Ivy League grad hopes to turn magic into a career


The world of magic is most commonly associated with people like Harry Houdini and Penn Jillette.

While it is hard to imagine someone taking up magic as a full time job, it is a profession that some people enjoy pursuing. Despite the fact that it is a unique, entertaining career, it involves a great deal of work in both the business and performance aspect.

Jon Tai is a Cornell University graduate whose passion for magic has led him to a career that involves performing peculiar, mind-boggling tricks to audiences of curious spectators.

Growing up in New Jersey, Tai lived a pretty normal life. It wasn’t until eighth grade that he became curious about the world of magic. Tai’s interest was sparked by watching a magician perform card tricks at a Chinese New Year party.

After this experience, he was eager to learn how to perform different magic tricks on his own. Although he didn’t begin his career in magic until later on in life, Tai’s interest persisted.

He continued to work hard in high school and eventually attended an Ivy League school where he majored in psychology and minored in information science, theatre, and philosophy.

While he was in school, he began working a medical software job. He proceeded to work in that field for almost nine years before deciding to pursue magic full time. Fortunately, the money he made at his job allowed him to have the financial stability and security needed in order to begin his career in magic.

“I had saved up a good amount of money from working, and I could look at my situation and think, ‘You know what, I could go from this job to no income overnight, and I could be okay for a long period of time,’” Tai said.

Throughout the transition, Tai’s family always supported him. Additionally, his wife provided him with subtle support when he planned to jump start his new career.

“A lot of my friends had parents that came from a similar background, who immigrated here and worked their butts off so that their kids could have a much better chance in life. I know a lot of my friends’ parents wouldn’t have been very cool with their child getting that serious in magic, but my parents were always very supportive,” Tai said.

After leaving the medical software company, Tai was required to build a name for himself in the magic industry. He initially reached out to a friend who was the owner of a small cafe and inquired about performing tricks. Building off that, Tai was able to pick up gigs at restaurants doing tableside magic, but Tai has learned that magic is the easy part of the equation.

“Figuring out the business side of it was really the big question mark. I know magic, I’m obsessed with magic, and I have confidence in magic. Actually finding ways to get paid for it and get paid for it regularly that would be the interesting thing to figure out,” Tai claimed.

Although finding ways to get paid was difficult, Tai enjoyed his work. Luckily, he was able to connect with Liberty Magic, a performing arts theater located in downtown Pittsburgh.

The opportunity to connect with Liberty Magic was described by Tai as “serendipitous”. He is currently working on creating his own full length show that is set to be performed at Liberty Magic by the end of the year. It is scheduled to run from December 2 through January 3.

Every day offers a new adventure for Tai. His daily routine depends on when he is performing at Liberty Magic or another venue. In normal circumstances, the early months of the year are slower for booking, which allows him more time to think of new tricks to perform for audiences.

“In order for a magic show to be really wonderful, it has to be more than just tricks. It has to mean something. It has to communicate something,” Tai said.

Although it took him a while to gain confidence, Tai is incredibly passionate about his work. He spends a large portion of his time looking at new material and perfecting his skill.

Most of the time, Tai admits that his practice requires more mental ability than physical. He focuses on tricks that will leave a long term impact on one’s memory.

“Magic is so much more than just a slight of hand and moves. That is an integral part of it, but a lot of it is psychology and memory. You play with people’s perceptions and how they view the world. A big part of magic is more than what just happens in the trick, but everything that happens before and after,” Tai said.

While Tai is focused on creating a sustainable lifestyle out of his magic profession, the current situation because of the Covid-19 shutdown has not been easy on those who depend on performing in front of crowds but he’s trying to look at the bright side.

“Yeah, not the best time for magicians, or any live entertainment for that matter, right now.  I’m lucky to have been in a solid financial situation with a good amount of cushion and my wife is able to continue working remotely, so all things considered we’re doing OK,” he said.