DZI: The Voice had the pleasure of speaking with versatile Houston comedian and illusionist Robby Bennett in the private room of Boondoggles Pub in El Lago, Texas. Robby, the performance powerhouse behind Anomaly, has been participating in the magic and comedy industries in near equal parts since childhood and is placing his talents center stage in theaters across the country after branching out from the local Houston area, performing in venues ranging both in size, clientele, and location.
From Vegas to New York and clients varying from major corporations to children’s hospitals and private homes, he has been building up his reputation as the unforgiving, uncensored and unapologetic comedic mastermind with a devilish wit and some of the most skillfully executed sleight-of-hand in the modern magicians’ circuit. His shows, one of the most recent taking place at the Frenetic Theater resulting in record sales and a sold out venue in March, are a cocktail of magic and comedy mixed with tones of political disapproval and alcohol-infused nostalgia.
Alexandra Genest: When did you discover your voice as an artist?
Robby Bennett: What you saw as of recently. Since I was about 18, I’ve always had stacks of material that I’m like “I can’t put this into a show” and now I’ve done so many private shows where they want dirty material that we decided this is the first time I’ve ever done a public production show where we decided just to go all out and make one 18 and up show.
It really surprised us when that one was sort of a hit, and we’ve reformatted how we’re approaching future shows for now. Before that though, I was doing a lot of charity work, mostly kids with cancer, so I kind of kept things pretty PG, adult shows more PG-13 but never really went into that area of doing more adult-oriented material, so a couple of years ago I started doing stand up which gave me an outlet for that.
AG: Do you plan on continuing to perform only for adult audiences from this point on in your career?
RB: Near future, yes. We’re working on a larger production show right now and the decision will have to be made if that will be an adult only show or if that’s going to be a family show that you’re going to be able to bring your kids to like any other play or Broadway show. Or do both. Just a little more amped up version of the shows I’ve done recently, in mid-level markets, 300-700 person theaters, and then we’re working on our full production show right now which is called Anomaly. For both projects we’re meeting with different sponsors and investors and I’m working with different people to help as far as the business aspects are concerned.
AG: Would you ever consider branching out into other realms of the art community?
RB: Yes. Right now we have a TV show that we’re working on that has been tailored to the subscription cable market. I’d like to work with other performers on the production side.
AG: What’s the focus of the TV show?
RB: It’s a comedy based sitcom ultimately about the operation at a five-star hotel where the service is anything but.
AG: How do you prepare for shows?
RB: I prepare in a very relaxed way. I make going over the material a leisurely part of my day. Like even in rehearsals and stuff, some people will play video games, I’ll go over material. It’s kind of the adult or professional version of playing pretend. And then there’s the aspect of having to communicate to the crew the different cues and protocol from the time the first person walks into the venue when the theater opens, when the pre-show music is playing, when the last person leaves and how we get out of there. Everybody has to be in on the loop.
AG: Tell me more about your mentor(s) and your start in magic/comedy.
RB: I’ve had a lot of mentors, but I got my first magic kit when I was 5 years old, I brought it home from a trip from Disney World, and I was disappointed when I couldn’t clean my room like in Mary Poppins. It sat on the shelf for the next 4 or 5 years as you cycle through other interests, but I got sick when I was a kid for 2 years, so when I was home from school, that’s what I did in my free time.
I was never really big into sports so when I got back into school I had something that set me a part and gave me a reason to not have to go to football practice. I started doing shows professionally by the age of 12, started doing corporate shows by the time I was 13 and added on trade shows and pretty much did the whole gambit.
But going back to the mentor thing, there are a lot of magicians in a big community locally and internationally so I’d go to magic conventions. They basically exist so that people who attend Star Trek conventions have something to make fun of. When I was around 20 I stopped working with magicians almost completely, to this day there’s maybe 3-5 that I talk to. I started listening to actors, dancers, stand up comedians, people who work on the technical aspects of production, which is where I think I’ve honed a lot of my craft, but magic gave me the resources and everything else showed me what you can do with it.
AG: How much, if any, improvisation do you incorporate into your performances?
RB: A lot. Quite a bit. In a good show, I’ll improvise maybe 15% of the material. Just little things, like people who aren’t hecklers that’ll shout things out, sometimes they’ll give me like 3 minutes of material based on what they shout out. I joined a professional improv team when I was 16 so I have a background with that as far as classical training goes.
AG: How much do you spend on cards?
RB: Actually, believe it or not, I only buy about two decks a week, but when I wear them out I keep them because I like broken-in cards to put into the show, but those decks will be used with the exception of the ones I give away. They’ll be used in multiple shows.
AG: What type of audiences do you prefer?
RB: You know, I can’t answer that question because I walk into some, and I’m like “This is the most terrifying audience I’ve ever been in front of,” and they turn out to be the best. No matter what, there are some audiences that are generally more respectful. It’s weird but you learn the different dynamics, you typically don’t want to perform during the day. Nighttime shows are always better. The audiences surprise me just as much as I hope I surprise them. People naturally want to have a good time, and it’s just your job to give them an excuse to do so.
AG: How do you handle hecklers?
RB: Very well. A couple of weeks ago I was doing stand up and of course there’s always the drunk lady up front who thinks it’s open dialogue. She thinks she’s going to give me her whole life’s story, and pretty much afterwards I think the comment was, “Yeah, I think she’s gonna go home and commit suicide.” People who know me ,who’ve seen me perform, are hoping someone heckles me. They’re gonna make sure it’s not them, but they look forward to it if someone does. The best part is when you get to be creative with the hecklers because of what they’re saying. Usually it’s them responding to something you said.
AG: Rumor has it you will be performing with David Copperfield in future shows. Is this true?
AG: How did Anomaly come into existence and where is it headed?
RB: Anomaly came about because it was really just… time. We had the resources, we had the network, and enough material in the conceptual stages to do something really different that there is a demand for in the market; large theatrical productions that come across as bigger-than-life but keeping the cost low so that you have a fair ticket price.
There was a stand up comedian I wanted to see just the other night, and the cheapest ticket available was $121 for bad seats. So I think we’re in an age now where even if couples want to go out, or parents want to do something special for their kids, there is affordable entertainment and a demand for original material. You’re not going to go see the ‘”sequined suit” with the silks being tossed around on stage, and the girl in the box.
Robby Bennett’s next show will be held at the Frenetic Theater in Houston on May 24th. To purchase tickets click it
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