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NICHOLAS MERCER: Michael James has made a career out of illusion

Kelly Lynn Martell Photography
Corner Brook native Michael James, real name Butt, is a magician of the last two decades.
Kelly Lynn Martell Photography Corner Brook native Michael James, real name Butt, is a magician of the last two decades. - Contributed

Michael James was sitting in his parents' home in Corner Brook doing something a lot of kids did at the age of 7.

He was sitting in front of the television watching The Muppets. Amidst the puppet hi-jinx that was likely unfolding on the television screen, James saw something that continues to influence him now.

It was a dressing room skit featuring Canadian magician Doug Henning and Muppet Robin the Frog.

The clip is on YouTube and shows Henning trying to cheer up a down on his luck Robin with the dancing handkerchief routine.

Hennig makes a pair of small handkerchiefs dance across the stage in the same way Mickey Mouse makes mops move to music in Disney's Fantasia.

The studio audience laughs and just beyond that screen, James is enthralled.

It was unlike anything he had seen before.  From that moment, James was about magic.

You’re probably more familiar with James’ alter ego — Michael Butt, the son of Jim and Diane.

The now-45-year-old read whatever he could, although there were times he didn't quite comprehend what he was reading.

James had fun attempting to work through the routines he was reading about. He did that on the side — almost in secret, he said — until his teens.

That's when girls got in the way of illusion, as his social life became more important.

It stayed that way until his early 20s when he took a job at the CFCB radio station as a radio announcer.

There James worked with Bill Jackman, who was an amateur magician. He had conversations with Jackman about the art of magic and James slowly started to believe it was what he wanted to do.

"I spent a while learning and re-learning the routines," said James.

He performed at the Safe Grad for his old high school, Herdman Collegiate, and a mall show at the Valley Mall when he was 21 years old.

Those were his first paid gigs and it helped him realize how much he wanted to be a magician.

That's when James pulled a move ripped straight from the showbiz dream.

He quit his radio job, packed his bags and headed for Hollywood. He was accepted to the prestigious Chavez Studio of Magic in Los Angeles, California.

He now calls Halifax home.

James was last in Corner Brook for a show during the Corner Brook Summer Busker Festival in 2006. He is hoping to change that this summer and has been contact with the organizers of the Corner Brook Come Home Year planned for this year.

However, he figures he'll have to book a couple of more shows to make it viable for him.

In Los Angeles, he got a 1-on-1 education in magic. He spent a year rubbing shoulders with some of magic's elite, attending The Magic Castle — which is by invite only — and building up a skillset that would serve him in his current career as a corporate magician and entertainer.

He knows within a couple of minutes when he has the crowd. He calls the Chinese Linking Rings the routine he was most known for.

A fan of renown escape artist Harry Houdini, James would perform some of his escapes like removing himself from a straightjacket and locking an old milk can from the inside.

By his own admission, he is too out of shape for the straight jacket now.

The magician doesn't have the ability to suspend a person's belief.

You can't make a person believe that someone floating on stage is actually floating. Not only does it defy the laws of gravity, it just isn't believable.

Rather, the magician is a master at the suspension of disbelief.

"For that moment, you want people to forget everything they've ever learned about what is possible and what is not possible," said James. "Forget about what is real and what is not real, live in the moment and become a child again.

"Enjoy these moments of awe and wonder. That's the goal of a magician."

Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at

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