa” to him. The comedian in him appreciated that, just like an American, she thought if she kept saying it slower and louder he eventually would understand her.
Thompson does magic tricks with rope and thought she was referring to that. He finally asked someone to translate, who told him she was asking if he had any clothes that would fit her.
“I realized this is my second, third day in this village, and every picture of her she is wearing the same thing,” Thompson said. “At this point, I have a 4-year-old granddaughter, and my granddaughter changes clothes three times a day.”
Thompson left money with one of the host families to make sure the girl would get clothing and continued to send gifts until the family moved from the village and he lost contact with them.
His travels have provided material for his performances for American audiences, and he’s learned how to adapt his act for non-English speaking audiences. When they arrive in a village unannounced, the translator makes sure to call what Thompson does “illusions,” not “magic” in case that word conjures thoughts of “black magic” or something satanic. But comedy can transcend language barriers with a little effort.
“Funny is funny,” he said. “A guy who slips on a banana peel and falls in a manhole is funny everywhere. But telling a story while doing a magic trick? And when the story is timed to the ‘Abracadabra! Shazam! 1-2-3! Here it is.’? I say ‘One’ and have to wait for the translator. When he says, ‘Tres,’ I do the trick. My whole show is like watching a black-and-white movie on TV where the lips aren’t synced to the sound because I have to wait for the translator. It’s a half-beat off.”
No one seems to mind. The reactions, especially to the magic tricks, are bigger in those other countries.
“When something disappears before their eyes, here they clap,” Thompson said. “There they go, ‘No!’ ‘Wow!’ I don’t know if they’re saying something like ‘Get out’ or ‘No way.’ I don’t think it’s words. It’s just a big Hispanic wow.
“Everything is more passionate. The stereotype of the passion of the Latino is accurate. They’re very passionate in their praise, their appreciation, laughter, and applause. Every show, with rare exceptions, ends with a standing ovation. They’re very passionate and want to show it.” he explained. "I've learned that growth can come in lots of forms, not just geographical. So I don't have to have another store."