By Tanner Kent
---- — Jack Stouten experts the curiosity from schoolchildren.
It's the adults who surprise him.
"They'll come up to me after the show and want to go through my stuff," said Stouten, who resides on Middle Lake Jefferson near Cleveland and has performed as The Amazing Magic Jack for more than a decade. "Even they're curious."
And yet, Stouten will never tell.
As a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians-Ring 19 -- and the winner of this year's "America's Funniest Magician Award" winner as determined through a competition hosted by the Minnesota Magic Convention -- Stouten holds tight to the philosophy that exposing a trick deadens the mystery of the illusion not only for himself, but for all other magicians.
Even more, magic is a highly proprietary art form. Social norms within the industry dictate a strict obligation to credit the original source of a trick or illusion, and disputes over copyrights on tricks are sometimes settled in court. In 2012, for instance, Teller -- the silent half of the Penn and Teller performance duo -- sued a rival magician for stealing his famous "Shadows" illusion and trying to sell a DVD of its secrets online.
Though Stouten has been willing to mentor other magicians (as he, too, was mentored by others), he keeps the tradition despite his audiences' best efforts.
"I try not to spoil it for the next magician," he said. "But people always ask."
In that context, it's not surprising that Stouten would divulge nothing about the barbed wire linking ring act that earned him top honors during the state convention in May.
Stouten has been doing the barbed wire routine for years, once performing it before a crowd of magicians at a convention. When he was preparing for his most recent competition, Stouten sent a list of three candidates for his final routine to a magician friend. That friend scrapped all three ideas and suggested the barbed wire act instead.
"I've always gotten a lot of response from it," Stouten said. "But it wasn't even one of my options."
A retired superintendent, teacher and university professor, Stouten said he took up magic after he retired as a way to entertain his grandchildren while also keeping his mind sharp. As Stouten has found, there's no predicting live performance.
Once, before a show at a senior home, a woman old enough to be Stouten's mother claimed he was the minister that baptized her. Stouten offered some quick arithmetic to gently dissuade her, but she remained unmoved, proudly sharing her connection with everyone who sat in her row.
During another performance, Stouten recruited a young woman from the crowd to volunteer for an act in which he sawed the participant in half. Only after she was on stage did he discover the volunteer was six months pregnant. When the fact became apparent to the crowd, spectators roared with laughter. Stouten went on with the routine, but sawed her legs instead of midsection.
"I just couldn't do it as usual," Stouten said.
Relying purely on word-of-mouth advertising and referrals, Stouten performs once or twice a week throughout the year. He's comfortable working his family-friendly show in a variety of settings -- from senior clubs and elementary schools to corporate events and birthday parties) -- and customizes each show for the audience.
The most recent competition title represents the ninth of Stouten's career.
"It's all fun," he said. "It's fun to share this with other people."
For more information, visit Stouten's website at http://www.magician.org/member/magicjack.